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  • richardmitnick 7:44 pm on December 18, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Applied Research & Technology, , ,   

    From Princeton: “New, tighter timeline confirms ancient volcanism aligned with dinosaurs’ extinction” 

    Princeton University
    Princeton University

    December 18, 2014
    Morgan Kelly, Office of Communications

    A definitive geological timeline shows that a series of massive volcanic explosions 66 million years ago spewed enormous amounts of climate-altering gases into the atmosphere immediately before and during the extinction event that claimed Earth’s non-avian dinosaurs, according to new research from Princeton University.

    A primeval volcanic range in western India known as the Deccan Traps, which were once three times larger than France, began its main phase of eruptions roughly 250,000 years before the Cretaceous-Paleogene, or K-Pg, extinction event, the researchers report in the journal Science. For the next 750,000 years, the volcanoes unleashed more than 1.1 million cubic kilometers (264,000 cubic miles) of lava. The main phase of eruptions comprised about 80-90 percent of the total volume of the Deccan Traps’ lava flow and followed a substantially weaker first phase that began about 1 million years earlier.

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    A definitive geological timeline from Princeton University researchers shows that a series of massive eruptions 66 million years ago in a primeval volcanic range in western India known as the Deccan Traps played a role in the extinction event that claimed Earth’s non-avian dinosaurs, and challenges the dominant theory that a meteorite impact was the sole cause of the extinction. Pictured above are the Deccan Traps near Mahabaleshwar, India. (Image courtesy of Gerta Keller, Department of Geosciences)

    The results support the idea that the Deccan Traps played a role in the K-Pg extinction, and challenge the dominant theory that a meteorite impact near present-day Chicxulub, Mexico, was the sole cause of the extinction. The researchers suggest that the Deccan Traps eruptions and the Chicxulub impact need to be considered together when studying and modeling the K-Pg extinction event.

    The Deccan Traps’ part in the K-Pg extinction is consistent with the rest of Earth history, explained lead author Blair Schoene, a Princeton assistant professor of geosciences who specializes in geochronology. Four of the five largest extinction events in the last 500 million years coincided with large volcanic eruptions similar to the Deccan Traps. The K-Pg extinction is the only one that coincides with an asteroid impact, he said.

    “The precedent is there in Earth history that significant climate change and biotic turnover can result from massive volcanic eruptions, and therefore the effect of the Deccan Traps on late-Cretaceous ecosystems should be considered,” Schoene said.

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    DeccanTrap_map
    The researchers suggest that the Deccan Traps eruptions and the meteorite impact near present-day Chicxulub, Mexico, need to be considered together when studying and modeling the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event. The main eruption phases for the Deccan Traps (in brown), which were once three times larger than France, began roughly 250,000 years before the extinction event, the researchers found. For the next 750,000 years, the volcanoes unleashed more than 1.1 million cubic kilometers (264,000 cubic miles) of lava, which comprised about 80-90 percent of the total volume of the Deccan Traps’ lava flow. The amount of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide the volcanoes poured out would have caused severe ecological fallout. (Illustration by Matilda Luk, Office of Communications)

    The researchers used a precise rock-dating technique to narrow significantly the timeline for the start of the main eruption, which until now was only known to have occurred within 1 million years of the K-Pg extinction, Schoene said. The Princeton group will return to India in January to collect more samples with the purpose of further constraining eruption rates during the 750,000-year volcanic episode.

    Schoene and his co-authors gauged the age of petrified lava flows known as basalt by comparing the existing ratio of uranium to lead given the known rate at which uranium decays over time. The uranium and lead were found in tiny grains — less than a half-millimeter in size — of the mineral zircon. Zircon is widely considered Earth’s best “time capsule” because it contains a lot of uranium and no lead when it crystallizes, but it is scarce in basalts that cooled quickly. The researchers took the unusual approach of looking for zircon in volcanic ash that had been trapped between lava flows, as well as within thick basalt flows where lava would have cooled more slowly.

    The zircon dated from these layers showed that 80-90 percent of the Deccan Traps eruptions occurred in less than a million years, and began very shortly — in geological terms — before the K-Pg extinction. To produce useful models for events such as the K-Pg extinction, scientists want to know the sequence of events to within tens of thousands of years or better, not millions, Schoene said. Margins of millions of years are akin to “a history book with events that have no dates and are not written in chronological order,” he said.

    “We need to know which events happened first and how long before other events, such as when did the Deccan eruptions happen in relation to the K-Pg extinction,” Schoene said. “We’re now able to place a higher resolution timeframe on these eruptions and are one step closer to finding out what the individual effects of the Deccan Traps eruptions were relative to the Chicxulub meteorite.”

    Vincent Courtillot, a geophysicist and professor at Paris University Diderot, said that the paper is important and “provides a significant improvement on the absolute dating of the Deccan Traps.” Courtillot, who is familiar with the Princeton work but had no role in it, led a team that reported in the Journal of Geophysical Research in 2009 that Deccan volcanism occurred in three phases, the second and largest of which coincides with the K-Pg mass extinction. Numerous other papers from his research groups are considered essential to the development of the Deccan Traps hypothesis. (The Princeton researchers also plan to test the three-phases hypothesis, Schoene said. Their data already suggests that the second and third phase might be a single period of eruptions bridged by smaller, “pulse” eruptions, he said.)

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    DeccanTrap_rocks
    The researchers took an unusual approach to find the mineral needed to construct the timeline for the start of the main Deccan Traps eruption. They compared the existing ratio of uranium to lead in petrified lava flows known as basalts given the known rate at which uranium decays over time. To have enough uranium, however, the researchers needed the mineral zircon, which is scarce in basalts that cooled quickly. Turning to new sources, the researchers found zircon in soil deposits known as red boles (right) that formed in between eruptions and contain volcanic ash (left) that had been trapped between lava flows. They also located zircon within thick basalt flows where lava would have cooled more slowly. (Images courtesy of Blair Schoene, Department of Geosciences)

    The latest work builds on the long-time work by co-author Gerta Keller, a Princeton professor of geosciences, to establish the Deccan Traps as a main cause of the K-Pg extinction. Virginia Tech geologist Dewey McLean first championed the theory 30 years ago and Keller has since become a prominent voice among a large group of scientists who advocate the idea. In 2011, Keller published two papers that together proposed a one-two punch of Deccan volcanism and meteorite strikes that ended life for more than half of Earth’s plants and animals.

