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  • richardmitnick 5:15 pm on March 31, 2023 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Was plate tectonics occurring when life first formed on Earth?", , , , Earth is the only known planet that has a mobile upper crust that is cyclically destroyed and created., , , , , The Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences, The scientists conducted their research using zircons—tiny crystals in rocks that are like small time capsules., , The zircons contain trace amounts of chemical elements locked into the crystals at the time when the crystals were formed.   

    From The Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences In The College of Arts & Sciences & Engineering At The University of Rochester: “Was plate tectonics occurring when life first formed on Earth?” 

    From The Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences


    The College of Arts & Sciences & Engineering


    The University of Rochester

    Lindsey Valich

    Plate tectonics melts and mixes rocks to create magmas with specific chemical makeups. Rochester geologists are using that chemical evidence to unlock information about plate tectonic activity on Earth more than 4 billion years ago. (Getty Images photo)

    Zircon crystals and magmas reveal new information about plate tectonic activity on Earth billions of years ago.

    Earth is a dynamic and constantly changing planet. From the formation of mountains and oceans to the eruption of volcanoes, the surface of our planet is in a constant state of flux. At the heart of these changes lies the powerful force of plate tectonics—the movements of Earth’s crustal plates. This fundamental process has shaped the current topography of our planet and continues to play a role in its future.

    But what was plate tectonic activity like during early Earth? And was the process even occurring during the time when life is thought to have formed?

    “The dynamic tectonic nature of the modern Earth is one of the reasons why life exists today,” says Wriju Chowdhury, a postdoctoral research associate in the lab of Dustin Trail, an associate professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Rochester. “Exploring the geodynamics and the lithological diversity of the early Earth could lead to revelations of how life first began on our planet.”

    Chowdhury is the first author of a paper published in Nature Communications [below] that outlines how Rochester researchers used small zircon crystals to unlock information about magmas and plate tectonic activity in early Earth. The research provides chemical evidence that plate tectonics was most likely occurring more than 4.2 billion years ago when life is thought to have first formed on our planet. This finding could prove beneficial in the search for life on other planets.

    Plate tectonics power the creation and destruction of Earth’s crust

    Plate tectonics on modern Earth is “extremely important,” Trail says, because it is “the dominant mechanism for the creation and destruction of Earth’s crust.”

    Earth is the only known planet that has a mobile upper crust that is cyclically destroyed and created. The process delivers critical elements, such as iron and magnesium, from the interior of the earth to its surface and controls Earth’s water and carbon cycles. But, more importantly to geologists, plate tectonics melts and mixes rocks to create magmas with specific chemical makeups, depending on the rocks involved and the location where the “destruction” occurred. The chemical makeup of magma can therefore indicate the style of tectonics that created it.

    Ancient crystals as tiny time capsules

    Chowdhury and his colleagues conducted their research using zircons—tiny crystals in rocks that are like small time capsules. The zircons contain trace amounts of chemical elements locked into the crystals at the time when the crystals were formed. The researchers date the zircons and then work backward, with zircons revealing information about the chemical makeup of the parent magmas from which the zircons crystallized. Researchers then use information about the magmas to reconstruct the physical and chemical environment—and to infer plate tectonic styles—of the early Earth, during the time when the zircons formed. In this case, the zircons were around 3.8 to 4.2 billion years old.

    According to Chowdhury, most researchers infer information about early Earth using zircons to create probabilistic models to present different tectonic scenarios. Chowdhury and his colleagues went a step further to describe not only the zircons but also the parent magmas.

    Rochester researchers Wriju Chowdhury and Dustin Trail reveal information about early Earth using tiny zircon crystals, which are billions of years old and a fraction of a millimeter in size (scale bars are in micrometers, where 1 micrometer = 0.000001 meter). The researchers use an imaging technique called cathodoluminescence that fires electrons from a cathode at a sample. The holes in the crystals are from a laser that removed part of the grain to allow the researchers to acquire chemical information. (Smithsonian Institution photo)

    “Parent magmas are much more direct and reliable because they are closer to the source—the actual tectonic style,” Chowdhury says. “Our study describes the silicon and oxygen isotopic content of the zircons and the trace element content of the parental magmas, which has not been combined and presented before.”

    Chowdhury, Trail, and their colleagues found chemical similarities between early Earth magmas and modern magmas created at tectonically active plate boundaries such as the Cascade and Aleutian Island chains or areas in Japan and the Andes Mountains.

    “This suggests tectonic continuity from the ancient to modern times,” Trail says. “That is, our study shows the earth, billions of years ago, might have operated similarly as it does today.”

    A key characteristic of a habitable planet

    The researchers did not determine whether life existed when plate tectonics began—“neither life nor tectonics have an accurate start date yet,” Chowdhury says, noting that the geology community is divided on these points. But the new data provides chemical evidence suggesting that plate tectonics could have been occurring more than 4.2 billion years ago.

    Whatever the case, he continues, plate tectonics is a key reason why Earth currently has a temperate living environment—and could be an important factor in the search for habitable living environments on other planets.

    “The chances for life to originate increase manifold if there is some planetary dynamism,” he says.

    Nature Communications
    See the science paper for instructive material with images.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Earth and Environmental Sciences is the integration of chemistry, biology, and physics applied to Earth and planetary systems.

    Wind, water, earthquakes, volcanoes, and human activities constantly modify Earth. Global systems studies probe the processes that form and modify the planet, from cycling of water and human interactions, to magmatism and faulting at plate boundaries, as well as recycling of plates within the convecting mantle.

    Understanding these systems requires measurements of our planet’s present-day structure, as well as records since its formation 4.5 billion years ago. This multi-disciplinary, systems-based approach forms the basis for our undergraduate and graduate degree programs.
    Department Goals

    As a department, we strive to:

    Advance fundamental scientific understanding of the Earth system in the past, present, and future
    Communicate this understanding to our students and the general public
    Train the next generation of earth and environmental scientists
    Maintain a high level of excellence in research and teaching
    Act with integrity in all our of scholarly endeavors
    Create a supportive, respectful, and inclusive environment in the classroom, laboratory, and field

    The College of Arts & Sciences & Engineering is one of the primary units of the University of Rochester, encompassing the majority of the undergraduate and graduate enrollment. The College is divided in the units of Arts and Sciences and the Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. The College is located on the River Campus of the University of Rochester, though some departments maintain facilities on other campuses. The College was established in 1955 upon the merger of the separate colleges for men and women at the university.

    University of Rochester campus

    The University of Rochester is a private research university in Rochester, New York. The university grants undergraduate and graduate degrees, including doctoral and professional degrees.

    The University of Rochester enrolls approximately 6,800 undergraduates and 5,000 graduate students. Its 158 buildings house over 200 academic majors. According to the National Science Foundation , Rochester spent $370 million on research and development in 2018, ranking it 68th in the nation. The university is the 7th largest employer in the Finger lakes region of New York.

    The College of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering is home to departments and divisions of note. The Institute of Optics was founded in 1929 through a grant from Eastman Kodak and Bausch and Lomb as the first educational program in the US devoted exclusively to optics and awards approximately half of all optics degrees nationwide and is widely regarded as the premier optics program in the nation and among the best in the world.

    The Departments of Political Science and Economics have made a significant and consistent impact on positivist social science since the 1960s and historically rank in the top 5 in their fields. The Department of Chemistry is noted for its contributions to synthetic organic chemistry, including the first lab-based synthesis of morphine. The Rossell Hope Robbins Library serves as the university’s resource for Old and Middle English texts and expertise. The university is also home to Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics, a Department of Energy supported national laboratory.

    University of Rochester Laboratory for Laser Energetics.

    The University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music ranks first among undergraduate music schools in the U.S. The Sibley Music Library at Eastman is the largest academic music library in North America and holds the third largest collection in the United States.

    In its history university alumni and faculty have earned 13 Nobel Prizes; 13 Pulitzer Prizes; 45 Grammy Awards; 20 Guggenheim Awards; 5 National Academy of Sciences; 4 National Academy of Engineering; 3 Rhodes Scholarships; 3 National Academy of Inventors; and 1 National Academy of Inventors Hall of Fame.


