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  • richardmitnick 3:29 pm on May 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Fertilizer research, Nitrogen fixation   

    From Caltech: “Nitrogen Fixation Research Could Shed Light on Biological Mystery” 

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    Emily Velasco

    Fertilizer is applied to an agricultural field. Credit: Credit: (CC BY 2.0)

    New Process Could Make Fertilizer Production More Sustainable

    Inspired by a natural process found in certain bacteria, a team of Caltech researchers is inching closer to a new method for producing fertilizer that could some day hold benefits for farmers—particularly in the developing world—while also shedding light on a biological mystery.

    Fertilizers are chemical sources of nutrients that are otherwise lacking in soil. Most commonly, fertilizers supply the element nitrogen, which is essential for all living things, as it is a fundamental building block of DNA, RNA, and proteins. Nitrogen gas is very abundant on Earth, making up 78 percent of our atmosphere. However, most organisms cannot use nitrogen in its gaseous form.

    To make nitrogen usable, it must be “fixed”—turned into a form that can enter the food chain as a nutrient. There are two primary ways that can happen, one natural and one synthetic.

    Nitrogen fixation occurs naturally due to the action of microbes that live in nodules on plant roots. These organisms convert nitrogen into ammonia through specialized enzymes called nitrogenases. The ammonia these nitrogen-fixing organisms create fertilizes plants that can then be consumed by animals, including humans. In a 2008 paper appearing in the journal Nature Geoscience, a team of researchers estimated that naturally fixed nitrogen provides food for roughly half of the people living on the planet.

    The other half of the world’s food supply is sustained through artificial nitrogen fixation and the primary method for doing this is the Haber-Bosch process, an industrial-scale reaction developed in Germany over 100 years ago. In the process, hydrogen and nitrogen gases are combined in large reaction vessels, under intense pressure and heat in the presence of a solid-state iron catalyst, to form ammonia.

    “The gases are pressurized up to many hundreds of atmospheres and heated up to several hundred degrees Celsius,” says Caltech’s Ben Matson, a graduate student in the lab of Jonas C. Peters, Bren Professor of Chemistry and director of the Resnick Sustainability Institute. ” With the iron catalyst used in the industrial process, these extreme conditions are required to produce ammonia at suitable rates.”

    In a recent paper appearing in ACS Central Science, Matson, Peters, and their colleagues describe a new way of fixing nitrogen that’s inspired by how microbes do it.

    Nitrogenases consist of seven iron atoms surrounded by a protein skeleton. The structure of one of these nitrogenase enzymes was first solved by Caltech’s Douglas Rees, the Roscoe Gilkey Dickinson Professor of Chemistry. The researchers in Peters’ lab have developed something similar to a bacterial nitrogenase, albeit much simpler—a molecular scaffolding that surrounds a single iron atom.

    The molecular scaffolding was first developed in 2013 and, although the initial design showed promise in fixing nitrogen, it was unstable and inefficient. The researchers have improved its efficiency and stability by tweaking the chemical bath in which the fixation reaction occurs, and by chilling it to approximately the temperature of dry ice (-78 degrees Celsius). Under these conditions, the reaction converts 72 percent of starting material into ammonia, a big improvement over the initial method, which only converted 40 percent of the starting material into ammonia and required more energy input to do so.

    Matson, Peters, and colleagues say their work holds the potential for two major benefits:

    • Ease of production: Because the technology being developed does not require high temperatures or pressures, there is no need for the large-scale industrial infrastructure required for the Haber-Bosch process. This means it might some day be possible to fix nitrogen in smaller facilities located closer to where crops are grown.

    “Our work could help to inspire new technologies for fertilizer production,” says Trevor del Castillo, a Caltech graduate student and co-author of the paper. “While this type of a technology is unlikely to displace the Haber-Bosch process in the foreseeable future, it could be highly impactful in places that that don’t have a very stable energy grid, but have access to abundant renewable energy, such as the developing world. There’s definitely room for new technology development here, some sort of ‘on demand’ solar-, hydroelectric-, or wind-powered process.”

    • Understanding natural nitrogen fixation: The nitrogenase enzyme is complicated and finicky, not working if the ambient conditions are not right, which makes it difficult to study. The new catalyst, on the other hand, is relatively simple. The team believes that their catalyst is performing fixation in a conceptually similar way as the enzyme, and that its relative simplicity will make it possible to study fixation reactions in the lab using modern spectroscopic techniques.

    “One fascinating thing is that we really don’t know, on a molecular level, how the nitrogenase enzyme in these bacteria actually turns nitrogen into ammonia. It’s a large unanswered question,” says graduate student Matthew Chalkley, also a co-author on the paper.

    Peters says their research into this catalyst has already given them a deeper understanding of what is happening during a nitrogen-fixing reaction.

    “An advantage of our synthetic iron nitrogenase system is that we can study it in great detail,” he says. “Indeed, in addition to significantly improving the efficiency of this new catalyst for nitrogen fixation, we have made great progress in understanding, at the atomic level, the critical bond-breaking and making-steps that lead to ammonia synthesis from nitrogen.”

    If processes of this type can be further refined and their efficiency increased, Peters adds, they may have applications outside of fertilizer production as well.

    “If this can be achieved, distributed solar-powered ammonia synthesis can become a reality. And not just as a fertilizer source, but also as an alternative, sustainable, and storable chemical fuel,” he says.

    See the full article here .

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    The California Institute of Technology (commonly referred to as Caltech) is a private research university located in Pasadena, California, United States. Caltech has six academic divisions with strong emphases on science and engineering. Its 124-acre (50 ha) primary campus is located approximately 11 mi (18 km) northeast of downtown Los Angeles. “The mission of the California Institute of Technology is to expand human knowledge and benefit society through research integrated with education. We investigate the most challenging, fundamental problems in science and technology in a singularly collegial, interdisciplinary atmosphere, while educating outstanding students to become creative members of society.”

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  • richardmitnick 3:05 pm on May 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , ICARUS, ,   

    From FNAL: “ICARUS and the three labs” 

    FNAL II photo

    FNAL Art Image
    FNAL Art Image by Angela Gonzales

    Fermilab is an enduring source of strength for the US contribution to scientific research world wide.

    May 25, 2017
    No writer credit found.

    Technicians assemble for ICARUS the warm vessel steel structure that will host two detection chambers. Photo: Reidar Hahn

    No fewer than three particle physics laboratories lay claim to some aspect of the detector, called ICARUS, that will soon become the newest member of Fermilab’s neutrino family. The Italian INFN Gran Sasso National Laboratory took data using the 760-ton, 65-foot-long detector for its ICARUS experiment from 2010 to 2014. The European laboratory CERN sent beam to the detector when it was at Gran Sasso. And Fermilab is soon to inherit the detector for its Short-Baseline Neutrino Program. Fermilab is currently awaiting the detector’s arrival from CERN, where staff have been refurbishing it for use in the SBN Program.