    Existing models of the environmental effects of the Deccan eruptions used timelines two to three times longer than what the researchers found, which underestimated the eruptions’ ecological fallout, Keller explained. The amount of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide the volcanoes poured out would have produced, respectively, a long-term warming and short-term cooling of the oceans and land, and resulted in highly acidic bodies of water, she said.

    Because these gases dissipate somewhat quickly, however, a timeline of millions of years understates the volcanoes’ environmental repercussions, while a timeframe of hundreds of thousands of years — particularly if the eruptions never truly stopped — provides a stronger correlation. The new work confirms past work by placing the largest Deccan eruptions nearer the K-Pg extinction, but shows a much shorter time frame of just 250,000 years, Keller said.

    “These results have significantly strengthened the case for volcanism as the primary cause for the mass extinction, as well as for the observed rapid climate changes and ocean acidification,” Keller said.

    “The Deccan Traps mass extinction hypothesis has already enjoyed wide acceptance based on our earlier work and a number of studies have independently confirmed the global effects of Deccan volcanism just prior to the mass extinction,” she said. “The current results will go a long way to strengthen the earlier results as well as further challenge the dominance of the Chicxulub hypothesis.”

    Schoene and Keller worked with Kyle Samperton, a doctoral student in Schoene’s research group; Thierry Adatte, a geologist with the University of Lausanne in Switzerland and Keller’s longtime collaborator; Brian Gertsch, who earned his Ph.D. from Princeton in 2010 and is now a research assistant at the University of Lausanne; Syed Khadri, a geology professor at Amravati University in India; and graduate student Michael Eddy and geology professor Samuel Bowring at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

    The paper, U-Pb geochronology of the Deccan Traps and relation to the end-Cretaceous mass extinction, was published Dec. 11 in Science. This work was supported by the Princeton Department of Geosciences’ Scott Fund; the National Science Foundation’s Continental Dynamics and Sedimentary Geology and Paleobiology programs; and the NSF Office of International Science and Engineering’s India Program (grant nos. EAR-0447171 and EAR-1026271).

    See the full article here.

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    About Princeton: Overview

    Princeton University is a vibrant community of scholarship and learning that stands in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations. Chartered in 1746, Princeton is the fourth-oldest college in the United States. Princeton is an independent, coeducational, nondenominational institution that provides undergraduate and graduate instruction in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and engineering.

    As a world-renowned research university, Princeton seeks to achieve the highest levels of distinction in the discovery and transmission of knowledge and understanding. At the same time, Princeton is distinctive among research universities in its commitment to undergraduate teaching.

    Today, more than 1,100 faculty members instruct approximately 5,200 undergraduate students and 2,600 graduate students. The University’s generous financial aid program ensures that talented students from all economic backgrounds can afford a Princeton education.

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  • richardmitnick 2:13 pm on December 18, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Applied Research & Technology, , , NASA Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2   

    From JPL: “NASA’s Spaceborne Carbon Counter Maps New Details” 

    JPL

    December 18, 2014
    Carol Rasmussen
    NASA Earth Science News Team

    The first global maps of atmospheric carbon dioxide from NASA’s new Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 mission demonstrate its performance and promise, showing elevated carbon dioxide concentrations across the Southern Hemisphere from springtime biomass burning.

    At a media briefing today at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco, scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California; Colorado State University (CSU), Fort Collins; and the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, presented the maps of carbon dioxide and a related phenomenon known as solar-induced chlorophyll fluorescence and discussed their potential implications.

    A global map covering Oct. 1 through Nov. 17 shows elevated carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere above northern Australia, southern Africa and eastern Brazil.

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    Global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations from Oct. 1 through Nov. 11, as recorded by NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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    This map shows solar-induced fluorescence, a plant process that occurs during photosynthesis, from Aug. through Oct. 2014 as measured by NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    “Preliminary analysis shows these signals are largely driven by the seasonal burning of savannas and forests,” said OCO-2 Deputy Project Scientist Annmarie Eldering, of JPL. The team is comparing these measurements with data from other satellites to clarify how much of the observed concentration is likely due to biomass burning.

    The time period covered by the new maps is spring in the Southern Hemisphere, when agricultural fires and land clearing are widespread. The impact of these activities on global carbon dioxide has not been well quantified. As OCO-2 acquires more data, Eldering said, its Southern Hemisphere measurements could lead to an improved understanding of the relative importance in these regions of photosynthesis in tropical plants, which removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and biomass burning, which releases carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

    The early OCO-2 data hint at some potential surprises to come. “The agreement between OCO-2 and models based on existing carbon dioxide data is remarkably good, but there are some interesting differences,” said Christopher O’Dell, an assistant professor at CSU and member of OCO-2’s science team. “Some of the differences may be due to systematic errors in our measurements, and we are currently in the process of nailing these down. But some of the differences are likely due to gaps in our current knowledge of carbon sources in certain regions — gaps that OCO-2 will help fill in.”

    Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has no distinguishing features to show what its source was. Elevated carbon dioxide over a region could have a natural cause — for example, a drought that reduces plant growth — or a human cause. At today’s briefing, JPL scientist Christian Frankenberg introduced a map using a new type of data analysis from OCO-2 that can help scientists distinguish the gas’s natural sources.

    Through photosynthesis, plants remove carbon dioxide from the air and use sunlight to synthesize the carbon into food. Plants end up re-emitting about one percent of the sunlight at longer wavelengths. Using one of OCO-2’s three spectrometer instruments, scientists can measure the re-emitted light, known as solar-induced chlorophyll fluorescence (SIF). This measurement complements OCO-2’s carbon dioxide data with information on when and where plants are drawing carbon from the atmosphere.

    “Where OCO-2 really excels is the sheer amount of data being collected within a day, about one million measurements across a narrow swath,” Frankenberg said. “For fluorescence, this enables us, for the first time, to look at features on the five- to 10-kilometer scale on a daily basis.” SIF can be measured even through moderately thick clouds, so it will be especially useful in understanding regions like the Amazon where cloud cover thwarts most spaceborne observations.

    The changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide that OCO-2 seeks to measure are so small that the mission must take unusual precautions to ensure the instrument is free of errors. For that reason, the spacecraft was designed so that it can make an extra maneuver. In addition to gathering a straight line of data like a lawnmower swath, the instrument can point at a single target on the ground for a total of seven minutes as it passes overhead. That requires the spacecraft to turn sideways and make a half cartwheel to keep the target in its sights.