    Early history

    The University of Rochester traces its origins to The First Baptist Church of Hamilton (New York) which was founded in 1796. The church established the Baptist Education Society of the State of New York later renamed the Hamilton Literary and Theological Institution in 1817. This institution gave birth to both Colgate University and the University of Rochester. Its function was to train clergy in the Baptist tradition. When it aspired to grant higher degrees it created a collegiate division separate from the theological division.

    The collegiate division was granted a charter by the State of New York in 1846 after which its name was changed to Madison University. John Wilder and the Baptist Education Society urged that the new university be moved to Rochester, New York. However, legal action prevented the move. In response, dissenting faculty, students, and trustees defected and departed for Rochester, where they sought a new charter for a new university.

    Madison University was eventually renamed as Colgate University.


    Asahel C. Kendrick- professor of Greek- was among the faculty that departed Madison University for Rochester. Kendrick served as acting president while a national search was conducted. He reprised this role until 1853 when Martin Brewer Anderson of the Newton Theological Seminary in Massachusetts was selected to fill the inaugural posting.

    The University of Rochester’s new charter was awarded by the Regents of the State of New York on January 31, 1850. The charter stipulated that the university have $100,000 in endowment within five years upon which the charter would be reaffirmed. An initial gift of $10,000 was pledged by John Wilder which helped catalyze significant gifts from individuals and institutions.

    Classes began that November with approximately 60 students enrolled including 28 transfers from Madison. From 1850 to 1862 the university was housed in the old United States Hotel in downtown Rochester on Buffalo Street near Elizabeth Street- today West Main Street near the I-490 overpass. On a February 1851 visit Ralph Waldo Emerson said of the university:

    “They had bought a hotel, once a railroad terminus depot, for $8,500, turned the dining room into a chapel by putting up a pulpit on one side, made the barroom into a Pythologian Society’s Hall, & the chambers into Recitation rooms, Libraries, & professors’ apartments, all for $700 a year. They had brought an omnibus load of professors down from Madison bag and baggage… called in a painter and sent him up the ladder to paint the title “University of Rochester” on the wall, and they had runners on the road to catch students. And they are confident of graduating a class of ten by the time green peas are ripe.”

    For the next 10 years the college expanded its scope and secured its future through an expanding endowment; student body; and faculty. In parallel a gift of 8 acres of farmland from local businessman and Congressman Azariah Boody secured the first campus of the university upon which Anderson Hall was constructed and dedicated in 1862. Over the next sixty years this Prince Street Campus grew by a further 17 acres and was developed to include fraternitie’s houses; dormitories; and academic buildings including Anderson Hall; Sibley Library; Eastman and Carnegie Laboratories the Memorial Art Gallery and Cutler Union.

    Twentieth century


    The first female students were admitted in 1900- the result of an effort led by Susan B. Anthony and Helen Barrett Montgomery. During the 1890s a number of women took classes and labs at the university as “visitors” but were not officially enrolled nor were their records included in the college register. President David Jayne Hill allowed the first woman- Helen E. Wilkinson- to enroll as a normal student although she was not allowed to matriculate or to pursue a degree. Thirty-three women enrolled among the first class in 1900 and Ella S. Wilcoxen was the first to receive a degree in 1901. The first female member of the faculty was Elizabeth Denio who retired as Professor Emeritus in 1917. Male students moved to River Campus upon its completion in 1930 while the female students remained on the Prince Street campus until 1955.


    Major growth occurred under the leadership of Benjamin Rush Rhees over his 1900-1935 tenure. During this period George Eastman became a major donor giving more than $50 million to the university during his life. Under the patronage of Eastman the Eastman School of Music was created in 1921. In 1925 at the behest of the General Education Board and with significant support for John D. Rockefeller George Eastman and Henry A. Strong’s family medical and dental schools were created. The university award its first Ph.D that same year.

    During World War II University of Rochester was one of 131 colleges and universities nationally that took part in the V-12 Navy College Training Program which offered students a path to a Navy commission. In 1942, the university was invited to join the Association of American Universities as an affiliate member and it was made a full member by 1944. Between 1946 and 1947 in infamous uranium experiments researchers at the university injected uranium-234 and uranium-235 into six people to study how much uranium their kidneys could tolerate before becoming damaged.

    In 1955 the separate colleges for men and women were merged into The College on the River Campus. In 1958 three new schools were created in engineering; business administration and education. The Graduate School of Management was named after William E. Simon- former Secretary of the Treasury in 1986. He committed significant funds to the school because of his belief in the school’s free market philosophy and grounding in economic analysis.

    Financial decline and name change controversy

    Following the princely gifts given throughout his life George Eastman left the entirety of his estate to the university after his death by suicide. The total of these gifts surpassed $100 million before inflation and as such Rochester enjoyed a privileged position amongst the most well endowed universities. During the expansion years between 1936 and 1976 the University of Rochester’s financial position ranked third, near Harvard University’s endowment and the University of Texas System’s Permanent University Fund. Due to a decline in the value of large investments and a lack of portfolio diversity the university’s place dropped to the top 25 by the end of the 1980s. At the same time the preeminence of the city of Rochester’s major employers began to decline.

    In response the University commissioned a study to determine if the name of the institution should be changed to “Eastman University” or “Eastman Rochester University”. The study concluded a name change could be beneficial because the use of a place name in the title led respondents to incorrectly believe it was a public university, and because the name “Rochester” connoted a “cold and distant outpost.” Reports of the latter conclusion led to controversy and criticism in the Rochester community. Ultimately, the name “University of Rochester” was retained.

    Renaissance Plan
    In 1995 University of Rochester president Thomas H. Jackson announced the launch of a “Renaissance Plan” for The College that reduced enrollment from 4,500 to 3,600 creating a more selective admissions process. The plan also revised the undergraduate curriculum significantly creating the current system with only one required course and only a few distribution requirements known as clusters. Part of this plan called for the end of graduate doctoral studies in chemical engineering; comparative literature; linguistics; and mathematics the last of which was met by national outcry. The plan was largely scrapped and mathematics exists as a graduate course of study to this day.

    Twenty-first century

    Meliora Challenge

    Shortly after taking office university president Joel Seligman commenced the private phase of the “Meliora Challenge”- a $1.2 billion capital campaign- in 2005. The campaign reached its goal in 2015- a year before the campaign was slated to conclude. In 2016, the university announced the Meliora Challenge had exceeded its goal and surpassed $1.36 billion. These funds were allocated to support over 100 new endowed faculty positions and nearly 400 new scholarships.

    The Mangelsdorf Years

    On December 17, 2018 the University of Rochester announced that Sarah C. Mangelsdorf would succeed Richard Feldman as President of the University. Her term started in July 2019 with a formal inauguration following in October during Meliora Weekend. Mangelsdorf is the first woman to serve as President of the University and the first person with a degree in psychology to be appointed to Rochester’s highest office.

    In 2019 students from China mobilized by the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) defaced murals in the University’s access tunnels which had expressed support for the 2019 Hong Kong Protests, condemned the oppression of the Uighurs, and advocated for Taiwanese independence. The act was widely seen as a continuation of overseas censorship of Chinese issues. In response a large group of students recreated the original murals. There have also been calls for Chinese government run CSSA to be banned from campus.


    Rochester is a member of the Association of American Universities and is classified among “R1: Doctoral Universities – Very High Research Activity”.

    Rochester had a research expenditure of $370 million in 2018.

    In 2008 Rochester ranked 44th nationally in research spending but this ranking has declined gradually to 68 in 2018.

    Some of the major research centers include the Laboratory for Laser Energetics, a laser-based nuclear fusion facility, and the extensive research facilities at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

    Recently the university has also engaged in a series of new initiatives to expand its programs in biomedical engineering and optics including the construction of the new $37 million Robert B. Goergen Hall for Biomedical Engineering and Optics on the River Campus.