    Thanks to the CERN, Fermilab and INFN crew for paving the way for ICARUS. First row, from left: John Anderson III, Justin Briney, Ben Ogert, Daniel Vrbos (all Fermilab), Marco Guerzoni (INFN), David Augustine (Fermilab), Vincent Togo (INFN), Timothy Griffin, Thomas Olszanowski, Michael Cooper (all Fermilab). Second row, from left: John Voirin (Fermilab), Francois-Andre Garnier, Anatoly Popov, Filippo Resnati, Frederic Merlet (all CERN), Jason Kubinski, Bob Kubinski (both Fermilab). Third row, from left: Pierre-Ange Giudici (CERN), Michael Jeeninga, Mark Shoun (both Fermilab). Not pictured: Joseph Harris, Kelly Hardin, Bryan Johnson and Craig Rogers, all of Fermilab. Photo: Reidar Hahn

    So it is fitting that technicians, led by Frederic Merlet of CERN, from the two European laboratories recently converged at Fermilab to work with the U.S. ICARUS team, led by Fermilab’s David Augustine.

    During the visit, which took place from May 1-21, the technicians assembled the steel structure that will host the detector’s two 300-ton time projection chambers.

    “They accomplished this amazing task with absolutely superb work ethic and cooperation,” said Fermilab physicist Fernanda G. Garcia, who is the project installation and integration manager. “The installation went smoothly thanks in great part to Dave and Frederic’s leadership skills.”

    It was not only just technicians, but also machinists, quality and safety personnel, business administrators, and transportation coordinators who came together to prepare the detector’s future home.

    The contributions of our trans-Atlantic partners at CERN and INFN demonstrate once more that the science of particle physics is a global pursuit.

    INFN Gran Sasso ICARUS, since to move to FNAL

    Gran Sasso LABORATORI NAZIONALI del GRAN SASSO, located in the Abruzzo region of central Italy


    See the full article here .

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    Fermilab Campus

    Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab), located just outside Batavia, Illinois, near Chicago, is a US Department of Energy national laboratory specializing in high-energy particle physics. Fermilab is America’s premier laboratory for particle physics and accelerator research, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. Thousands of scientists from universities and laboratories around the world
    collaborate at Fermilab on experiments at the frontiers of discovery.

  • richardmitnick 2:41 pm on May 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply
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    NASA Ames: “NASA Selects New Research Teams to Further Solar System Exploration Research” 

    NASA Ames Icon

    March 17, 2017 [How did this slip by me?]
    Kimberly Williams
    Ames Research Center, Silicon Valley

    No image caption or credit

    In an effort to advance basic and applied research for lunar and planetary science, and advance human exploration of the solar system through scientific discovery, NASA created the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute or SSERVI. The institute fosters collaborations with science and exploration communities, which enables cross-disciplinary partnerships with research institutions, both domestic and abroad.

    NASA has selected four new research teams to join the existing nine teams in SSERVI to address scientific questions about the moon, near-Earth asteroids, the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos, and their near space environments, in cooperation with international partners.

    “We look forward to collaborative scientific discoveries from these teams,” said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “These results will be vital to NASA successfully conducting the ambitious activities of exploring the solar system with robots and humans.”

    SSERVI members include academic institutions, non-profit research institutes, private companies, NASA centers and other government laboratories. The new teams – which SSERVI will support for five years at a combined total of about $3-5 million per year – were selected from a pool of 22 proposals based on competitive peer-review evaluation.

    The selected SSERVI member teams, listed with their principal investigators and research topics, are:

    Network for Exploration and Space Science (NESS); Jack Burns, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado. NESS will implement cross-disciplinary partnerships to advance scientific discovery and human exploration at target destinations by conducting research in robotics, cosmology, astrophysics and heliophysics that is uniquely enabled by human and robotic exploration at the moon, near-Earth asteroids and comets, and Phobos and Deimos.

    Toolbox for Research and Exploration (TREX); Amanda Hendrix, Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona. TREX aims to develop tools and research methods for exploration of airless bodies, like the moon and asteroids, that are coated in fine-grained dust in order to prepare for human missions. Laboratory spectral measurements and experiments will accompany studies of existing datasets to understand surface characteristics and to investigate potential resources on airless bodies.

    Radiation Effects on Volatiles and Exploration of Asteroids and Lunar Surfaces (REVEALS); Thomas Orlando, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia. The REVEALS team will explore radiation processing of natural regolith and human-made composite materials to understand the condensed-matter physics and radiation chemistry that can lead to volatile formation, sequestration and transport. This team also will explore how novel materials and real-time radiation detectors can minimize risks and exposure to dangerous radiation during human exploration missions.

    Exploration Science Pathfinder Research for Enhancing Solar System Observations (ESPRESSO); Alex Parker, Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. Team ESPRESSO will focus on characterizing target surfaces and mitigating hazards that create risk for robotic and human explorers. It will work to assess the geotechnical and thermomechanical properties of target body surfaces to help us understand and predict hazards like landslides, and to improve our understanding of impact ejecta dynamics.

    “We are extremely pleased that the community responded with such high-quality proposals, and look forward to the many contributions SSERVI will make in addressing NASA’s science and exploration goals,” said SSERVI Director Yvonne Pendleton.

    The SSERVI central office, located at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, is funded by the agency’s Science Mission Directorate and Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, and manages national and international collaborative partnerships, designed to push the boundaries of science and exploration.

    For more information about SSERVI and selected member teams, visit:

    See the full article here .

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    Ames Research Center, one of 10 NASA field Centers, is located in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley. For over 60 years, Ames has led NASA in conducting world-class research and development. With 2500 employees and an annual budget of $900 million, Ames provides NASA with advancements in:
    Entry systems: Safely delivering spacecraft to Earth & other celestial bodies
    Supercomputing: Enabling NASA’s advanced modeling and simulation
    NextGen air transportation: Transforming the way we fly
    Airborne science: Examining our own world & beyond from the sky
    Low-cost missions: Enabling high value science to low Earth orbit & the moon
    Biology & astrobiology: Understanding life on Earth — and in space
    Exoplanets: Finding worlds beyond our own
    Autonomy & robotics: Complementing humans in space
    Lunar science: Rediscovering our moon
    Human factors: Advancing human-technology interaction for NASA missions
    Wind tunnels: Testing on the ground before you take to the sky

    NASA image

  • richardmitnick 1:49 pm on May 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply
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    From JPL-Caltech: “A Whole New Jupiter: First Science Results from NASA’s Juno Mission” 

    NASA JPL Banner


    May 25, 2017

    Dwayne Brown
    Headquarters, Washington

    Laurie Cantillo
    Headquarters, Washington

    DC Agle
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

    Nancy Neal Jones
    Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    Deb Schmid
    Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio

    This image shows Jupiter’s south pole, as seen by NASA’s Juno spacecraft from an altitude of 32,000 miles (52,000 kilometers). The oval features are cyclones, up to 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) in diameter. Multiple images taken with the JunoCam instrument on three separate orbits were combined to show all areas in daylight, enhanced color, and stereographic projection.
    Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Betsy Asher Hall/Gervasio Robles

    An image of Jupiter taken by the Juno spacecraft. Credit: J.E.P. Connerney et al., Science (2017)

    Credit: J.E.P. Connerney et al., Science (2017)

    Early science results from NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter portray the largest planet in our solar system as a complex, gigantic, turbulent world, with Earth-sized polar cyclones, plunging storm systems that travel deep into the heart of the gas giant, and a mammoth, lumpy magnetic field that may indicate it was generated closer to the planet’s surface than previously thought.