    The targets OCO-2 uses are stations in the Total Carbon Column Observing Network (TCCON), a collaborative effort of multiple international institutions. TCCON has been collecting carbon dioxide data for about five years, and its measurements are fully calibrated and extremely accurate. At the same time that OCO-2 targets a TCCON site, a ground-based instrument at the site makes the same measurement. The extent to which the two measurements agree indicates how well calibrated the OCO-2 sensors are.

    Additional maps released today showed the results of these targeting maneuvers over two TCCON sites in California and one in Australia. “Early results are very promising,” said Paul Wennberg, a professor at Caltech and head of the TCCON network. “Over the next few months, the team will refine the OCO-2 data, and we anticipate that these comparisons will continue to improve.”

    To learn more about OCO-2, visit:

    http://oco2.jpl.nasa.gov/

    NASA monitors Earth’s vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. The agency shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.

    For more information about NASA’s Earth science activities this year, see:

    http://www.nasa.gov/earthrightnow

    See the full article here.

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    NASA JPL Campus

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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  • richardmitnick 8:53 am on December 18, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Applied Research & Technology, , ESA Space Situational Awareness,   

    From ESA: “Preparing For an Asteroid Strike” 

    ESASpaceForEuropeBanner
    European Space Agency

    18 December 2014
    No Writer Credit

    ESA and national disaster response offices recently rehearsed how to react if a threatening space rock is ever discovered to be on a collision course with Earth.

    Last month, experts from ESA’s Space Situational Awareness (SSA) programme and Europe’s national disaster response organisations met for a two-day exercise on what to do if an asteroid is ever found to be heading our way.

    In ESA’s first-ever asteroid impact exercise, they went through a countdown to an impact, practising steps to be taken if near-Earth objects, or NEOs, of various sizes were detected.

    The exercise considered the threat from an imaginary, but plausible, asteroid, initially thought to range in size from 12 m to 38 m – spanning roughly the range between the 2013 Chelyabinsk airburst and the 1908 Tunguska event – and travelling at 12.5 km/s.

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    Chelyabinsk asteroid trail

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    1908 Tunguska event

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    ESA Space Situational Awareness: detecting space hazards
    Near-Earth objects

    Teams were challenged to decide what should happen at five critical points in time, focused on 30, 26, 5 and 3 days before and 1 hour after impact.

    “There are a large number of variables to consider in predicting the effects and damage from any asteroid impact, making simulations such as these very complex,” says Detlef Koschny, head of NEO activities in the SSA office.

    “These include the size, mass, speed, composition and impact angle. Nonetheless, this shouldn’t stop Europe from developing a comprehensive set of measures that could be taken by national civil authorities, which can be general enough to accommodate a range of possible effects.

    “The first step is to study NEOs and their impact effects and understand the basic science.”

    Participants came from various departments and agencies of the ESA member states Germany and Switzerland, including Germany’s Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assista

    t
    ESA’s Optical Ground Station (OGS) is 2400 m above sea level on the volcanic island of Tenerife.

    They studied questions such as: how should Europe react, who would need to know, which information would need to be distributed, and to whom?

    “For example, within about three days before a predicted impact, we’d likely have relatively good estimates of the mass, size, composition and impact location,” says Gerhard Drolshagen of ESA’s NEO team.

    “All of these directly affect the type of impact effects, amount of energy to be generated and hence potential reactions that civil authorities could take.”

    During the 2013 Chelyabinsk event, for instance, the asteroid, with a mass of about 12 000 tonnes and a size of 19 m, hit the upper atmosphere at a shallow angle and a speed of about 18.6 km/s, exploding with the energy of 480 kilotons of TNT at an altitude of 25–30 km.

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    SSA-NEO Coordination Centre ESRIN

    While potentially a real hazard, no injuries due to falling fragments were reported. Instead, more than 1500 people were injured and 7300 buildings damaged by the intense overpressure generated by the shockwave at Earth’s surface.

    Many people were injured by shards of flying glass as they peered out of windows to see what was happening.

    “In such a case, an appropriate warning by civil authorities would include simply telling people to stay away from windows, and remain within the strongest portions of a building, such as the cellar, similar to standard practice during tornados in the USA,” says Gerhard.

    In a real strike, ESA’s role would be crucial. It will have to warn both civil protection authorities and decision-makers about the impact location and time. It would also have to share reliable scientific data, including possible impact effects, and provide trustworthy and authoritative information.

    The exercise ended on 25 November, a significant step forward at highlighting the unique factors in emergency planning for asteroid strikes, and possible courses of action. It also clarified a number of open points, including requirements from civil protection agencies and the type and time sequence of information that can be provided by ESA’s SSA.

    It is another step in the continuing effort to set up an internationally coordinated procedure for information distribution and potential mitigation actions in case of an imminent threat.

    ESA’s NEO team is also working with international partners, agencies and organisations, including the UN, to help coordinate a global response to any future impact threat (see “Getting ready for asteroids”).

    With the aim of strengthening ESA’s and Europe’s response, similar exercises will be held in the future. The next, in 2015, will include representatives from additional countries.

    See the full article here.

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    The European Space Agency (ESA), established in 1975, is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to the exploration of space, currently with 19 member states. Headquartered in Paris, ESA has a staff of more than 2,000. ESA’s space flight program includes human spaceflight, mainly through the participation in the International Space Station program, the launch and operations of unmanned exploration missions to other planets and the Moon, Earth observation, science, telecommunication as well as maintaining a major spaceport, the Guiana Space Centre at Kourou, French Guiana, and designing launch vehicles. ESA science missions are based at ESTEC in Noordwijk, Netherlands, Earth Observation missions at ESRIN in Frascati, Italy, ESA Mission Control (ESOC) is in Darmstadt, Germany, the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) that trains astronauts for future missions is situated in Cologne, Germany, and the European Space Astronomy Centre is located in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.

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  • richardmitnick 8:15 pm on December 17, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Applied Research & Technology,   

    From ASU: “ASU grad plans future in sustainable transportation” 

    ASU Bloc

    ASU

    December 11, 2014
    Michele St George, michele.stgeorge@asu.edu
    ASU Graduate Education | Provost Communications

    From chemist to mentor to entrepreneur, Arizona State University doctoral graduate Telpriore “Greg” Tucker has forged his path to a future in sustainable transportation.