    Other new research initiatives include a cancer stem cell program and a Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute. UR also has the ninth highest technology revenue among U.S. higher education institutions with $46 million being paid for commercial rights to university technology and research in 2009. Notable patents include Zoloft and Gardasil. WeBWorK, a web-based system for checking homework and providing immediate feedback for students was developed by University of Rochester professors Gage and Pizer. The system is now in use at over 800 universities and colleges as well as several secondary and primary schools. Rochester scientists work in diverse areas. For example, physicists developed a technique for etching metal surfaces such as platinum; titanium; and brass with powerful lasers enabling self-cleaning surfaces that repel water droplets and will not rust if tilted at a 4 degree angle; and medical researchers are exploring how brains rid themselves of toxic waste during sleep.

  • richardmitnick 4:03 pm on March 31, 2023 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Streamlining the Search for Black Holes", A data scientist as well as an astrophysicist the PhD student for the first time used new statistical techniques to incorporate different classes of uncertainty and look at them simultaneously., , , , , , Broekgaarden studies stellar-mass black holes which result from the collapse of a single star., , Floor Broekgaarden, , In 2015 scientists discovered that when two stellar-mass black holes collide they could be observed by the gravitational waves they emitted instead of light., , , The stars that form stellar-mass black holes play a crucial role in enriching our universe with heavy elements like sodium but also oxygen and others that we see on Earth today.   

    From The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics: “Streamlining the Search for Black Holes” Floor Broekgaarden 

    From The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

    3.9.23 [Better Late than Never]

    2023 Harvard Horizons scholar Floor Broekgaarden brings data science to the study of stars.

    Floor Broekgaarden. Image courtesy of Floor Broekgaarden.

    Floor Broekgaarden was rifling through her dad’s library in the basement of her childhood home in the Netherlands. A particular volume caught her eye: A Brief History of Time by the late theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. Curious, the 14-year-old took it with her and spent months trying to understand Hawking’s ideas about space, time, and special relativity. She became particularly interested in one cosmic phenomenon: black holes.

    “They seemed like these extreme and mysterious objects in our universe,” she says. “I was fascinated.”

    Broekgaarden brings that childhood fascination with the cosmos to her research as a PhD student in astronomy at Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. This year, Broekgaarden was one of eight students selected as a 2023 Harvard Horizons Scholar, which recognizes the ideas and innovations of Harvard’s most accomplished PhD students and helps them gain essential professional skills.

    In her Harvard Horizons project Gravitational Wave Paleontology: A New Frontier to Explore the Lives of Stars to the Edge of Our Observable Universe, she merges astrophysics and big data in her quest to provide new insights into the death — and life — of stars.

    Smaller and More Challenging

    Daniel Holz, a professor at the University of Chicago who sits on Broekgaarden’s dissertation committee, says that the study of black holes advances understanding of fundamental physics and the origins of the cosmos. “They provide extreme tests of the Theory of General Relativity,” he says. “They also teach us about the birth and evolution of the first stars, the age and composition of the universe, and a host of other important topics in astronomy.”

    Most of the black holes identified and studied by astronomers so far are supermassive.

    Scientists are not sure how they form. One possibility is that when one particularly massive star collapses on itself, it accretes gas and other stars or black holes to grow to a size that can reach to millions or even billions of times its original mass. Because supermassive black holes are so immense, astronomers can infer their existence from the way that a galaxy’s stars revolve around them or from light that is produced when it accretes gas.

    Broekgaarden studies stellar-mass black holes, which result from the collapse of a single star.

    This artist’s impression depicts the newly discovered stellar-mass black hole in the spiral galaxy NGC 300. The black hole has a mass of about twenty times the mass of the Sun and is associated with a Wolf–Rayet star; a star that will become a black hole itself. Thanks to the observations performed with the FORS2 instrument mounted on ESO’s Very Large Telescope, astronomers have confirmed an earlier hunch that the black hole and the Wolf–Rayet star dance around each other in a diabolic waltz, with a period of about 32 hours. Credit: L. Calçada/M.Kornmesser/ESO.

    The astronomers also found that the black hole is stripping matter away from the star as they orbit each other. How such a tightly bound system has survived the tumultuous phases that preceded the formation of the black hole is still a mystery.

    Because they are millions of times less massive than a supermassive black hole, stellar-mass black holes are far more difficult to identify.

    “We’ve inferred the existence of many supermassive black holes by now,” Broekgaarden says. “Stellar-mass black holes are much more challenging to observe because they’re so small.”

    The size of stellar-mass black holes belies their importance as celestial phenomena, not only because they might eventually come together in supermassive black holes, but also because they are critical for a much richer understanding of the cosmos. The stars that form stellar-mass black holes play a crucial role in enriching our universe with heavy elements like sodium, but also oxygen and others that we see on Earth today.

    Until now, a stellar-mass black hole could be identified only when it sheered off material from a neighboring star. As the material flows toward the black hole, it emits x-ray light from which astronomers can infer the void’s existence. In terms of efficacy, though, this method is the astronomical equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack — multiplied by a power of 10.

    In 2015, scientists discovered that when two stellar-mass black holes collide, they could be observed by the gravitational waves they emitted instead of light.

    Using this approach, astronomers have identified five times as many stellar black holes in the past eight years as they had in the more than 40 years before. “We are in the midst of a golden age of black hole data,” says Holz. “Observations are improving day by day, and our catalogs of black holes continue to swell.” Instruments and methods are evolving so quickly that, within the next decade, scientists expect to detect perhaps a million stellar black holes a year.

    Broekgaarden’s doctoral advisor at Harvard, Professor of Astronomy Edo Berger, says that scientists can use the black holes being found through gravitational waves to decipher how they formed and evolved from their original starting point as massive stars.

    “In a way, this is akin to studying the fossil record to understand the behavior of animals that are now extinct, and how they lived and evolved,” he explains. “Hence ‘gravitational wave paleontology.'”

    A Cosmic Game of Battleship

    The discovery also raised a question — one that Broekgaarden hopes to answer in her research: How is it that two stellar black holes come together and merge? It’s not unusual to find massive stars in pairs, but usually when one becomes a supernova and explodes, the other tends to drift away from, not toward, its partner. “My question is really, ‘What makes some of these stars so special?'” the Horizons scholar says. “What processes in their lives — how they were formed and how they died — makes it so that maybe one in a million of these pairs stay together, merge as black holes, and form these gravitational waves?”

    A greater understanding of how massive stars live and die requires the development of computer simulations that model the universe from the Big Bang to today — an unimaginably complex task rife with uncertainties. That’s where Broekgaarden’s work comes in. A data scientist as well as an astrophysicist, the PhD student for the first time used new statistical techniques to incorporate different classes of uncertainty and look at them simultaneously. “The theoretical framework and algorithms that Floor developed provide the translation from the observed black hole properties — measured through gravitational waves — to the original stars that formed them and the full evolutionary path of that process,” says Berger.

    Broekgaarden’s algorithm also addresses the key bottlenecks in complex modeling: cost and time. Modeling billions and billions of stars from the Big Bang until today is very computationally expensive and can take years to complete. Broekgaarden developed an algorithm that works a bit like the old board game Battleship, where the object is to locate your opponent’s vessel in as few guesses as possible.

    “Like the game, my algorithm begins with random guesses and then, once it scores a ‘hit’ and finds a pair of black holes that collide, [it] adapts and revolves the simulation around that area to look for more,” she explains. “Using this method, we can speed up simulations by more than a factor of 100. So, instead of you know, waiting 300 days — almost a year — you now have to wait only three days. It’s a huge difference.”

    Holz says that Broekgaarden’s work is at the very cutting edge of human understanding of how the universe makes its black holes. “This is one of the most exciting and important topics in astrophysics, and Floor is lighting the black hole path.”

    Broekgaarden says she has high hopes for her research — and her Horizons project: to advance understanding of how elements — and the universe itself — evolved.

    “Massive stars drive the processes that are the basis of the cosmos,” she says. “As we study them, I think we’ll find a lot of surprises along the way. We’ve already had a few so far!”

    See the full article here .

    Comments are invited and will be appreciated, especially if the reader finds any errors which I can correct. Use “Reply”.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics combines the resources and research facilities of the Harvard College Observatory and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory under a single director to pursue studies of those basic physical processes that determine the nature and evolution of the universe. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory is a bureau of the Smithsonian Institution, founded in 1890. The Harvard College Observatory, founded in 1839, is a research institution of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University, and provides facilities and substantial other support for teaching activities of the Department of Astronomy.