    “We are excited to share these early discoveries, which help us better understand what makes Jupiter so fascinating,” said Diane Brown, Juno program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “It was a long trip to get to Jupiter, but these first results already demonstrate it was well worth the journey.”

    Juno launched on Aug. 5, 2011, entering Jupiter’s orbit on July 4, 2016. The findings from the first data-collection pass, which flew within about 2,600 miles (4,200 kilometers) of Jupiter’s swirling cloud tops on Aug. 27, are being published this week in two papers in the journal Science [] and [] , as well as 44 papers in Geophysical Research Letters [too many to chase down].

    “We knew, going in, that Jupiter would throw us some curves,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “But now that we are here we are finding that Jupiter can throw the heat, as well as knuckleballs and sliders. There is so much going on here that we didn’t expect that we have had to take a step back and begin to rethink of this as a whole new Jupiter.”

    Among the findings that challenge assumptions are those provided by Juno’s imager, JunoCam. The images show both of Jupiter’s poles are covered in Earth-sized swirling storms that are densely clustered and rubbing together.

    “We’re puzzled as to how they could be formed, how stable the configuration is, and why Jupiter’s north pole doesn’t look like the south pole,” said Bolton. “We’re questioning whether this is a dynamic system, and are we seeing just one stage, and over the next year, we’re going to watch it disappear, or is this a stable configuration and these storms are circulating around one another?”

    Another surprise comes from Juno’s Microwave Radiometer (MWR), which samples the thermal microwave radiation from Jupiter’s atmosphere, from the top of the ammonia clouds to deep within its atmosphere. The MWR data indicates that Jupiter’s iconic belts and zones are mysterious, with the belt near the equator penetrating all the way down, while the belts and zones at other latitudes seem to evolve to other structures. The data suggest the ammonia is quite variable and continues to increase as far down as we can see with MWR, which is a few hundred miles or kilometers.

    Prior to the Juno mission, it was known that Jupiter had the most intense magnetic field in the solar system. Measurements of the massive planet’s magnetosphere, from Juno’s magnetometer investigation (MAG), indicate that Jupiter’s magnetic field is even stronger than models expected, and more irregular in shape. MAG data indicates the magnetic field greatly exceeded expectations at 7.766 Gauss, about 10 times stronger than the strongest magnetic field found on Earth.

    “Juno is giving us a view of the magnetic field close to Jupiter that we’ve never had before,” said Jack Connerney, Juno deputy principal investigator and the lead for the mission’s magnetic field investigation at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Already we see that the magnetic field looks lumpy: it is stronger in some places and weaker in others. This uneven distribution suggests that the field might be generated by dynamo action closer to the surface, above the layer of metallic hydrogen. Every flyby we execute gets us closer to determining where and how Jupiter’s dynamo works.”

    Juno also is designed to study the polar magnetosphere and the origin of Jupiter’s powerful auroras—its northern and southern lights. These auroral emissions are caused by particles that pick up energy, slamming into atmospheric molecules. Juno’s initial observations indicate that the process seems to work differently at Jupiter than at Earth.

    Juno is in a polar orbit around Jupiter, and the majority of each orbit is spent well away from the gas giant. But, once every 53 days, its trajectory approaches Jupiter from above its north pole, where it begins a two-hour transit (from pole to pole) flying north to south with its eight science instruments collecting data and its JunoCam public outreach camera snapping pictures. The download of six megabytes of data collected during the transit can take 1.5 days.

    “Every 53 days, we go screaming by Jupiter, get doused by a fire hose of Jovian science, and there is always something new,” said Bolton. “On our next flyby on July 11, we will fly directly over one of the most iconic features in the entire solar system — one that every school kid knows — Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. If anybody is going to get to the bottom of what is going on below those mammoth swirling crimson cloud tops, it’s Juno and her cloud-piercing science instruments.”

    NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages the Juno mission for NASA. The principal investigator is Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. The Juno mission is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, in Denver, built the spacecraft.

    More information on the Juno mission is available at:

    See the full article here .

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    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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    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

    Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

    NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer, and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the [JAXA]Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.

  • richardmitnick 1:15 pm on May 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply
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    From U Chicago: “World’s most sensitive dark matter detector releases first results” 

    U Chicago bloc

    University of Chicago

    May 18, 2017
    (773) 702-8360
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    UChicago scientists part of international XENON collaboration

    XENON1T installation in the underground hall of Laboratori Nazionali del Gran Sasso. The three story building on the right houses various auxiliary systems. The cryostat containing the LXeTPC is located inside the large water tank on the left. Photo by Roberto Corrieri and Patrick De Perio

    Gran Sasso LABORATORI NAZIONALI del GRAN SASSO, located in the Abruzzo region of central Italy

    Scientists assembling the XENON1T time projection chamber. Photo by Enrico Sacchetti

    Scientists behind XENON1T, the largest dark matter experiment of its kind ever built, are encouraged by early results, describing them as the best so far in the search for dark matter.

    Dark matter is one of the basic constituents of the universe, five times more abundant than ordinary matter. Several astronomical measurements have corroborated the existence of dark matter, leading to an international effort to observe it directly. Scientists are trying to detect dark matter particle interacting with ordinary matter through the use of extremely sensitive detectors. Such interactions are so feeble that they have escaped direct detection to date, forcing scientists to build detectors that are more and more sensitive and have extremely low levels of radioactivity.

    On May 18, the XENON Collaboration released results from a first, 30-day run of XENON1T, showing the detector has a record low radioactivity level, many orders of magnitude below surrounding material on earth.

    “The care that we put into every single detail of the new detector is finally paying back,” said Luca Grandi, assistant professor in physics at the University of Chicago and member of the XENON Collaboration. “We have excellent discovery potential in the years to come because of the huge dimension of XENON1T and its incredibly low background. These early results already are allowing us to explore regions never explored before.”

    The XENON Collaboration consists of 135 researchers from the United States, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Portugal, France, the Netherlands, Israel, Sweden and the United Arab Emirates, who hope to one day confirm dark matter’s existence and shed light on its mysterious properties.

    Located deep below a mountain in central Italy, XENON1T features a 3.2-ton xenon dual-phase time projection chamber. This central detector sits fully submersed in the middle of the water tank, in order to shield it from natural radioactivity in the cavern. A cryostat helps keep the xenon at a temperature of minus-95 degrees Celsius without freezing the surrounding water. The mountain above the laboratory further shields the detector, preventing it from being perturbed by cosmic rays.

    But shielding from the outer world is not enough, since all materials on Earth contain tiny traces of natural radioactivity. Thus extreme care was taken to find, select and process the materials making up the detector to achieve the lowest possible radioactive content. This allowed XENON1T to achieve record “silence” necessary to detect the very weak output of dark matter.

    A particle interaction in the one-ton central core of the time projection chamber leads to tiny flashes of light. Scientists record and study these flashes to infer the position and the energy of the interacting particle—and whether it might be dark matter.

    Despite the brief 30-day science run, the sensitivity of XENON1T has already overcome that of any other experiment in the field probing unexplored dark matter territory.