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    With a doctoral degree that focuses on batteries for renewable energy purposes, Telpriore “Greg” Tucker plans future transportation that is sustainable and fun to use.

    Curiosity and perseverance led to his doctorate in chemistry with an emphasis in electrochemistry and its uses for renewable energy, as well as his popularity as a mentor to K-12 students and university undergraduates.

    Tucker credits much of his success to a mother who inspired him with her own perseverance and patience. As a single working mother to two sons, she studied eight years to earn a bachelor’s degree.

    “She believes in education and also the power of research,” Tucker said. “As young kids before the Internet era, if we didn’t know something, she would tell us to look it up in the encyclopedia. We went to the library faithfully, where I got a taste of science through classic sci-fi books.”

    Faith was an important aspect of his upbringing as well, said Tucker.

    “Without God and my mother’s influence, I could not have achieved this degree.”

    Curiosity led to his hands-on experimentation with electric bicycles, or ebikes. He found that his own ebike was more useful for short trips around his downtown neighborhood than his truck, and he also frequently pedaled a road bike to the Tempe campus.

    “I wanted to experiment with building ebikes. I bought old ones and refurbished them,” he said. “I’ve always had an interest in transportation and how to make it more affordable and sustainable for the public. Since my degree focuses on batteries for renewable energy purposes, I began to see a lot of applications from my research. Some of the best jobs can spring from your hobby or projects that you enjoy doing.”

    Creating green products that are fun and appealing makes it easier to coax people away from fossil fuels, said Tucker.

    “Everyone is concerned about the environment, but at the end of the day, people want to have fun with their transportation too.”

    With his manufacturer, he developed an ebike that looks like a cross between a bicycle and a motor scooter, with room to carry shopping bags, books and other supplies. One of his models sits two people comfortably.

    Tucker is enthusiastic about the future of ebikes. Ideal for college students, others find them a useful alternative vehicle for trips to work, or leisurely rides to shops, theaters and restaurants.

    An ebike is legal to ride on the sidewalk if you are using the pedals, and in either the bike lane or the street if you pull the throttle, he said.

    “Ebikes require no gas, registration fee or insurance. Not even a driver’s license. An average rider on an ebike with a 48-volt battery pack will pay just over $15 per year in electrified transportation costs.”

    Although it provided some income, rebuilding and selling ebikes was time-consuming, and Tucker decided to focus all his energies on achieving his degree before returning to the business full-time.

    At ASU, Tucker has worked as a research assistant to Austen Angell in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry since 2008. In addition to work and education, he also believes in the necessity of mentoring others so they can also achieve and learn.

    Mentors have influenced him, from his science and math teachers in grade school, to middle school mentors and coaches in clubs and groups.

    “That’s why I give back,” he said, “but I also realize how important it is for people in the community to help teach youth what they do for a living and to make learning fun.”

    While working with The Electrochemical Society to present an outreach program at the Phoenix Bioscience High School in 2008, Tucker realized “how easy it is to be an initiator.” After obtaining funding from his church, Tucker formed the education-based science program of The Ironmen Network for K-12 students, typically nine to 17 years old. “We’ve been doing an annual renewable energy session for five years now, with hands-on experiments in fuel cells, solar panels, batteries, circuits and more.”

    Doctoral students from ASU and community members become a life coach to the young men, particularly in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects and sustainability. “You bring your skill sets, your talents and what you do professionally to the group. We want to enlighten the young men with an activity that is fun, but they will be learning while they have fun.

    “Students need an adviser who is a mentor. It’s similar to what used to be an apprenticeship, learning someone else’s craft so that you can use it and develop it, or share it with another student,” Tucker says.

    Other recent mentoring includes the You Can Go – Men of Color Panel by the Greater Phoenix Urban League, an event for juniors and seniors at Caesar Chavez High School to motivate them to earn their diploma, go on to college and then to pursue a graduate degree.

    “It was my first panel as Dr. Tucker with other professionals, and it was a proud moment,” he said.

    Tucker worked with the Shades Multicultural Peer Mentoring program, founded by ASU Graduate Education, to advise undergraduates. He also served as graduate liaison for the group, which received the 2012 “Excellence in Diversity” award from ASU’s Campus Environment Team.

    He is the founding chair of the Valley of the Sun – Central Arizona Graduate Chapter of The Electrochemical Society for fellow doctoral students, which was recently awarded the society’s Chapter of Excellence for 2013-2014.

    As founding director of The Electric Battery Bike Organization (TeBBo), he established the first dedicated, student-registered club for the promotion of ebikes. The group is affiliated with the new Bicycle Advisory Committee at ASU.

    He is also serving as vice president of the Eastlake Park Neighborhood Association and is an active member of the Eastlake-Garfield Steering Committee for the Reinvent Program by the city of Phoenix as an advocate for bike lanes and sustainable living, encouraging green buildings and promoting pedestrians in the neighborhoods.

    Tucker is revising his business plan for The Southwest Battery Bike Company in downtown Phoenix and plans to spend at least the next year developing the business. Beyond that, “I want to focus on designing, including a battery system for an electric car that would be more energy efficient. I would also like to do some consulting and see what other opportunities are available in renewable energy.”

    At the graduate commencement, his mother, brother, family and friends will proudly watch as Tucker carries the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences gonfalon during opening ceremonies.

    See the full article here.

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    ASU is the largest public university by enrollment in the United States.[11] Founded in 1885 as the Territorial Normal School at Tempe, the school underwent a series of changes in name and curriculum. In 1945 it was placed under control of the Arizona Board of Regents and was renamed Arizona State College.[12][13][14] A 1958 statewide ballot measure gave the university its present name.
    ASU is classified as a research university with very high research activity (RU/VH) by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, one of 78 U.S. public universities with that designation. Since 2005 ASU has been ranked among the Top 50 research universities, public and private, in the U.S. based on research output, innovation, development, research expenditures, number of awarded patents and awarded research grant proposals. The Center for Measuring University Performance currently ranks ASU 31st among top U.S. public research universities.[15]

    ASU awards bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in 16 colleges and schools on five locations: the original Tempe campus, the West campus in northwest Phoenix, the Polytechnic campus in eastern Mesa, the Downtown Phoenix campus and the Colleges at Lake Havasu City. ASU’s “Online campus” offers 41 undergraduate degrees, 37 graduate degrees and 14 graduate or undergraduate certificates, earning ASU a Top 10 rating for Best Online Programs.[16] ASU also offers international academic program partnerships in Mexico, Europe and China. ASU is accredited as a single institution by The Higher Learning Commission.