    Founded in 1973 and headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the CfA leads a broad program of research in astronomy, astrophysics, Earth and space sciences, as well as science education. The CfA either leads or participates in the development and operations of more than fifteen ground- and space-based astronomical research observatories across the electromagnetic spectrum, including the forthcoming Giant Magellan Telescope(CL) and the Chandra X-ray Observatory, one of NASA’s Great Observatories.

    GMT Giant Magellan Telescope(CL) 21 meters, to be at the Carnegie Institution for Science’s NSF NOIRLab NOAO Las Campanas Observatory(CL) some 115 km (71 mi) north-northeast of La Serena, Chile, over 2,500 m (8,200 ft) high.

    National Aeronautics and Space Administration Chandra X-ray telescope.

    Hosting more than 850 scientists, engineers, and support staff, the CfA is among the largest astronomical research institutes in the world. Its projects have included Nobel Prize-winning advances in cosmology and high energy astrophysics, the discovery of many exoplanets, and the first image of a black hole. The CfA also serves a major role in the global astrophysics research community: the CfA’s Astrophysics Data System, for example, has been universally adopted as the world’s online database of astronomy and physics papers. Known for most of its history as the “Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics”, the CfA rebranded in 2018 to its current name in an effort to reflect its unique status as a joint collaboration between Harvard University and the Smithsonian Institution. The CfA’s current Director (since 2004) is Charles R. Alcock, who succeeds Irwin I. Shapiro (Director from 1982 to 2004) and George B. Field (Director from 1973 to 1982).

    The Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian is not formally an independent legal organization, but rather an institutional entity operated under a Memorandum of Understanding between Harvard University and the Smithsonian Institution. This collaboration was formalized on July 1, 1973, with the goal of coordinating the related research activities of the Harvard College Observatory (HCO) and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) under the leadership of a single Director, and housed within the same complex of buildings on the Harvard campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The CfA’s history is therefore also that of the two fully independent organizations that comprise it. With a combined lifetime of more than 300 years, HCO and SAO have been host to major milestones in astronomical history that predate the CfA’s founding.

    History of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO)

    Samuel Pierpont Langley, the third Secretary of the Smithsonian, founded the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory on the south yard of the Smithsonian Castle (on the U.S. National Mall) on March 1,1890. The Astrophysical Observatory’s initial, primary purpose was to “record the amount and character of the Sun’s heat”. Charles Greeley Abbot was named SAO’s first director, and the observatory operated solar telescopes to take daily measurements of the Sun’s intensity in different regions of the optical electromagnetic spectrum. In doing so, the observatory enabled Abbot to make critical refinements to the Solar constant, as well as to serendipitously discover Solar variability. It is likely that SAO’s early history as a solar observatory was part of the inspiration behind the Smithsonian’s “sunburst” logo, designed in 1965 by Crimilda Pontes.

    In 1955, the scientific headquarters of SAO moved from Washington, D.C. to Cambridge, Massachusetts to affiliate with the Harvard College Observatory (HCO). Fred Lawrence Whipple, then the chairman of the Harvard Astronomy Department, was named the new director of SAO. The collaborative relationship between SAO and HCO therefore predates the official creation of the CfA by 18 years. SAO’s move to Harvard’s campus also resulted in a rapid expansion of its research program. Following the launch of Sputnik (the world’s first human-made satellite) in 1957, SAO accepted a national challenge to create a worldwide satellite-tracking network, collaborating with the United States Air Force on Project Space Track.

    With the creation of National Aeronautics and Space Administration the following year and throughout the space race, SAO led major efforts in the development of orbiting observatories and large ground-based telescopes, laboratory and theoretical astrophysics, as well as the application of computers to astrophysical problems.

    History of Harvard College Observatory (HCO)

    Partly in response to renewed public interest in astronomy following the 1835 return of Halley’s Comet, the Harvard College Observatory was founded in 1839, when the Harvard Corporation appointed William Cranch Bond as an “Astronomical Observer to the University”. For its first four years of operation, the observatory was situated at the Dana-Palmer House (where Bond also resided) near Harvard Yard, and consisted of little more than three small telescopes and an astronomical clock. In his 1840 book recounting the history of the college, then Harvard President Josiah Quincy III noted that “…there is wanted a reflecting telescope equatorially mounted…”. This telescope, the 15-inch “Great Refractor”, opened seven years later (in 1847) at the top of Observatory Hill in Cambridge (where it still exists today, housed in the oldest of the CfA’s complex of buildings). The telescope was the largest in the United States from 1847 until 1867. William Bond and pioneer photographer John Adams Whipple used the Great Refractor to produce the first clear Daguerrotypes of the Moon (winning them an award at the 1851 Great Exhibition in London). Bond and his son, George Phillips Bond (the second Director of HCO), used it to discover Saturn’s 8th moon, Hyperion (which was also independently discovered by William Lassell).

    Under the directorship of Edward Charles Pickering from 1877 to 1919, the observatory became the world’s major producer of stellar spectra and magnitudes, established an observing station in Peru, and applied mass-production methods to the analysis of data. It was during this time that HCO became host to a series of major discoveries in astronomical history, powered by the Observatory’s so-called “Computers” (women hired by Pickering as skilled workers to process astronomical data). These “Computers” included Williamina Fleming; Annie Jump Cannon; Henrietta Swan Leavitt; Florence Cushman; and Antonia Maury, all widely recognized today as major figures in scientific history. Henrietta Swan Leavitt, for example, discovered the so-called period-luminosity relation for Classical Cepheid variable stars, establishing the first major “standard candle” with which to measure the distance to galaxies. Now called “Leavitt’s Law”, the discovery is regarded as one of the most foundational and important in the history of astronomy; astronomers like Edwin Hubble, for example, would later use Leavitt’s Law to establish that the Universe is expanding, the primary piece of evidence for the Big Bang model.

    Upon Pickering’s retirement in 1921, the Directorship of HCO fell to Harlow Shapley (a major participant in the so-called “Great Debate” of 1920). This era of the observatory was made famous by the work of Cecelia Payne-Gaposchkin, who became the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in astronomy from Radcliffe College (a short walk from the Observatory). Payne-Gapochkin’s 1925 thesis proposed that stars were composed primarily of hydrogen and helium, an idea thought ridiculous at the time. Between Shapley’s tenure and the formation of the CfA, the observatory was directed by Donald H. Menzel and then Leo Goldberg, both of whom maintained widely recognized programs in solar and stellar astrophysics. Menzel played a major role in encouraging the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory to move to Cambridge and collaborate more closely with HCO.

    Joint history as the Center for Astrophysics (CfA)

    The collaborative foundation for what would ultimately give rise to the Center for Astrophysics began with SAO’s move to Cambridge in 1955. Fred Whipple, who was already chair of the Harvard Astronomy Department (housed within HCO since 1931), was named SAO’s new director at the start of this new era; an early test of the model for a unified Directorship across HCO and SAO. The following 18 years would see the two independent entities merge ever closer together, operating effectively (but informally) as one large research center.

    This joint relationship was formalized as the new Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics on July 1, 1973. George B. Field, then affiliated with University of California- Berkeley, was appointed as its first Director. That same year, a new astronomical journal, the CfA Preprint Series was created, and a CfA/SAO instrument flying aboard Skylab discovered coronal holes on the Sun. The founding of the CfA also coincided with the birth of X-ray astronomy as a new, major field that was largely dominated by CfA scientists in its early years. Riccardo Giacconi, regarded as the “father of X-ray astronomy”, founded the High Energy Astrophysics Division within the new CfA by moving most of his research group (then at American Sciences and Engineering) to SAO in 1973. That group would later go on to launch the Einstein Observatory (the first imaging X-ray telescope) in 1976, and ultimately lead the proposals and development of what would become the Chandra X-ray Observatory. Chandra, the second of NASA’s Great Observatories and still the most powerful X-ray telescope in history, continues operations today as part of the CfA’s Chandra X-ray Center. Giacconi would later win the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physics for his foundational work in X-ray astronomy.