    “For the moment we do not see anything unexpected, so we set new constraints on dark matter properties,” Grandi said. “But XENON1T just started its exciting journey and since the end of the 30-day science run, we have been steadily accumulating new data.”

    UChicago central to international collaboration

    Grandi’s group is very active within XENON1T, and it is contributing to several aspects of the program. After its initial involvement in the preparation, assembly and early operations of the liquid xenon chamber, the group shifted its focus in the last several months to the development of the computing infrastructure and to data analysis.

    “Despite its low background, XENON1T is producing a large amount of data that needs to be continuously processed,” said Evan Shockley, a graduate student working with Grandi. “The raw data from the detector are directly transferred from Gran Sasso Laboratory to the University of Chicago, serving as the unique distribution point for the entire collaboration.”

    The framework, developed in collaboration with a group led by Robert Gardner, senior fellow at the Computation Institute, allows for the processing of data, both on local and remote resources belonging to the Open Science Grid. The involvement of UChicago’s Research Computing Center including Director Birali Runesha allows members of the collaboration all around the world to access processed data for high-level analyses.

    Grandi’s group also has been heavily involved in the analysis that led to this first result. Christopher Tunnell, a fellow at the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics, is one of the two XENON1T analysis coordinators and corresponding author of the result. Recently, UChicago hosted about 25 researchers for a month to perform the analyses that led to the first results.

    “It has been a large, concentrated effort and seeing XENON1T back on the front line makes me forget the never-ending days spent next to my colleagues to look at plots and distributions,“ Tunnell said. “There is no better thrill than leading the way in our knowledge of dark matter for the coming years.”

    See the full article here .

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    An intellectual destination

    One of the world’s premier academic and research institutions, the University of Chicago has driven new ways of thinking since our 1890 founding. Today, UChicago is an intellectual destination that draws inspired scholars to our Hyde Park and international campuses, keeping UChicago at the nexus of ideas that challenge and change the world.

  • richardmitnick 12:57 pm on May 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , N6946-BH1 is the only likely failed supernova that we found in the first seven years of our survey, , , NGC 6946 Fireworks Galaxy, SN 2017eaw   

    From Hubble: “Collapsing Star Gives Birth to a Black Hole” 

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    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    May 25, 2017
    Christopher Kochanek / Krzysztof Stanek
    Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio
    614-292-5954 / 614-292-3433 /

    Scott Adams
    Caltech, Pasadena, California

    Pam Frost Gorder
    Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio

    Elizabeth Landau
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California

    Ray Villard
    Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland

    Massive Dying Star Goes Out With a Whimper Instead of a Bang

    Every second a star somewhere out in the universe explodes as a supernova. But some super-massive stars go out with a whimper instead of a bang. When they do, they can collapse under the crushing tug of gravity and vanish out of sight, only to leave behind a black hole. The doomed star, named N6946-BH1, was 25 times as massive as our sun. It began to brighten weakly in 2009. But, by 2015, it appeared to have winked out of existence. By a careful process of elimination, based on observations by the Large Binocular Telescope and the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, the researchers eventually concluded that the star must have become a black hole. This may be the fate for extremely massive stars in the universe.

    U Arizona Large Binocular Telescope, Mount Graham, Arizona, USA

    Astronomers have watched as a massive, dying star was likely reborn as a black hole. It took the combined power of the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT), and NASA’s Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes to go looking for remnants of the vanquished star, only to find that it disappeared out of sight.

    NASA/Spitzer Telescope

    It went out with a whimper instead of a bang.

    The star, which was 25 times as massive as our sun, should have exploded in a very bright supernova. Instead, it fizzled out—and then left behind a black hole.

    “Massive fails” like this one in a nearby galaxy could explain why astronomers rarely see supernovae from the most massive stars, said Christopher Kochanek, professor of astronomy at The Ohio State University and the Ohio Eminent Scholar in Observational Cosmology.

    As many as 30 percent of such stars, it seems, may quietly collapse into black holes — no supernova required.

    “The typical view is that a star can form a black hole only after it goes supernova,” Kochanek explained. “If a star can fall short of a supernova and still make a black hole, that would help to explain why we don’t see supernovae from the most massive stars.”

    He leads a team of astronomers who published their latest results in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

    Among the galaxies they’ve been watching is NGC 6946, a spiral galaxy 22 million light-years away that is nicknamed the “Fireworks Galaxy” because supernovae frequently happen there — indeed, SN 2017eaw, discovered on May 14th, is shining near maximum brightness now. Starting in 2009, one particular star, named N6946-BH1, began to brighten weakly. By 2015, it appeared to have winked out of existence.

    After the LBT survey for failed supernovas turned up the star, astronomers aimed the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes to see if it was still there but merely dimmed. They also used Spitzer to search for any infrared radiation emanating from the spot. That would have been a sign that the star was still present, but perhaps just hidden behind a dust cloud.

    All the tests came up negative. The star was no longer there. By a careful process of elimination, the researchers eventually concluded that the star must have become a black hole.

    It’s too early in the project to know for sure how often stars experience massive fails, but Scott Adams, a former Ohio State student who recently earned his Ph.D. doing this work, was able to make a preliminary estimate.

    “N6946-BH1 is the only likely failed supernova that we found in the first seven years of our survey. During this period, six normal supernovae have occurred within the galaxies we’ve been monitoring, suggesting that 10 to 30 percent of massive stars die as failed supernovae,” he said.

    “This is just the fraction that would explain the very problem that motivated us to start the survey, that is, that there are fewer observed supernovae than should be occurring if all massive stars die that way.”

    To study co-author Krzysztof Stanek, the really interesting part of the discovery is the implications it holds for the origins of very massive black holes — the kind that the LIGO experiment detected via gravitational waves. (LIGO is the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory.)

    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo Hanford, WA, USA installation

    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo detector installation Livingston, LA, USA

    Cornell SXS, the Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) project

    Gravitational waves. Credit: MPI for Gravitational Physics/W.Benger-Zib

    ESA/eLISA the future of gravitational wave research

    It doesn’t necessarily make sense, said Stanek, professor of astronomy at Ohio State, that a massive star could undergo a supernova — a process which entails blowing off much of its outer layers — and still have enough mass left over to form a massive black hole on the scale of those that LIGO detected.

    “I suspect it’s much easier to make a very massive black hole if there is no supernova,” he concluded.

    Adams is now an astrophysicist at Caltech. Other co-authors were Ohio State doctoral student Jill Gerke and University of Oklahoma astronomer Xinyu Dai. Their research was supported by the National Science Foundation.

    NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at Caltech in Pasadena, California. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

    The Large Binocular Telescope is an international collaboration among institutions in the United Sates, Italy and Germany.

    See the full article here .
    See the JPL-Caltech full article here .

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    The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), is a free-standing science center, located on the campus of The Johns Hopkins University and operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) for NASA, conducts Hubble science operations.