    ASU Tempe Campus
    ASU Tempe Campus

     
  • richardmitnick 7:15 pm on December 17, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Applied Research & Technology, ,   

    From livescience: ” Ancient Farmhouse Found in Israel Reveals Agricultural Secrets” 

    Livescience

    December 17, 2014
    Laura Geggel

    An ancient farmhouse dating back to 2,800 years ago — complete with 23 rooms, winepresses and a grain silo — is no longer lost to the ages. Over the past few weeks, archaeologists have uncovered the sprawling stone house in Rosh Ha-‘Ayin, in central Israel.

    Archaeologists found the farmhouse during an excavation that the government required be done before construction could begin to enlarge the modern city. The house, which measures 98 by 131 feet (30 by 40 meters), is “extraordinarily well preserved,” Amit Shadman, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said in a statement.

    The farmhouse dates back to the time of the Assyrian conquest, when the Assyrians conquered Northern Israel, the researchers said.

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    A bird’s-eye view of the 23-room farmhouse from the eighth century B.C.E.
    Credit: Skyview Company, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

    “Farmhouses during this period served as small settlements of sorts, whose inhabitants participated in processing agricultural produce,” Shadman said. “The numerous winepresses discovered in the vicinity of the settlement indicate the wine industry was the most important branch of agriculture in the region.”

    The large silo found at the farmhouse likely stored grain, which “shows that the ancient residents were also engaged in growing cereal,” Shadman said.This isn’t the first time archaeologists in Israel have stumbled across ancient winepresses. In September, a team uncovered an industrial-size winepress outside Jerusalem in what was likely a monastery before the 7th century B.C., and in 2013, archaeologists found a 1,500-year-old winepress under a city street in Tel Aviv.

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    The ancient installation found under Tel Aviv’s streets
    Credit: Israel Antiquities Authority

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    The excavation site of an ancient compound in Israel that has an oil press, winepress and mosaics dating back to the Byzantine period.
    Credit: Griffin Aerial Photography Company, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

    Ancient people continued using the building during the period of the 6th century B.C.E. called The Return to Zion, when the Jewish people returned to Israel after the Babylonian exile. The building remained active later, during the Hellenistic period that followed in the wake of Alexander the Great’s military conquests.

    After Alexander’s army defeated the Persians in 333 B.C., he built an empire that spanned from Greece to present-day Pakistan. The people of Israel welcomed the leader, Shadman said.

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    The reverse side of the coin has an image of Zeus and an inscription of Alexander the Great’s name.
    Credit: Robert Kool, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

    In the farmhouse, the archaeologists also found an object that suggests a Greek presence during that era: a rare silver coin with an image of Zeus and Alexander’s name next to it — spelled ΑΛΕΞΑNΔΡΟΥ — on one side, and the head of Heracles (often called “Hercules,” the Romanized name for the Greek mythological hero known for his extraordinary strength) on the reverse side.

    The Israel Antiquities Authority and the Ministry of Construction plan to preserve the farmhouse and open it to the public, the researchers said.After Alexander’s generals divided the empire following his death, the farmhouse remained useful for centuries. During the Ottoman period, which lasted from 1299 to 1923, people used the stones in the building as a source of raw materials, Shadman said.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 4:33 pm on December 16, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Applied Research & Technology, ,   

    From MIT: “New law for superconductors” 


    MIT News

    December 16, 2014
    Larry Hardesty | MIT News Office

    Mathematical description of relationship between thickness, temperature, and resistivity could spur advances.

    MIT researchers have discovered a new mathematical relationship — between material thickness, temperature, and electrical resistance — that appears to hold in all superconductors. They describe their findings in the latest issue of Physical Review B.

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    Atoms of niobium and nitrogen in an ultrathin superconducting film that helped MIT researchers discover a universal law of superconductivity. Image: Yachin Ivry

    The result could shed light on the nature of superconductivity and could also lead to better-engineered superconducting circuits for applications like quantum computing and ultralow-power computing.

    “We were able to use this knowledge to make larger-area devices, which were not really possible to do previously, and the yield of the devices increased significantly,” says Yachin Ivry, a postdoc in MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics, and the first author on the paper.

    Ivry works in the Quantum Nanostructures and Nanofabrication Group, which is led by Karl Berggren, a professor of electrical engineering and one of Ivry’s co-authors on the paper. Among other things, the group studies thin films of superconductors.

    Superconductors are materials that, at temperatures near absolute zero, exhibit no electrical resistance; this means that it takes very little energy to induce an electrical current in them. A single photon will do the trick, which is why they’re useful as quantum photodetectors. And a computer chip built from superconducting circuits would, in principle, consume about one-hundredth as much energy as a conventional chip.

    “Thin films are interesting scientifically because they allow you to get closer to what we call the superconducting-to-insulating transition,” Ivry says. “Superconductivity is a phenomenon that relies on the collective behavior of the electrons. So if you go to smaller and smaller dimensions, you get to the onset of the collective behavior.”

    Vexing variation

    Specifically, Ivry studied niobium nitride, a material favored by researchers because, in its bulk form, it has a relatively high “critical temperature” — the temperature at which it switches from an ordinary metal to a superconductor. But like most superconductors, it has a lower critical temperature when it’s deposited in the thin films on which nanodevices rely.

    Previous theoretical work had characterized niobium nitride’s critical temperature as a function of either the thickness of the film or its measured resistivity at room temperature. But neither theory seemed to explain the results Ivry was getting. “We saw large scatter and no clear trend,” he says. “It made no sense, because we grew them in the lab under the same conditions.”

    So the researchers conducted a series of experiments in which they held constant either thickness or “sheet resistance,” the material’s resistance per unit area, while varying the other parameter; they then measured the ensuing changes in critical temperature. A clear pattern emerged: Thickness times critical temperature equaled a constant — call it A — divided by sheet resistance raised to a particular power — call it B.