    Shortly after the launch of the Einstein Observatory, the CfA’s Steven Weinberg won the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on electroweak unification. The following decade saw the start of the landmark CfA Redshift Survey (the first attempt to map the large scale structure of the Universe), as well as the release of the Field Report, a highly influential Astronomy & Astrophysics Decadal Survey chaired by the outgoing CfA Director George Field. He would be replaced in 1982 by Irwin Shapiro, who during his tenure as Director (1982 to 2004) oversaw the expansion of the CfA’s observing facilities around the world.

    Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory located near Amado, Arizona on the slopes of Mount Hopkins, Altitude 2,606 m (8,550 ft)

    European Space Agency [La Agencia Espacial Europea] [Agence spatiale européenne] [Europäische Weltraumorganization] (EU)/National Aeronautics and Space Administration SOHO satellite. Launched in 1995.

    National Aeronautics Space Agency NASA Kepler Space Telescope

    CfA-led discoveries throughout this period include canonical work on Supernova 1987A, the “CfA2 Great Wall” (then the largest known coherent structure in the Universe), the best-yet evidence for supermassive black holes, and the first convincing evidence for an extrasolar planet.

    The 1990s also saw the CfA unwittingly play a major role in the history of computer science and the internet: in 1990, SAO developed SAOImage, one of the world’s first X11-based applications made publicly available (its successor, DS9, remains the most widely used astronomical FITS image viewer worldwide). During this time, scientists at the CfA also began work on what would become the Astrophysics Data System (ADS), one of the world’s first online databases of research papers. By 1993, the ADS was running the first routine transatlantic queries between databases, a foundational aspect of the internet today.

    The CfA Today

    Research at the CfA

    Charles Alcock, known for a number of major works related to massive compact halo objects, was named the third director of the CfA in 2004. Today Alcock overseas one of the largest and most productive astronomical institutes in the world, with more than 850 staff and an annual budget in excess of $100M. The Harvard Department of Astronomy, housed within the CfA, maintains a continual complement of approximately 60 Ph.D. students, more than 100 postdoctoral researchers, and roughly 25 undergraduate majors in astronomy and astrophysics from Harvard College. SAO, meanwhile, hosts a long-running and highly rated REU Summer Intern program as well as many visiting graduate students. The CfA estimates that roughly 10% of the professional astrophysics community in the United States spent at least a portion of their career or education there.

    The CfA is either a lead or major partner in the operations of the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory, the Submillimeter Array, MMT Observatory, the South Pole Telescope, VERITAS, and a number of other smaller ground-based telescopes. The CfA’s 2019-2024 Strategic Plan includes the construction of the Giant Magellan Telescope as a driving priority for the Center.

    CFA Harvard Smithsonian Submillimeter Array on Mauna Kea, Hawai’i, Altitude 4,205 m (13,796 ft).

    South Pole Telescope SPTPOL. The SPT collaboration is made up of over a dozen (mostly North American) institutions, including The University of Chicago ; The University of California-Berkeley ; Case Western Reserve University; Harvard/Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory; The University of Colorado- Boulder; McGill (CA) University, The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; The University of California- Davis; Ludwig Maximilians Universität München(DE); DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory; and The National Institute for Standards and Technology.

    Along with the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the CfA plays a central role in a number of space-based observing facilities, including the recently launched Parker Solar Probe, Kepler Space Telescope, the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), and HINODE. The CfA, via the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, recently played a major role in the Lynx X-ray Observatory, a NASA-Funded Large Mission Concept Study commissioned as part of the 2020 Decadal Survey on Astronomy and Astrophysics (“Astro2020”). If launched, Lynx would be the most powerful X-ray observatory constructed to date, enabling order-of-magnitude advances in capability over Chandra.

    NASA Parker Solar Probe Plus named to honor Pioneering Physicist Eugene Parker. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab.

    National Aeronautics and Space Administration Solar Dynamics Observatory.

    Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) (国立研究開発法人宇宙航空研究開発機構] (JP)/National Aeronautics and Space Administration HINODE spacecraft.

    SAO is one of the 13 stakeholder institutes for the Event Horizon Telescope Board, and the CfA hosts its Array Operations Center. In 2019, the project revealed the first direct image of a black hole.

    Messier 87*, The first image of the event horizon of a black hole. This is the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy Messier 87. Image via The Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration released on 10 April 2019 via National Science Foundation.

    The result is widely regarded as a triumph not only of observational radio astronomy, but of its intersection with theoretical astrophysics. Union of the observational and theoretical subfields of astrophysics has been a major focus of the CfA since its founding.

    In 2018, the CfA rebranded, changing its official name to the “Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian” in an effort to reflect its unique status as a joint collaboration between Harvard University and the Smithsonian Institution. Today, the CfA receives roughly 70% of its funding from NASA, 22% from Smithsonian federal funds, and 4% from the National Science Foundation. The remaining 4% comes from contributors including the United States Department of Energy, the Annenberg Foundation, as well as other gifts and endowments.

  • richardmitnick 2:09 pm on March 31, 2023 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Torrents of Antarctic meltwater are slowing the currents that drive our vital ocean ‘overturning’ – and threaten its collapse", , , , ,   

    From “CSIROscope” (AU) At CSIRO (AU)-Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization : “Torrents of Antarctic meltwater are slowing the currents that drive our vital ocean ‘overturning’ – and threaten its collapse” 

    CSIRO bloc

    From “CSIROscope” (AU)


    CSIRO (AU)-Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization

    Matthew England
    Adele Morrison
    Andy Hogg
    Qian Li
    Steve Rintoul

    Australian scientists are warning that the Southern Ocean’s deep “overturning” circulation is slowing and headed for collapse.

    Off the coast of Antarctica, trillions of tonnes of cold salty water sink to great depths. As the water sinks, it drives the deepest flows of the “overturning” circulation – a network of strong currents spanning the world’s oceans. The overturning circulation carries heat, carbon, oxygen and nutrients around the globe, and fundamentally influences climate, sea level and the productivity of marine ecosystems.

    But there are worrying signs these currents are slowing down. They may even collapse. If this happens, it would deprive the deep ocean of oxygen, limit the return of nutrients back to the sea surface, and potentially cause further melt back of ice as water near the ice shelves warms in response. There would be major global ramifications for ocean ecosystems, climate, and sea-level rise.

    Schematic showing the pathways of flow in the upper, deep and bottom layers of the ocean.

    Our new research, published today in the journal Nature [below], uses new ocean model projections to look at changes in the deep ocean out to the year 2050. Our projections show a slowing of the Antarctic overturning circulation and deep ocean warming over the next few decades. Physical measurements confirm these changes are already well underway.

    Climate change is to blame. As Antarctica melts, more freshwater flows into the oceans. This disrupts the sinking of cold, salty, oxygen-rich water to the bottom of the ocean. From there this water normally spreads northwards to ventilate the far reaches of the deep Indian, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. But that could all come to an end soon. In our lifetimes.

    As part of this overturning, about 250 trillion tonnes [Progress in Oceanography (below)] of icy cold Antarctic surface water sinks to the ocean abyss each year. The sinking near Antarctica is balanced by upwelling at other latitudes. The resulting overturning circulation carries oxygen to the deep ocean and eventually returns nutrients to the sea surface, where they are available to support marine life.

    If the Antarctic overturning slows down, nutrient-rich seawater will build up on the seafloor [Nature Climate Change (below)], five kilometres below the surface. These nutrients will be lost to marine ecosystems at or near the surface, damaging fisheries.

    Changes in the overturning circulation could also mean more heat gets to the ice, particularly around West Antarctica, the area with the greatest rate of ice mass loss over the past few decades. This would accelerate global sea-level rise.

    An overturning slowdown would also reduce the ocean’s ability to take up carbon dioxide [Nature Climate Change (below)], leaving more greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. And more greenhouse gases means more warming, making matters worse.

    Meltwater-induced weakening of the Antarctic overturning circulation could also shift tropical rainfall bands [Nature (below)] around a thousand kilometres to the north.