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  • richardmitnick 12:34 pm on May 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Plate attenuation, ,   

    From UCSB: “The Birth and Death of a Tectonic Plate” 

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    UC Santa Barbara

    May 24, 2017
    Julie Cohen

    Geophysicist Zachary Eilon developed a new technique to investigate the underwater volcanoes that produce Earth’s tectonic plates

    Attenuation values recorded at ocean-bottom stations. Radial spokes show individual arrivals at their incoming azimuth; central circles show averages at each station

    Geophysicist Zachary Eilon. Photo Credit: COURTESY IMAGE

    Several hundred miles off the Pacific Northwest coast, a small tectonic plate called the Juan de Fuca is slowly sliding under the North American continent. This subduction has created a collision zone with the potential to generate huge earthquakes and accompanying tsunamis, which happen when faulted rock abruptly shoves the ocean out of its way.

    In fact, this region represents the single greatest geophysical hazard to the continental United States; quakes centered here could register as hundreds of times more damaging than even a big temblor on the San Andreas Fault. Not surprisingly, scientists are interested in understanding as much as they can about the Juan de Fuca Plate.

    This microplate is “born” just 300 miles off the coast, at a long range of underwater volcanoes that produce new crust from melt generated deep below. Part of the global mid-ocean ridge system that encircles the planet, these regions generate 70 percent of the Earth’s tectonic plates. However, because the chains of volcanoes lie more than a mile beneath the sea surface, scientists know surprisingly little about them.

    UC Santa Barbara geophysicist Zachary Eilon and his co-author Geoff Abers at Cornell University have conducted new research — using a novel measurement technique — that has revealed a strong signal of seismic attenuation or energy loss at the mid-ocean ridge where the Juan de Fuca Plate is created. The researchers’ attenuation data imply that molten rock here is found even deeper within the Earth than scientists had previously thought. This in turn helps scientists understand the processes by which Earth’s tectonic plates are built, as well as the deep plumbing of volcanic systems. The results of the work appear in the journal Science Advances.

    “We’ve never had the ability to measure attenuation this way at a mid-ocean ridge before, and the magnitude of the signal tells us that it can’t be explained by shallow structure,” said Eilon, an assistant professor in UCSB’s Department of Earth Science. “Whatever is down there causing all this seismic energy to be lost extends really deep, at least 200 kilometers beneath the surface. That’s unexpected, because we think of the processes that give rise to this — particularly the effect of melting beneath the surface — as being shallow, confined to 60 km or less.”

    According to Eilon’s calculations, the narrow strip underneath the mid-ocean ridge, where hot rock wells up to generate the Juan de Fuca Plate, has very high attenuation. In fact, its levels are as high as scientists have seen anywhere on the planet. His findings also suggest that the plate is cooling faster than expected, which affects the friction at the collision zone and the resulting size of any potential megaquake.

    Seismic waves begin at an earthquake and radiate away from it. As they disperse, they lose energy. Some of that loss is simply due to spreading out, but another parameter also affects energy loss. Called the quality factor, it essentially describes how squishy the Earth is, Eilon said. He used the analogy of a bell to explain how the quality factor works.

    “If I were to give you a well-made bell and you were to strike it once, it would ring for a long time,” he explained. “That’s because very little of the energy is actually being lost with each oscillation as the bell rings. That’s very low attenuation, very high quality. But if I give you a poorly made bell and you strike it once, the oscillations will die out very quickly. That’s high attenuation, low quality.”

    Eilon looked at the way different frequencies of seismic waves attenuated at different rates. “We looked not only at how much energy is lost but also at the different amounts by which various frequencies are delayed,” he explained. “This new, more robust way of measuring attenuation is a breakthrough that can be applied in other systems around the world.

    “Attenuation is a very hard thing to measure, which is why a lot of people ignore it,” Eilon added. “But it gives us a huge amount of new information about the Earth’s interior that we wouldn’t have otherwise.”

    Next year, Eilon will be part of an international effort to instrument large unexplored swaths of the Pacific with ocean bottom seismometers. Once that data has been collected, he will apply the techniques he developed on the Juan de Fuca in the hope of learning more about what lies beneath the seafloor in the old oceans, where mysterious undulations in the Earth’s gravity field have been measured.

    “These new ocean bottom data, which are really coming out of technological advances in the instrumentation community, will give us new abilities to see through the ocean floor,” Eilon said. “This is huge because 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered by water and we’ve largely been blind to it — until now.

    “The Pacific Northwest project was an incredibly ambitious community experiment,” he said. “Just imagine the sort of things we’ll find out once we start to put these instruments in other places.”

    See the full article here .

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    The University of California, Santa Barbara (commonly referred to as UC Santa Barbara or UCSB) is a public research university and one of the 10 general campuses of the University of California system. Founded in 1891 as an independent teachers’ college, UCSB joined the University of California system in 1944 and is the third-oldest general-education campus in the system. The university is a comprehensive doctoral university and is organized into five colleges offering 87 undergraduate degrees and 55 graduate degrees. In 2012, UCSB was ranked 41st among “National Universities” and 10th among public universities by U.S. News & World Report. UCSB houses twelve national research centers, including the renowned Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics.

  • richardmitnick 12:17 pm on May 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Galápagos Initiative, Galápagos Science Center, Hospital Oskar Jandl on San Cristóbal, , , UNC School of Nursing   

    From UNC: “Nurses to Improve Training and Trust” A Great Story 

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    University of North Carolina

    Bradley Allf

    Undergraduates in the UNC School of Nursing Noemi Arias (left) and Stefanie Esteves Rosado (right) traveled to the Galápagos with Harlan in 2016.

    On Jan. 1, 1933, a boy named Rolf was born in a cave on the island of Floreana, in an archipelago off the coast of Ecuador. He was the first child ever born in the Galápagos Islands. Rolf’s mother Margret Wittmer describes the experience in a book about her life as one of the first permanent settlers in the Galápagos.

    “This time I screamed so loud that I started in terror at my own voice. It echoed back through the cave, loud and empty. There was no answering call. I lay quite still. There was a rustling at the entrance to the cave, an eerie rustling. It was still dark outside. An owl hooted. I heard a bull bellow, the bellowing came nearer and nearer, must be here by now, somewhere very near me… Then I heard a cry. It didn’t come from me…”

    Rolf was born onto the wet cave floor that night without complications. But a day later, the placenta still had not been expelled. Wittmer’s husband sent for Friedrich Ritter, one of two other inhabitants on the island, who just happened to be a doctor. While Ritter was able to deliver the placenta—in return for a few sacks of pork— he had to do so without gloves, anesthesia or effective sanitation. Margret Wittmer was lucky not to have suffered a serious infection.

    A lot has changed in the Galápagos since 1933. There are now 30,000 people living on the archipelago—now an Ecuadorian province—and the famous islands attract more than 200,000 tourists each year. There are schools, bars, airports and surfing competitions. On the four inhabited islands, day-to-day life is in many ways a far cry from the Crusoe-esque world inhabited by Wittmer.

    But one thing that has changed comparatively little is healthcare. While babies are of course no longer being delivered in sea caves, the health infrastructure on the islands—largely made up of small, understaffed clinics— remains inadequate for the needs of the growing population. A new collaboration between the UNC School of Nursing, the UNC Center for Galápagos Studies, a hospital in the Galápagos, and the Ecuadorian university Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ), is hoping to change that.