    After deriving that formula, Ivry checked it against other results reported in the superconductor literature. His initial excitement evaporated, however, with the first outside paper he consulted. Though most of the results it reported fit his formula perfectly, two of them were dramatically awry. Then a colleague who was familiar with the paper pointed out that its authors had acknowledged in a footnote that those two measurements might reflect experimental error: When building their test device, the researchers had forgotten to turn on one of the gases they used to deposit their films.

    Broadening the scope

    The other niobium nitride papers Ivry consulted bore out his predictions, so he began to expand to other superconductors. Each new material he investigated required him to adjust the formula’s constants — A and B. But the general form of the equation held across results reported for roughly three dozen different superconductors.

    It wasn’t necessarily surprising that each superconductor should have its own associated constant, but Ivry and Berggren weren’t happy that their equation required two of them. When Ivry graphed A against B for all the materials he’d investigated, however, the results fell on a straight line.

    Finding a direct relationship between the constants allowed him to rely on only one of them in the general form of his equation. But perhaps more interestingly, the materials at either end of the line had distinct physical properties. Those at the top had highly disordered — or, technically, “amorphous” — crystalline structures; those at the bottom were more orderly, or “granular.” So Ivry’s initial attempt to banish an inelegance in his equation may already provide some insight into the physics of superconductors at small scales.

    “None of the admitted theory up to now explains with such a broad class of materials the relation of critical temperature with sheet resistance and thickness,” says Claude Chapelier, a superconductivity researcher at France’s Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission. “There are several models that do not predict the same things.”

    Chapelier says he would like to see a theoretical explanation for that relationship. But in the meantime, “this is very convenient for technical applications,” he says, “because there is a lot of spreading of the results, and nobody knows whether they will get good films for superconducting devices. By putting a material into this law, you know already whether it’s a good superconducting film or not.”

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 1:16 pm on December 16, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From livescience: “Million-Mummy Cemetery Unearthed in Egypt” 

    Livescience

    December 16, 2014
    Owen Jarus

    She’s literally one in a million.

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    This image is of a child, around 18 months old, who was wrapped in a tunic and buried with a necklace and two bracelets on each arm. The jewelry makes the team think that the mummy is a girl but they cannot be sure. Credit: Photo courtesy Professor Kerry Muhlestein

    The remains of a child, laid to rest more than 1,500 years ago when the Roman Empire controlled Egypt, was found in an ancient cemetery that contains more than 1 million mummies, according to a team of archaeologists from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

    The cemetery is now called Fag el-Gamous, which means “Way of the Water Buffalo,” a title that comes from the name of a nearby road. Archaeologists from Brigham Young University have been excavating Fag el-Gamous, along with a nearby pyramid, for about 30 years. Many of the mummies date to the time when the Roman or Byzantine Empire ruled Egypt, from the 1st century to the 7th century CE.

    Giving all they had
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    Although the people buried in the cemetery were relatively poor, the researchers noted that what little wealth the individuals had was poured into the burials. This image shows a fine example of ancient glasswork found in the cemetery. (Photo courtesy Professor Kerry Muhlestein)

    Amazing preservation
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    These booties were designed for a child. Their colors are remarkably well preserved, given that more than 1,000 years have passed since they were created. (Photo courtesy Professor Kerry Muhlestein)

    Belongings left behind
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    Textiles were commonly found in the cemetery, and this image shows a well-preserved example. (Photo courtesy Professor Kerry Muhlestein)

    Ancient pyramid excavation
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    n addition to the cemetery, the Brigham Young University team is also investigating a small pyramid that was built more than 4,500 years ago by the pharaoh Snefru. The pyramid predates the cemetery by more than two millennia. (Photo by Roland Unger, Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported, courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

    “We are fairly certain we have over a million burials within this cemetery. It’s large, and it’s dense,” Project Director Kerry Muhlestein, an associate professor in the Department of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University, said in a paper he presented at the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities Scholars Colloquium, which was held last month in Toronto.

    This cemetery was not a burial ground for kings or royalty. The people buried here were often laid to rest without grave goods, and without coffins for that matter, the researchers said. The deceased’s internal organs were rarely removed; instead, it was the arid natural environment that mummified them. “I don’t think you would term what happens to these burials as true mummification,” Muhlestein said. “If we want to use the term loosely, then they were mummified.”

    Despite the low status of the dead, the researchers found some remarkably beautiful items, including linen, glass and even colorful booties designed for a child.

    “A lot of their wealth, as little as they had, was poured into these burials,” Muhlestein said.

    The mummified child was buried with several other mummies. It was wrapped in a tunic and wore a necklace with two bracelets on each arm.

    “There was some evidence that they tried much of the full mummification process. The toes and toenails and brain and tongue were amazingly preserved,” the researchers wrote on the project’s Facebook page. “The jewelry makes us think it was a girl, but we cannot tell.”

    Researchers estimate the infant was 18 months old when she died. “She was buried with great care, as someone who obviously loved her very much did all they could to take care of this little girl in burial,” the researchers wrote. It’s “very sad, but they succeeded. It was a beautiful burial.”

    Million mummy mystery

    Where exactly these million mummies came from is an ongoing mystery, and one that the team has yet to solve. A nearby village seems too small to warrant such a large cemetery, the researchers said. There is an ancient town named Philadelphia (so named after King Ptolemy II Philadelphus) not far away, but that town has burial sites of its own.

    While there is a small pyramid nearby, it was built more than 4,500 years ago, which is more than two millennia before the cemetery was first used.

    “It’s hard to know where all these people were coming from,” Muhlestein told Live Science.

    A mummy over 7 feet tall

    The stories that these million mummies tell appear endless. The Brigham Young team has excavated more than 1,000 of the mummies over the past 30 years, and Muhlestein admits the team has a publishing backlog.

    One discovery that hasn’t been published is of a mummy who is more than 7 feet (2 meters) tall. “We once found a male who was over 7 feet tall who was far too tall to fit into the shaft, so they bent him in half and tossed him in,” Muhlestein told the audience in Toronto.

    That’s an extraordinary height given the generally poor nutrition these people had, Muhlestein told Live Science in an interview, adding that “even with great nutrition, it’s really unusual” for an individual to reach that height. The great height could be because of a medical condition that caused an excess of growth hormone, but more research needs to be done to determine this.