    Put simply, a slowing or collapse of the overturning circulation would change our climate and marine environment in profound and potentially irreversible ways.

    Signs of worrying change

    The remote reaches of the oceans that surround Antarctica are some of the toughest regions to plan and undertake field campaigns. Voyages are long, weather can be brutal, and sea ice limits access for much of the year.

    This means there are few measurements to track how the Antarctic margin is changing. But where sufficient data exist, we can see clear signs of increased transport of warm waters toward Antarctica [Nature Climate Change (below)], which in turn causes ice melt at key locations.

    Indeed, the signs of melting around the edges of Antarctica [Science (below)] are very clear, with increasingly large volumes of freshwater flowing into the ocean and making nearby waters less salty and therefore less dense. And that’s all that’s needed to slow the overturning circulation. Denser water sinks, lighter water does not.

    Antarctic ice mass loss over the last few decades based on satellite data, showing that between 2002 and 2020, Antarctica shed an average of ~150 billion metric tonnes of ice per year, adding meltwater to the ocean and raising sea-levels (Source: NASA).

    How did we find this out?

    Apart from sparse measurements, incomplete models have limited our understanding of ocean circulation around Antarctica.

    For example, the latest set of global coupled model projections analysed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change exhibit biases in the region. This limits the ability of these models in projecting the future fate of the Antarctic overturning circulation.

    To explore future changes, we took a high resolution global ocean model that realistically represents the formation and sinking of dense water near Antarctica.

    We ran three different experiments, one where conditions remained unchanged from the 1990s; a second forced by projected changes in temperature and wind; and a third run also including projected changes in meltwater from Antarctica and Greenland.

    In this way we could separate the effects of changes in winds and warming, from changes due to ice melt.

    The findings were striking. The model projects the overturning circulation around Antarctica will slow by more than 40% over the next three decades, driven almost entirely by pulses of meltwater.

    Over the same period, our modelling also predicts a 20% weakening of the famous North Atlantic overturning circulation which keeps Europe’s climate mild. Both changes would dramatically reduce the renewal and overturning of the ocean interior.

    We’ve long known the North Atlantic overturning currents are vulnerable, with observations suggesting a slowdown is already well underway, and projections of a tipping point coming soon. Our results suggest Antarctica looks poised to match its northern hemisphere counterpart – and then some.

    What next?

    Much of the abyssal ocean has warmed in recent decades, with the most rapid trends detected near Antarctica, in a pattern very similar to our model simulations.

    Our projections extend out only to 2050. Beyond 2050, in the absence of strong emissions reductions, the climate will continue to warm and the ice sheets will continue to melt. If so, we anticipate the Southern Ocean overturning will continue to slow to the end of the century and beyond.

    The projected slowdown of Antarctic overturning is a direct response to input of freshwater from melting ice. Meltwater flows are directly linked to how much the planet warms, which in turn depends on the greenhouse gases we emit.

    Our study shows continuing ice melt will not only raise sea-levels, but also change the massive overturning circulation currents which can drive further ice melt and hence more sea level rise, and damage climate and ecosystems worldwide. It’s yet another reason to address the climate crisis – and fast.

    Progress in Oceanography 1999
    Nature Climate Change 2022
    Nature 2018
    Nature Climate Change 2022
    Science 2013

    See the full article here .

    Comments are invited and will be appreciated, especially if the reader finds any errors which I can correct. Use “Reply”.


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    CSIRO campus

    CSIRO (AU)-Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization , is Australia’s national science agency and one of the largest and most diverse research agencies in the world.

    CSIRO works with leading organizations around the world. From its headquarters in Canberra, CSIRO maintains more than 50 sites across Australia and in France, Chile and the United States, employing about 5,500 people.

    Federally funded scientific research began in Australia 104 years ago. The Advisory Council of Science and Industry was established in 1916 but was hampered by insufficient available finance. In 1926 the research effort was reinvigorated by establishment of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), which strengthened national science leadership and increased research funding. CSIR grew rapidly and achieved significant early successes. In 1949 further legislated changes included renaming the organization as CSIRO.

    Notable developments by CSIRO have included the invention of atomic absorption spectroscopy; essential components of Wi-Fi technology; development of the first commercially successful polymer banknote; the invention of the insect repellent in Aerogard and the introduction of a series of biological controls into Australia, such as the introduction of myxomatosis and rabbit calicivirus for the control of rabbit populations.

    Research and focus areas

    Research Business Units

    As at 2019, CSIRO’s research areas are identified as “Impact science” and organized into the following Business Units:

    Agriculture and Food
    Health and Biosecurity
    Data 61
    Land and Water
    Mineral Resources
    Oceans and Atmosphere

    National Facilities

    CSIRO manages national research facilities and scientific infrastructure on behalf of the nation to assist with the delivery of research. The national facilities and specialized laboratories are available to both international and Australian users from industry and research. As at 2019, the following National Facilities are listed:

    Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL)
    Australia Telescope National Facility – radio telescopes in the Facility include the Australia Telescope Compact Array, the Parkes Observatory, Mopra Radio Telescope Observatory and the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder.

    STCA CSIRO Australia Compact Array (AU), six radio telescopes at the Paul Wild Observatory, is an array of six 22-m antennas located about twenty five kilometres (16 mi) west of the town of Narrabri in Australia.

    CSIRO-Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (AU) Parkes Observatory [Murriyang, the traditional Indigenous name], located 20 kilometres north of the town of Parkes, New South Wales, Australia, 414.80m above sea level.

    NASA Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, AU, Deep Space Network. Credit: The National Aeronautics and Space Agency

    CSIRO Canberra campus

    ESA DSA 1, hosts a 35-metre deep-space antenna with transmission and reception in both S- and X-band and is located 140 kilometres north of Perth, Western Australia, near the town of New Norcia

    CSIRO-Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (AU)CSIRO R/V Investigator.

    UK Space NovaSAR-1 satellite (UK) synthetic aperture radar satellite.

    CSIRO Pawsey Supercomputing Centre AU)

    Magnus Cray XC40 supercomputer at Pawsey Supercomputer Centre Perth Australia

    Galaxy Cray XC30 Series Supercomputer at at Pawsey Supercomputer Centre Perth Australia

    Pausey Supercomputer CSIRO Zeus SGI Linux cluster

    Others not shown


    SKA- Square Kilometer Array

    Australia Telescope National Facility – radio telescopes included in the Facility include the Australia Telescope Compact Array, the Parkes Observatory, Mopra Radio Telescope Observatory and the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder.

    Haystack Observatory EDGES telescope in a radio quiet zone at the Inyarrimanha Ilgari Bundara Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO), on the traditional lands of the Wajarri peoples.

  • richardmitnick 1:21 pm on March 31, 2023 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "The Big Bang at 75", , , , , , Nobel Prize in Physics for 2011 Expansion of the Universe, , , , ,   

    From “Penn Today” At The University of Pennsylvania : “The Big Bang at 75” 

    From “Penn Today”


    U Penn bloc

    The University of Pennsylvania

    Kristina García

    Penn theoretical physicist Vijay Balasubramanian discusses the 75th anniversary of the alpha-beta-gamma paper, what we know—and don’t know—about the universe and the ‘very big gaps’ left to discover.

    A child stops by an image of the cosmic microwave background at Shanghai Astrology Museum in Shanghai, China on July 18, 2021. (Image: FeatureChina via AP Images)

    There was a time before time when the universe was tiny, dense, and hot. In this world, time didn’t even exist. Space didn’t exist. That’s what current theories about the Big Bang posit, says Vijay Balasubramanian, the Cathy and Marc Lasry Professor of Physics. But what does this mean? What did the beginning of the universe look like? “I don’t know, maybe there was a timeless, spaceless soup,” Balasubramanian says. When we try to describe the beginning of everything, “our words fail us,” he says.

    Yet, for thousands of years, humans have been trying to do just that. One attempt came 75 years ago from physicists George Gamow and Ralph Alpher. In a paper published on April 1, 1948, Alpher and Gamow imagined the universe starts in a hot, dense state that cools as it expands. After some time, they argued, there should have been a gas of neutrons, protons, electrons, and neutrinos reacting with each other and congealing into atomic nuclei as the universe aged and cooled. As the universe changed, so did the rates of decay and the ratios of protons to neutrons. Alpher and Gamow were able to mathematically calculate how this process might have occurred.