    A sea lion pup on a beach in San Cristóbal. Wildlife in the Galápagos live in close proximity to humans, which poses some healthcare risks.
    Photo by Bradley Allf

    Sea Lions to C-Sections

    The idea for this new collaboration came about through UNC’s “Galápagos Initiative,” a partnership between UNC and USFQ to foster research, education and outreach on the islands. Professor of Geography and Director for the UNC Center for Galápagos Studies Stephen Walsh, PhD, co-started the Initiative back in 2006.

    Since then, the Initiative has accomplished a lot, including the construction of a brand-new 20,000 square-foot research facility on San Cristóbal Island called the Galápagos Science Center. This center, complete with full research laboratories and modern scientific equipment, hosts scientists from all over the world that are trying to better understand the Galápagos. Many of these researchers are interested in what researchers have traditionally been interested in on the islands: the biology of the iguanas, finches, sea lions and other wildlife that call the archipelago home.

    But the Initiative reaches far beyond just ecology and evolution. It also aims to better understand the human dimensions in the Galápagos, and how UNC and USFQ can work within the island communities to engage with the populations’ needs. Prominent among these needs is healthcare. And that’s where the UNC School of Nursing fits in.

    “Over time it was certainly impressed upon us that the Galápagos is in need of enhancements in healthcare and medicine,” says Walsh. “And part of the reason is a long-term legacy of ineffective healthcare.”

    That legacy can be traced all the way from Rolf Wittmer’s birth in a cave to now. Modern-day births on Isabela Island, for instance, take place in a clinic without fetal monitoring capabilities save one outdated ultrasound machine.

    So Walsh, along with the Dean of Public Health at USFQ Jaime Ocampo, MD, PhD, MBA, and UNC Professor of Nutrition and member of the UNC-USFQ Advisory Board for the Galápagos Science Center Peggy Bentley, PhD, started putting together a series of tactics for addressing the healthcare needs. Chief among these was bringing the School of Nursing on board.

    “It was clear to me that we would benefit from collaborating with the School of Nursing.” says Walsh. “And so I reached out to Gwen Sherwood about the advantages of getting them involved in Galápagos.”

    Gwen Sherwood, PhD, RN, FAAN, ANEF, is the associate dean for Practice and Global Initiatives in the UNC School of Nursing. Sherwood says she jumped at the opportunity to continue the School’s long legacy of international collaboration. With the administrative support and encouragement of then Interim Dean of the School Donna Havens, PhD, RN, FAAN, at her back, Sherwood began meeting with Walsh and the other partners to learn how her department could help.

    This delegation decided that Sherwood, accompanied by Bentley, should head down to the Galápagos to get a better idea of how the School of Nursing could use its resources to improve healthcare on the islands.

    A marine iguana sitting on a beach in San Cristóbal. Photo by Bradley Allf

    The Role of the Environment

    In February of 2016, Sherwood boarded a plane headed to the Galápagos Islands. One of the first things that struck her upon arriving was how the human and natural worlds co-mingle.

    “You’re sitting having breakfast on a deck and the iguanas are right here and the sea lions are sitting in the chair next to you and they don’t even know to react. It’s amazing,” says Sherwood.

    But these same aspects of life that make the Galápagos so unique also create unique challenges for health. Those same friendly sea lions also defecate all over the island’s public beaches and boardwalks, presenting opportunities for the spread of disease. The bright equatorial sun, while pleasant on the beach, puts Galapagueños at increased risk for skin cancer. Water is often poorly filtered and almost all food must be imported from the mainland, driving up the cost of healthy perishables like fruits and vegetables.

    Seeing all these issues for herself showed Sherwood what a significant impact well-trained nurses with adequate resources could have as the health interface between the public and their surroundings.

    “In nursing, we think about nurses as having a major role in helping people with the how they interact with the environment. Especially when we are working with people in community health settings, the social and environmental determinants of health play a major role in how people manage their health,” says Sherwood.

    So what can the School of Nursing do to improve this health interface? Sherwood decided, based on her firsthand experience in Galápagos, that the best way for the School to begin to get involved would be to start an ongoing professional development program for nurses in the Galápagos. Upon returning to Chapel Hill, she got in touch with another nurse at UNC with the skillset to begin implementing such a project.

    Chris Harlan, RN, MA, in a blue shirt and red capris (it was the 4th of July!) standing with nurses from Hospital Oskar Jandl on San Cristóbal, Galápagos.

    A Hospital in the Shape of a Turtle

    That nurse was Chris Harlan. Harlan, RN, MA, is a clinical assistant professor in the School of Nursing. Harlan is fluent in Spanish, was a member of the Peace Corps, and has lived in Central and Latin America. She also has an anthropology background. Sherwood says she was the “ideal faculty member” for the collaboration.

    Harlan happily agreed to go to San Cristóbal to learn more about what nurses on the island would like to see in a professional development series. Specifically, Harlan would work with the nurses in the newly constructed medical facility on San Cristóbal, “Hospital Oskar Jandl”—built in the shape of a turtle, of course.

    Harlan brought with her two nursing students who were interested in getting involved in the project, and who were also native Spanish speakers. The main goal for this group was to interview the nurses at Hospital Oskar Jandl to see what they were looking for in a professional development series.

    One of the most common requests was for learning quality improvement strategies, specifically in maternal-child quality and safety developments. This is something UNC has been working to address in its own hospitals, so Harlan thought it could be a good starting point for creating a relevant professional development program going forward.

    While on the islands, the team also assisted Bentley with interviewing locals about their attitudes and perceptions regarding the new hospital. This aspect of the trip was particularly important because despite the hospital being, as Harlan puts it, “a huge improvement over what the island has had for forever,” few people seemed to be using it.

    “There is a big problem between the community and the hospital on San Cristóbal and that problem is called trust,” says Jaime Ocampo, dean of public health at USFQ. Ocampo states that, because of the legacy of poor healthcare on the islands, most people that can afford to travel seek their healthcare on the mainland.

    Beyond the legacy of ineffective care, this mistrust is fueled by the transience of healthcare workers in the Galápagos. By law, only native-born Galapagueños can live on the islands permanently. Thus, healthcare workers from the continent can only stay on the islands for a year or two. This obviously complicates continuity of care, and helps contribute to the local perception of these doctors and nurses as outsiders.

    But taking an airplane all the way to Quito or Guayaquil just to go to the doctor requires a lot of time and money. And relying solely on mainland doctors can be dangerous in emergencies, as it can take hours to get a plane to the mainland.

    Harlan hopes that the collaboration between Hospital Oskar Jandl and the UNC School of Nursing will lead to better training for the nurses, which will increase public trust in the hospital over time.

    There are, of course, myriad physical resources the nurses would like to have in the hospital, including a blood bank and an intensive care unit. However, at this stage the School of Nursing is keeping its focus on developing a highly effective professional development program.

    “The short-term vision is that we will develop a team of folks who will be able to travel once or twice a year to provide workshops or educational programs for the staff there,” says Harlan.

    Still Early Days

    Broadly speaking, Ocampo sees UNC’s involvement with improving healthcare in the Galápagos as having three main aspects: research, training and medical assistance. The School of Nursing will figure prominently into all three of these aspects.

    As the collaboration is still very much in its infancy, the research aspect is currently most central to the project. It answers the question: what is the need? The UNC nurses involved in the project will continue working with hospital staff to understand this need, and how the School of Nursing can most effectively address it.