    This surprisingly tall mummy was discovered before Muhlestein became director, and the findings have yet to be published, he said. “We have a large publishing backlog, [and] we’re trying to catch up on making our colleagues and the public aware [of the finds].”

    Blond and redheaded mummies

    While excavating and publishing the discoveries from the cemetery pose daunting challenges, they also provide archaeologists with terrific opportunities.

    For instance, the team is in the early stages of creating a database of all the mummies it has excavated. When complete, the database will help the researchers study burial patterns in the area.

    While the database is in the early stages, it has already provided some intriguing initial results. Muhlestein said he and the other researchers can use the database to “show us all of the blond burials, and [it shows] they are clustered in one area, or all of the red-headed burials, and [it shows] they’re clustered in another area.”

    These clusters are interesting because they suggest “perhaps we have family areas or genetic groups [in certain areas], but we’re still trying to explore that,” Muhlestein said.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 12:56 pm on December 16, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Applied Research & Technology, , , RPI   

    From RPI: “Researchers Develop ‘Radio-genetics’ – New Method Triggers Gene Expression With Radio Waves or Magnetic Field” 

    Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

    Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

    Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Researchers Partner in Research Described in Nature Medicine

    December 15, 2014
    Mary L. Martialay
    Phone: (518) 276-2146
    E-mail: martim12@rpi.edu

    It’s the most basic of ways to find out what something does, whether it’s an unmarked circuit breaker or an unidentified gene — flip its switch and see what happens. New remote-control technology may offer biologists a powerful way to do this with cells and genes. A team at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Rockefeller University is developing a system that would make it possible to remotely control biological targets in living animals — rapidly, without wires, implants, or drugs.

    In a technical report published today in the journal Nature Medicine, the team describes successfully using electromagnetic waves to turn on insulin production to lower blood sugar in diabetic mice. Their system couples a natural iron storage particle, ferritin, to activate an ion channel called TRPV1 such that when the metal particle is exposed to a radio wave or magnetic field, it opens the channel, leading to the activation of an insulin-producing gene. Together, the two proteins act as a nano-machine that can be used to trigger gene expression in cells.

    1
    Researchers experimented with different configurations for their remote control system, and they found the best relies on an iron nanoparticle (blue), which is tethered by a protein (green) to an ion channel (red). Above, all three appear within cell membranes.

    “The use of a radiofrequency-driven magnetic field is a big advance in remote gene expression because it is non-invasive and easily adaptable,” said Jonathan S. Dordick, the Howard P. Isermann Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering and vice president for research at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “You don’t have to insert anything — no wires, no light systems — the genes are introduced through gene therapy. You could have a wearable device that provides a magnetic field to certain parts of the body and it might be used therapeutically for many diseases, including neurodegenerative diseases. It’s limitless at this point.”

    Dordick, Ravi Kane, the P.K. Lashmet Professor and head of Chemical and Biological Engineering, within the Rensselaer Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, and doctoral student Jeremy Sauer collaborated with Rockefeller colleagues Jeffrey Friedman, Rensselaer Class of 1977, and Sarah Stanley on the project.

    Other techniques exist for remotely controlling the activity of cells or the expression of genes in living animals. But these have limitations. Systems that use light as an on/off signal require permanent implants or are only effective close to the skin, and those that rely on drugs can be slow to switch on and off.

    The new system, dubbed radiogenetics, uses a signal, in this case low-frequency radio waves or a magnetic field, to activate ferritin particles. They, in turn, prompt the opening of TRPV1, which is situated in the membrane surrounding the cell. Calcium ions then travel through the channel, switching on a synthetic piece of DNA the scientists developed to turn on the production of a downstream gene, which in this study was the insulin gene.

    In an earlier study, the researchers used only radio waves as the “on” signal, but in the current study, they also tested out a related signal – a magnetic field – that could also activate insulin production. They found it had a similar effect as the radio waves.

    “The method allows one to wirelessly control the expression of genes in a living animal and could potentially be used for conditions like hemophilia to control the production of a missing protein. Two key attributes are that the system is genetically encoded and can activate cells remotely and quickly,” says Friedman, co-senior author on the project and the Marilyn M. Simpson Professor and head of the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics at Rockefeller. “We are now exploring whether the method can also be used to control neural activity as a means for noninvasively modulating the activity of neural circuits.”

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 8:34 am on December 16, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From Sandia: “Getting bot responders into shape” 


    Sandia Lab

    December 16, 2014
    Stephanie Holinka, slholin@sandia.gov, (505) 284-9227

    Sandia National Laboratories is tackling one of the biggest barriers to the use of robots in emergency response: energy efficiency.

    Through a project supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Sandia is developing technology that will dramatically improve the endurance of legged robots, helping them operate for long periods while performing the types of locomotion most relevant to disaster response scenarios.

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    Steve Buerger is leading a Sandia National Laboratories project to demonstrate how energy efficient biped walking robots could become. Increased efficiency could enable bots to operate for much longer periods of time without recharging batteries, an important factor in emergency situations. (Photo by Randy Montoya)
    One of Sandia’s new robots that showcases this technology will be demonstrated at an exposition to be held in conjunction with the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals next June.

    As the finals draw closer, some of the most advanced robotics research and development organizations in the world are racing to develop emergency response robots that can complete a battery of tasks specified by DARPA. Competing robots will face degraded physical environments that simulate conditions likely to occur in a natural or man-made disaster. Many robots will walk on legs to allow them to negotiate challenging terrain.

    Sandia’s robots won’t compete in the finals next June, but they could ultimately help the winning robots extend their battery life until their life-saving work is done.

    “We’ll demonstrate how energy efficient biped walking robots could become. Increased efficiency could allow robots similar to those used for the competition to operate for much longer periods of time without recharging batteries,” said project lead Steve Buerger of Sandia’s Intelligent Systems Control Dept.

    Batteries need to last for emergency response robots

    Battery life is an important concern in the usefulness of robots for emergency response.

    “You can have the biggest, baddest, toughest robot on the planet, but if its battery life is 10 or 20 minutes, as many are right now, that robot cannot possibly function in an emergency situation, when lives are at stake,” said Buerger.

    The first robot Sandia is developing in support of the DARPA Challenge, is known as STEPPR for Sandia Transmission Efficient Prototype Promoting Research. It is a fully functional research platform that allows developers to try different joint-level mechanisms that function like elbows and knees to quantify how much energy is used.