    Now known as the alpha-beta-gamma theory, the paper predicted the surprisingly large fraction of helium and hydrogen in the universe. (By weight, hydrogen comprises 74% of nuclear matter, helium 24%, and heavier elements less than 1%.)

    The findings of Gamow and Alpher hold up today, Balasubramanian says, part of an increasingly complex picture of matter, time and space. Penn Today spoke with Balasubramanian about the paper, the Big Bang, and the origin of the universe.

    When did we first start to think about the Big Bang theory as it is known today?

    There’s actually a question of whether it’s even possible to talk about the origin of the universe. But across cultures, humans seem to have an innate drive to try to discuss this sort of question. In India, there was this idea of an infinite cyclic universe that went in gigantic cycles from origin to destruction, origin to destruction, over long lengths of time. The Aztecs had a cosmology that involves gigantic cycles of creation and construction, too. In the Christian West, people had the idea that the horizon of all of time was smaller, a few thousand years, although the Bible doesn’t actually say anything specific about that.

    In the 19th century, the first scientific inkling of the age of the world was given by Charles Lyell, a geologist, who wrote about the stratification of rocks. Charles Lyell basically gave Darwin the gift of time. Realizing that the earth was actually much older than a few thousand years gave room for the Theory of Evolution and expanded the horizon in time. That’s a prerequisite for being able to even conceive of the origin of the universe.

    Then in 1914, Albert Einstein comes up with the modern theory of gravity [Theory of General Relativity]. This led scientists to try to understand whether you could use this theory to think about the cosmos as a whole. One of the striking things that comes out of that kind of reasoning is that you get forced into a picture where the universe has to be dynamic, basically because gravity is constantly trying to squeeze it together.

    To start with, if you look around the sky, it looks reasonably stable and static. It doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere, right? So, people initially tried various ways to construct cosmologies in which they can be kind of stable and static. To do that, you’ve got to poise the universe exactly between an expanding phase and a shrinking phase. You need balance these tendencies. For example, you can give the universal an initial outward push, like a Big Bang, but gravity will try to pull everything back together. How the push and pull compete depends on the amount of kind of energy distributed in the cosmos: regular matter like the stuff that makes stars, pure energy like light, dark matter which does not make stars, and so-called dark energy which can either push the fabric of spacetime apart or try to pull it together. So theoretical physicists tried to figure out whether the laws of gravity, along with these kinds of energy, could explain the apparently static structure of observed universe.

    And then a series of astronomical measurements, notably by Edwin Hubble, showed definitively that despite initial appearances, the universe on large scales is not stable and static.

    Rather, all the stars and galaxies, as observed now, seem to be spreading apart from each other, as if they are embedded in a space-time fabric that is stretching wider as time passes.


    In physical cosmology, cosmic inflation, cosmological inflation is a theory of exponential expansion of space in the early universe. The inflationary epoch lasted from 10^−36 seconds after the conjectured Big Bang singularity to some time between 10^−33 and 10^−32 seconds after the singularity. Following the inflationary period, the universe continued to expand, but at a slower rate. The acceleration of this expansion due to dark energy began after the universe was already over 7.7 billion years old (5.4 billion years ago).

    Inflation theory was developed in the late 1970s and early 80s, with notable contributions by several theoretical physicists, including Alexei Starobinsky at Landau Institute for Theoretical Physics, Alan Guth at Cornell University, and Andrei Linde at Lebedev Physical Institute. Alexei Starobinsky, Alan Guth, and Andrei Linde won the 2014 Kavli Prize “for pioneering the theory of cosmic inflation.” It was developed further in the early 1980s. It explains the origin of the large-scale structure of the cosmos. Quantum fluctuations in the microscopic inflationary region, magnified to cosmic size, become the seeds for the growth of structure in the Universe. Many physicists also believe that inflation explains why the universe appears to be the same in all directions (isotropic), why the cosmic microwave background radiation is distributed evenly, why the universe is flat, and why no magnetic monopoles have been observed.

    The detailed particle physics mechanism responsible for inflation is unknown. The basic inflationary paradigm is accepted by most physicists, as a number of inflation model predictions have been confirmed by observation; however, a substantial minority of scientists dissent from this position. The hypothetical field thought to be responsible for inflation is called the inflaton.

    In 2002 three of the original architects of the theory were recognized for their major contributions; physicists Alan Guth of M.I.T., Andrei Linde of Stanford, and Paul Steinhardt of Princeton shared the prestigious Dirac Prize “for development of the concept of inflation in cosmology”. In 2012 Guth and Linde were awarded the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for their invention and development of inflationary cosmology.

    Alan Guth, from M.I.T., who first proposed Cosmic Inflation.

    Alan Guth’s notes:
    Alan Guth’s original notes on inflation.

    Nobel Prize in Physics for 2011 Expansion of the Universe

    4 October 2011

    The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the Nobel Prize in Physics for 2011

    with one half to

    Saul Perlmutter
    The Supernova Cosmology Project
    The DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and The University of California-Berkeley,

    and the other half jointly to

    Brian P. SchmidtThe High-z Supernova Search Team, The Australian National University, Weston Creek, Australia.


    Adam G. Riess

    The High-z Supernova Search Team,The Johns Hopkins University and The Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, MD.

    Written in the stars

    “Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice…” *

    What will be the final destiny of the Universe? Probably it will end in ice, if we are to believe this year’s Nobel Laureates in Physics. They have studied several dozen exploding stars, called supernovae, and discovered that the Universe is expanding at an ever-accelerating rate. The discovery came as a complete surprise even to the Laureates themselves.

    In 1998, cosmology was shaken at its foundations as two research teams presented their findings. Headed by Saul Perlmutter, one of the teams had set to work in 1988. Brian Schmidt headed another team, launched at the end of 1994, where Adam Riess was to play a crucial role.

    The research teams raced to map the Universe by locating the most distant supernovae. More sophisticated telescopes on the ground and in space, as well as more powerful computers and new digital imaging sensors (CCD, Nobel Prize in Physics in 2009), opened the possibility in the 1990s to add more pieces to the cosmological puzzle.

    The teams used a particular kind of supernova, called Type 1a supernova. It is an explosion of an old compact star that is as heavy as the Sun but as small as the Earth. A single such supernova can emit as much light as a whole galaxy. All in all, the two research teams found over 50 distant supernovae whose light was weaker than expected – this was a sign that the expansion of the Universe was accelerating. The potential pitfalls had been numerous, and the scientists found reassurance in the fact that both groups had reached the same astonishing conclusion.

    For almost a century, the Universe has been known to be expanding as a consequence of the Big Bang about 14 billion years ago. However, the discovery that this expansion is accelerating is astounding. If the expansion will continue to speed up the Universe will end in ice.

    The acceleration is thought to be driven by dark energy, but what that dark energy is remains an enigma – perhaps the greatest in physics today. What is known is that dark energy constitutes about three quarters of the Universe. Therefore, the findings of the 2011 Nobel Laureates in Physics have helped to unveil a Universe that to a large extent is unknown to science. And everything is possible again.

    *Robert Frost, Fire and Ice, 1920

    This was a revelation, because physicists realized that if the universe is expanding now, if you run the movie backward, it had to be smaller earlier. In fact, some 13 billion years ago all the matter and energy in the universe had to be crammed together at incredible densities that have never been seen on Earth. You can also conclude that the universe would have been a lot hotter in this compressed phase. This is just like what happens if you compress a bicycle pump; he air inside gets hotter because you are cramming more energy into a smaller space. And when things get that hot, the microscopic processes of nuclear physics and even quantum gravity play an important role because of the enormous energies involved.

    So, to summarize, the idea of the modern Big Bang comes about because General Relativity makes a prediction: Given the current expansion of the universe, if you run time backwards, you have to start from a very highly compressed phase. At some point, time begins. This didn’t have to be. It could have been very compressed forever, and time could have been infinite. But Einstein’s theory of gravity predicts a beginning for time from which the universe explodes out. That’s the Big Bang.