    The second aspect of the School’s involvement on the Galápagos is training. How can the School of Nursing work with the Galápagos nurses to better equip them to provide healthcare? Harlan, Sherwood, and the others involved in the project are excited to implement their professional development series to begin addressing this goal.

    The third aspect, medical assistance, will eventually involve a nurse exchange program whereby nurses from UNC can stay in Galápagos for extended periods, and vice-versa. However, at this stage such a program is still a long way off.

    Collaborative, Community-Focused Care

    While making these plans, however, Sherwood stresses how important it is to ensure that this project is not ham-fisted in its approach—that it’s a collaboration with USFQ and the Galápagos healthcare workers in the truest sense of the word.

    “It’s not ‘go and do,’ it’s ‘how can we form teams,’” says Sherwood. “In nursing, we often rush into intervention and we rush to acute care whereas sometimes it would be helpful for us to step back and look at the community where populations reside and try to take time to understand what is behind the presentation of the illness. What’s the story that we could better understand in terms of how we coordinate health here?”

    Understanding that story starts with understanding the community, and that’s something central to the entire Galápagos Initiative.

    “Early on [in the Initiative], not only did we create a scientific advisory board made up of faculty from UNC and USFQ,” says Walsh. “We also created a community advisory board made up of local people—shop owners, restaurant owners— people that care about the question ‘what are you doing for us?’”

    The Galápagos Initiative team is even developing a community research symposium, where they plan to explain to the public every single project they’re involved in and how each one benefits those living on the island.

    Going forward, the School of Nursing wants to keep this sort of community focus at the center of their involvement on the islands. Additionally, Harlan and Sherwood are working to continue expanding the project’s intradepartmental breadth. For example, they have invited the new Dean of the School of Nursing Nilda Peragallo Montano, DrPH, RN, FAAN, to visit the islands this summer to learn more about the collaboration.

    It’s important to understand that the School of Nursing is by no means the only group in the Galápagos Initiative working to address the healthcare problems in the Galápagos. There are many other departments at UNC and USFQ working alongside the School of Nursing to bring better healthcare to the islands.

    With any luck, this collaborative approach will help facilitate a healthcare transformation on the islands to better meet the healthcare needs necessitated by such a unique place.

    See the full article here .

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    U NC campus

    Carolina’s vibrant people and programs attest to the University’s long-standing place among leaders in higher education since it was chartered in 1789 and opened its doors for students in 1795 as the nation’s first public university. Situated in the beautiful college town of Chapel Hill, N.C., UNC has earned a reputation as one of the best universities in the world. Carolina prides itself on a strong, diverse student body, academic opportunities not found anywhere else, and a value unmatched by any public university in the nation.

  • richardmitnick 11:56 am on May 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Chiral nonlinear spectroscopy, , ,   

    From Cornell: “Water forms ‘spine of hydration’ around DNA, group finds” 

    Cornell Bloc

    Cornell University

    May 24, 2017
    Tom Fleischman

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    Cornell Chronicle
    Tom Fleischman

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    Daryl Lovell

    An illustration of what chiral nonlinear spectroscopy reveals: that DNA is surrounded by a chiral water super-structure, forming a “spine of hydration.” Poul Petersen/Provided

    Water is the Earth’s most abundant natural resource, but it’s also something of a mystery due to its unique solvation characteristics – that is, how things dissolve in it.

    “It’s uniquely adapted to biology, and vice versa,” said Poul Petersen, assistant professor of chemistry and chemical biology. “It’s super-flexible. It dissipates energy and mediates interactions, and that’s becoming more recognized in biological systems.”

    How water relates to and interacts with those systems – like DNA, the building block of all living things – is of critical importance, and Petersen’s group has used a relatively new form of spectroscopy to observe a previously unknown characteristic of water.

    “DNA’s chiral spine of hydration,” published May 24 in the American Chemical Society journal Central Science, reports the first observation of a chiral water superstructure surrounding a biomolecule. In this case, the water structure follows the iconic helical structure of DNA, which itself is chiral, meaning it is not superimposable on its mirror image. Chirality is a key factor in biology, because most biomolecules and pharmaceuticals are chiral.

    “If you want to understand reactivity and biology, then it’s not just water on its own,” Petersen said. “You want to understand water around stuff, and how it interacts with the stuff. And particularly with biology, you want to understand how it behaves around biological material – like protein and DNA.”

    Water plays a major role in DNA’s structure and function, and its hydration shell has been the subject of much study. Molecular dynamics simulations have shown a broad range of behaviors of the water structure in DNA’s minor groove, the area where the backbones of the helical strand are close together.

    The group’s work employed chiral sum frequency generation spectroscopy (SFG), a technique Petersen detailed in a 2015 paper in the Journal of Physical Chemistry. SFG is a nonlinear optical method in which two photon beams – one infrared and one visible – interact with the sample, producing an SFG beam containing the sum of the two beams’ frequencies, or energies. In this case, the sample was a strand of DNA linked to a silicon-coated prism.

    More manipulation of the beams and calculation proved the existence of a chiral water superstructure surrounding DNA.

    In addition to the novelty of observing a chiral water structure template by a biomolecule, chiral SFG provides a direct way to examine water in biology.

    “The techniques we have developed provide a new avenue to study DNA hydration, as well as other supramolecular chiral structures,” Petersen said.

    The group admits that their finding’s biological relevance is unclear, but Petersen thinks the ability to directly examine water and its behavior within biological systems is important.

    “Certainly, chemical engineers who are designing biomimetic systems and looking at biology and trying to find applications such as water filtration would care about this,” he said.

    Another application, Petersen said, could be in creating better anti-biofouling materials, which are resistant to the accumulation of microorganisms, algae and the like on wetted surfaces.

    Collaborators included M. Luke McDermott, Ph.D. ’17; Heather Vanselous, a doctoral student in chemistry and chemical biology and a member of the Petersen Group; and Steven Corcelli, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Notre Dame.

    This work was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the Arnold and Mable Beckman Foundation, and made use of the Cornell Center for Materials Research, an NSF Materials Research Science and Engineering Center.

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    Once called “the first American university” by educational historian Frederick Rudolph, Cornell University represents a distinctive mix of eminent scholarship and democratic ideals. Adding practical subjects to the classics and admitting qualified students regardless of nationality, race, social circumstance, gender, or religion was quite a departure when Cornell was founded in 1865.

    Today’s Cornell reflects this heritage of egalitarian excellence. It is home to the nation’s first colleges devoted to hotel administration, industrial and labor relations, and veterinary medicine. Both a private university and the land-grant institution of New York State, Cornell University is the most educationally diverse member of the Ivy League.

    On the Ithaca campus alone nearly 20,000 students representing every state and 120 countries choose from among 4,000 courses in 11 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools. Many undergraduates participate in a wide range of interdisciplinary programs, play meaningful roles in original research, and study in Cornell programs in Washington, New York City, and the world over.