    Sandia’s second robot, WANDERER for Walking Anthropomorphic Novelly Driven Efficient Robot for Emergency Response, will be a more optimized and better-packaged prototype.

    Energy-efficient actuators key to testing

    The key to the testing is Sandia’s novel, energy-efficient actuators, which move the robots’ joints. The actuation system uses efficient, brushless DC motors with very high torque-to-weight ratios, very efficient low-ratio transmissions and specially designed passive mechanisms customized for each joint to ensure energy efficiency.

    “We take advantage of dynamic characteristics that are common to a wide variety of legged behaviors and add a set of ‘support elements,’ including springs and variable transmissions, that keep the motors operating at more efficient speed-torque conditions, reducing losses,” Buerger said.

    Electric motors are particularly inefficient when providing large torques at low speeds, for example, to a crouching robot, Buerger said. A simple support element, such as a spring, would provide torque, reducing the load on the motor.

    “The support elements also allow robots to self-adjust when they change behaviors. When they change from level walking to uphill walking, for example, they can make subtle adjustments to their joint dynamics to optimize efficiency under the new condition,” Buerger said.

    Robots must adapt to the diverse kinds of conditions expected in emergency response scenarios.

    “Certain legged robot designs are extremely efficient when walking on level ground, but function extremely inefficiently under other conditions or cannot walk over different types of terrains. Robots need an actuation system to enable efficient locomotion in many different conditions,” Buerger said. “That is what the adjustable support elements can do.”

    Early testing has shown STEPPR to operate efficiently and quietly.

    “Noise is lost energy, so being quiet goes hand-in-hand with being efficient. Most robots make a lot of noise, and that can be a major drawback for some applications,” Buerger said.

    Robots’ electronics, certain software to be publicly released

    STEPPR’s and WANDERER’s electronics and low-level software are being developed by the Open Source Robotics Foundation. The designs will be publicly released, allowing engineers and designers all over the world to take advantage of advances.

    The Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition is developing energy-efficient walking control algorithms for both robots. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Globe Motors also are contributing to the project.

    Sandia’s robotic work will be demonstrated in the technology exposition section of the DARPA Robotics Challenge, scheduled for June 5-6 at Fairplex in Pomona, Calif.

    See the full article here.

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    Sandia National Laboratories is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corporation, for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness.
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  • richardmitnick 5:49 pm on December 15, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Applied Research & Technology, ,   

    From MIT: “Sophisticated medicine” 


    MIT News

    December 15, 2014
    Leda Zimmerman | MIT Spectrum

    Sangeeta Bhatia’s research defies tradition, drawing on biological and medical sciences, and multiple engineering disciplines.

    temp
    Sangeeta Bhatia’s research draws on biological and medical sciences, and engineering. Photo illustration: Len Rubenstein

    “I’m mostly driven by how to fix things,” states Sangeeta Bhatia. “I’m always thinking about how to solve problems by repurposing tools.” Although not a mechanic, Bhatia, the John J. and Dorothy Wilson Professor of Health Sciences and Technology (HST), Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), and Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES), does run a repair shop of sorts. As director of the Laboratory for Multiscale Regenerative Technologies, she tackles some of medicine’s most intractable problems, developing sophisticated devices and methods for diagnosing and treating human disease.

    Bhatia’s research defies traditional academic categories, drawing simultaneously on biological and medical sciences, and multiple engineering disciplines. She has generated dozens of patents, several business spinouts, and earned a host of major scientific honors, including the 2014 Lemelson-MIT Prize, a $500,000 award recognizing an outstanding American midcareer inventor, and the David and Lucile Packard Fellowship, given to the nation’s most promising young professors in science and engineering.

    A member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, her unorthodox career got an early start, thanks in part to Bhatia’s self-described passion for “tinkering.” As a child, she could fix the family’s broken answering machine, and was handy with hot glue guns “in a Martha Stewart way.” Her father, recognizing her potential as an engineer, brought her to the lab of an MIT acquaintance who was using focused ultrasound to heat up tumors. Her encounter with technology used against deadly disease proved formative.

    Bhatia was determined to become a biomedical engineer, earning an undergraduate degree in the field. She came to view the human body “as a fascinating machine” whose failures she might address by designing interventions. But it was while she was simultaneously pursuing her doctorate in medical engineering at MIT and her MD at Harvard Medical School that Bhatia’s core research concerns began to crystallize.

    Investigating a potential artificial organ to process the blood of patients suffering liver failure, Bhatia improvised a novel approach. Borrowing microfabrication technology from the semiconductor industry, she arrayed liver cells on a synthetic surface, and to her delight, this hybrid tissue remained alive in the lab for weeks. Scientists had long sought a way to sustain liver cells ex vivo, and Bhatia had delivered a biomedical first.

    With her innovative adaptation of engineering tools for medically useful applications, Bhatia conjured a unique research methodology. And she also found her primary research subject: “I had an ‘aha’ moment, and realized I loved studying the liver.”

    Diseases of the liver, unlike those of other organs, don’t have ready treatments. Severe alcohol abuse, hepatitis, and a host of other liver diseases sicken and kill millions each year. In addition, many aspects of the liver remain a mystery, including its unique tissue architecture and ability to regenerate. “It seemed like an incredible opportunity; anything you provided might have an impact,” says Bhatia.

    Motivated by this opportunity, Bhatia began generating a steady stream of liver-focused bioengineering tools. For instance, she transformed her hybrid microfabricated liver tissue into a platform for screening drugs outside the body. In a current study, Bhatia is using an artificial liver as a testing ground for a drug with the potential to destroy the malaria parasite at different stages of its life cycle.

    She is also closing in on the “naively audacious” goal of building a replaceable liver for patients in need of a liver transplant. Her team has identified chemical compounds that send regeneration signals to liver cells, and she is now successfully growing human livers in mice.

    Bhatia has more recently aimed her biotech arsenal at targets beyond the liver. Exploiting nanoparticles, she is devising an inexpensive urine test for cancer that could prove immensely useful in the developing world. She has also begun attacking two of the deadliest cancers, ovarian and pancreatic, designing nanomaterials that can penetrate tumors with a cargo of RNA to silence spreading cancer genes.

    “As an engineer, I have a hammer, and look for the next nail,” Bhatia says. “But as a physician, I also want to pick problems with the most clinical impact.”

    See the full article here.

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