  • richardmitnick 11:39 am on May 25, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Unlimited supply of healthy blood cells, Weill Cornell   

    From Cornell: “Weill Cornell team creates breakthrough on blood disorders” 

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    Cornell University

    May 18, 2017
    Geri Clark

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    Cornell Chronicle
    George Lowery

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    Jennifer Gundersen

    This image shows reprogrammed hematopoietic stem cells (green) that are arising from mouse cells. These stem cells are developing close to a group of cells, called the vascular niche cells (gray), which provides them with the nurturing factors necessary for the reprogramming. Dr. Raphael Lis/Provided

    Researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine have discovered an innovative method to make an unlimited supply of healthy blood cells from the readily available cells that line blood vessels. This achievement marks the first time any research group has generated such blood-forming stem cells.

    “This is a game-changing breakthrough that brings us closer not only to treat blood disorders, but also deciphering the complex biology of stem-cell self-renewal machinery,” said senior author Dr. Shahin Rafii, director of the Ansary Stem Cell Institute, chief of the Division of Regenerative Medicine and the Arthur B. Belfer Professor at Weill Cornell Medicine.

    “This is exciting because it provides us with a path toward generating clinically useful quantities of normal stem cells for transplantation that may help us cure patients with genetic and acquired blood diseases,” added co-senior author Dr. Joseph Scandura, associate professor of medicine and scientific director of the Silver Myeloproliferative Neoplasms Center at Weill Cornell Medicine.

    Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) are long-lasting cells that mature into white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. Billions of circulating blood cells do not survive long in the body and must be continuously replenished. When this does not happen, severe blood diseases, such as anemia, bleeding or life-threatening infections, can occur. A special property of HSCs is that they can also “self-renew” to form more HSCs. This property allows just a few thousand HSCs to produce all of the blood cells a person has throughout his or her life.

    Researchers have long hoped to find a way to make the body produce healthy HSCs to cure these diseases. But this has never been accomplished, in part because scientists have been unable to engineer a nurturing environment within which stem cells can convert into new, long-lasting cells – until now.

    In a paper published May 17 in Nature, Rafii and his colleagues demonstrate a way to efficiently convert cells that line all blood vessels, called vascular endothelial cells, into abundant, fully functioning HSCs that can be transplanted to yield a lifetime supply of new, healthy blood cells. The research team also discovered that specialized types of endothelial cells serve as that nurturing environment, known as vascular niche cells, and they choreograph the new converted HSCs’ self-renewal. This finding may solve one of the most long-standing questions in regenerative and reproductive medicine: How do stem cells constantly replenish their supply?

    The research team showed in a 2014 Nature study that converting adult human vascular endothelial cells into hematopoietic cells was feasible. However, the team was unable to prove that they had generated true HSCs because human HSCs’ function and regenerative potential can only be approximated by transplanting the cells into mice, which don’t truly mimic human biology.

    To address this issue, the team applied their conversion approach to mouse blood marrow transplant models that are endowed with normal immune function and where definitive evidence for HSC potential could rigorously tested. The researchers took vascular endothelial cells isolated from readily accessible adult mice organs and instructed them to overproduce certain proteins associated with blood stem-cell function. These reprogrammed cells were grown and multiplied in co-culture with the engineered vascular niche. The reprogrammed HSCs were then transplanted as single cells with their progenies into mice that had been irradiated to destroy all of their blood-forming and immune systems, and then monitored to see whether or not they would self-renew and produce healthy blood cells.

    Study co-authors, from left: Dr. Joseph Scandura, Dr. Raphael Lis, Dr. Jason Butler, Michael Poulos, Balvir Kunar Jr., Chaitanya R. Badwe, Koji Shido, Dr. Zev Rozenwaks, Jose-Gabriel Barcia-Duran, Dr. Shahin Rafii and Dr. Jenny Xiang. Not pictured: Charles Karrasch, David Redmond, Dr. Will Schachterle, Michael Ginsberg, Dr. Arash Rafii and Dr. Olivier Elemento. Michael Gutkin’Provided

    The conversion procedure yielded a plethora of transplantable HSCs that regenerated the entire blood system in mice for the duration of their life spans, a phenomenon known as engraftment. “We developed a fully functioning and long-lasting blood system,” said lead author Raphael Lis, an instructor in medicine and reproductive medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. In addition, the HSC-engrafted mice developed all of the working components of the immune systems. “This is clinically important because the reprogrammed cells could be transplanted to allow patients to fight infections after marrow transplants,” Lis said. The mice in the study went on to live normal-length lives and die natural deaths, with no sign of leukemia or any other blood disorders.

    In collaboration with Olivier Elemento, associate director of the HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud Institute for Computational Biomedicine, and Dr. Jenny Xiang, director of Genomics Services, Rafii and his team also showed the reprogrammed HSCs and their differentiated progenies – including white and red bloods cells, as well as the immune cells – were endowed with the same genetic attributes as that of normal adult stem cells. These findings suggest the reprogramming process results in the generation of true HSCs that have genetic signatures that are very similar to normal adult HSCs.

    The Weill Cornell Medicine team is the first to achieve cellular reprogramming to create engraftable and authentic HSCs, which have been considered the holy grail of stem cell research. “We think the difference is the vascular niche,” said contributing author Jason Butler, assistant professor of regenerative medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. “Growing stem cells in the vascular niche puts them back into context, where they come from and multiply. We think this is why we were able to get stem cells capable of self-renewing.”

    If this method can be scaled up and applied to humans, it could have wide-ranging clinical implications. “It might allow us to provide healthy stem cells to patients who need bone marrow donors but have no genetic match,” Scandura said. “It could lead to new ways to cure leukemia and myeloproliferative neoplasms, and may help us correct genetic defects that cause blood diseases like sickle-cell anemia.”

    “More importantly, our vascular niche-stem-cell expansion model may be employed to clone the key unknown growth factors produced by this niche that are essential for self-perpetuation of stem cells,” Rafii said. “Identification of those factors could be important for unraveling the secrets of stem cells’ longevity and translating the potential of stem cell therapy to the clinical setting.”

    Additional study co-authors include Charles Karrasch, Michael Poulos, Balvir Kunar, David Redmond, Jose-Gabriel Barcia-Duran, Chaitanya Badwe and Koji Shido of Weill Cornell Medicine; Will Schachterle, formerly of Weill Cornell Medicine; Dr. Arash Rafii of Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar; Dr. Michael Ginsberg of Angiocrine Bioscience; and Dr. Nancy Speck of the Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

    Various study authors have relationships with Angiocrine Bioscience that are independent of Weill Cornell Medicine.

    See the full article here .

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    Once called “the first American university” by educational historian Frederick Rudolph, Cornell University represents a distinctive mix of eminent scholarship and democratic ideals. Adding practical subjects to the classics and admitting qualified students regardless of nationality, race, social circumstance, gender, or religion was quite a departure when Cornell was founded in 1865.

    Today’s Cornell reflects this heritage of egalitarian excellence. It is home to the nation’s first colleges devoted to hotel administration, industrial and labor relations, and veterinary medicine. Both a private university and the land-grant institution of New York State, Cornell University is the most educationally diverse member of the Ivy League.

    On the Ithaca campus alone nearly 20,000 students representing every state and 120 countries choose from among 4,000 courses in 11 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools. Many undergraduates participate in a wide range of interdisciplinary programs, play meaningful roles in original research, and study in Cornell programs in Washington, New York City, and the world over.

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