    What are the weaknesses of the Big Bang theory and our current conception of the origin of the universe?

    It involves an extrapolation of the things we know and can measure in the lab, along with rather uncertain measurements of the expansion rate of the universe. People like Hubble measured distant stars and galaxies and realized that they look as they’re moving away from us, as an expansion. You put that expansion together with the equations of general relativity. Physics can predict forward in time and can predict backward in time. The equations tell you, given the current state, what the future will look like. But they can also tell you about the past. You know, take your pick.

    If you assume Einstein’s theory of relativity and you run the movie backward, time begins some 13 or 14 billion years ago. The question is, should you believe such a wild prediction?

    While there are excellent reasons to believe the general theory of relativity—there’s lots of evidence about many things that it gets right—in the history of science, it’s been often the case that a well-tested theory, extrapolated to regimes very far from the region where it was tested, will need corrections of some kind.

    We’re extrapolating into regions that have been out of the reach of laboratory experiments to date, for which we do not have direct observational evidence. We should keep in mind that this theory may need corrections, and things like string theory attempt to correct it. Then there are unknown factors that the theory didn’t include, new forms of energy that could prevent the expansion or shrinking or could stabilize the universe.

    I’m laying out here the many uncertainties of the theory, but that’s partly because that’s where the opportunities are. If everything was already done, we wouldn’t have to think about it anymore.

    Physicists can imagine stuff that makes the world work. That’s what we do for a trade. We imagine stuff that would be necessary for the logical consistency of the world around us. The alpha-beta-gamma paper took Einstein’s theory for granted. They predicted the abundances of the primordial elements, the hydrogen-helium ratio, which turns out to be right. They said, ‘Okay, well, if the universe was very hot, it had to have cooled down over time. So if it cooled down, I’m going put all I know about nuclear physics in the lab to represent the expansion of the universe. As it cools, the primordial soup will freeze out into quarks and gluons and electrons, and those things will freeze out some more, and eventually, when it’s done freezing out, based on what I know about nuclear reaction rates, I predict the following ratio of hydrogen to helium.’ That’s what they did.

    The theory then proceeded to predict that you will see a glow in the distant sky as the Big Bang cooled down to a few degrees Kelvin. The discovery of that glow, the cosmic microwave background, in the 1960s, really nailed it.

    How do you predict this theory will evolve, or be adjusted, with time?

    The hydrogen-helium ratio and the cosmic microwave background are two primary reasons to support the Big Bang theory. Those are certainties that we are seeing now. But what does Hamlet say? ‘There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’

    We keep discovering that our assumptions about the nature of the universe are incorrect or approximate.

    The laws of physics are full of laws that turn out not to be laws. They turn out to be approximations. So, Newton’s laws, which we still call Newton’s laws out of respect for Newton, are approximations to the more general laws of general relativity and quantum mechanics. There’s a progression in science where we devise rules and descriptions of nature that work extremely well in some regime, and then, as you push outside the regime, you have to be able to edit them. I try to remain aware that, while the default conclusion is there was a big bang, understood as a singularity in space and time, about 13, 14 billion years ago. There may be escape routes from that conclusion, if our understanding of the laws of nature or something in the data has not been fully correct.

    Questioning where the cosmos came from has long been part of human speculation, in philosophy and religion. Ancient peoples drew pictures in caves involving their cosmologies. There’s clearly a human need to talk about origins and causation of the universe. It is kind of amazing and remarkable that we live in a time when there’s a scientific approach to such questions, which we can use with any kind of confidence.

    We’re just little people sitting on this irrelevant little planet of a very medium-sized solar system on the edge of a no-account galaxy that is part of a local cluster. We’re sort of just tiny things, right? And yet, we’re claiming to be able to say something about the actual origin of everything. It’s amazing that we have a hope of doing that. But there’s pretty good evidence, that at least in the rough, that this picture is correct: There was a hot, dense space about 13 some billion years ago, and it’s expanded since then.

    The core description fits beautifully. The ballpark version seems correct. But the detailed version has gaps, so there is a lot left to do in this process of discovery to understand how the universe is organized and what is in it, Today the most important questions involve dark matter, a form of matter that does not form stars, and dark energy, a form of energy that appears to be forcing the universe apart at an ever faster rate. Together, these substances appear to constitute about 96% of the energy in the universe and have huge consequences for the large-scale organization of the cosmos, its past history, and its future. The race is on to figure out what dark matter and dark energy are.

    See the full article here .

    Comments are invited and will be appreciated, especially if the reader finds any errors which I can correct. Use “Reply”.


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    U Penn campus

    Academic life at The University of Pennsylvania is unparalleled, with 100 countries and every U.S. state represented in one of the Ivy League’s most diverse student bodies. Consistently ranked among the top 10 universities in the country, Penn enrolls 10,000 undergraduate students and welcomes an additional 10,000 students to our world-renowned graduate and professional schools.

    Penn’s award-winning educators and scholars encourage students to pursue inquiry and discovery, follow their passions, and address the world’s most challenging problems through an interdisciplinary approach.

    The University of Pennsylvania is a private Ivy League research university in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The university claims a founding date of 1740 and is one of the nine colonial colleges chartered prior to the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Benjamin Franklin, Penn’s founder and first president, advocated an educational program that trained leaders in commerce, government, and public service, similar to a modern liberal arts curriculum.

    Penn has four undergraduate schools as well as twelve graduate and professional schools. Schools enrolling undergraduates include the College of Arts and Sciences; the School of Engineering and Applied Science; the Wharton School; and the School of Nursing. Penn’s “One University Policy” allows students to enroll in classes in any of Penn’s twelve schools. Among its highly ranked graduate and professional schools are a law school whose first professor wrote the first draft of the United States Constitution, the first school of medicine in North America (Perelman School of Medicine, 1765), and the first collegiate business school (Wharton School, 1881).

    Penn is also home to the first “student union” building and organization (Houston Hall, 1896), the first Catholic student club in North America (Newman Center, 1893), the first double-decker college football stadium (Franklin Field, 1924 when second deck was constructed), and Morris Arboretum, the official arboretum of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The first general-purpose electronic computer (ENIAC) was developed at Penn and formally dedicated in 1946. In 2019, the university had an endowment of $14.65 billion, the sixth-largest endowment of all universities in the United States, as well as a research budget of $1.02 billion. The university’s athletics program, the Quakers, fields varsity teams in 33 sports as a member of the NCAA Division I Ivy League conference.

    As of 2018, distinguished alumni and/or Trustees include three U.S. Supreme Court justices; 32 U.S. senators; 46 U.S. governors; 163 members of the U.S. House of Representatives; eight signers of the Declaration of Independence and seven signers of the U.S. Constitution (four of whom signed both representing two-thirds of the six people who signed both); 24 members of the Continental Congress; 14 foreign heads of state and two presidents of the United States, including Donald Trump. As of October 2019, 36 Nobel laureates; 80 members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; 64 billionaires; 29 Rhodes Scholars; 15 Marshall Scholars and 16 Pulitzer Prize winners have been affiliated with the university.


    The University of Pennsylvania considers itself the fourth-oldest institution of higher education in the United States, though this is contested by Princeton University and Columbia University. The university also considers itself as the first university in the United States with both undergraduate and graduate studies.

    In 1740, a group of Philadelphians joined together to erect a great preaching hall for the traveling evangelist George Whitefield, who toured the American colonies delivering open-air sermons. The building was designed and built by Edmund Woolley and was the largest building in the city at the time, drawing thousands of people the first time it was preached in. It was initially planned to serve as a charity school as well, but a lack of funds forced plans for the chapel and school to be suspended. According to Franklin’s autobiography, it was in 1743 when he first had the idea to establish an academy, “thinking the Rev. Richard Peters a fit person to superintend such an institution”. However, Peters declined a casual inquiry from Franklin and nothing further was done for another six years. In the fall of 1749, now more eager to create a school to educate future generations, Benjamin Franklin circulated a pamphlet titled Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pensilvania, his vision for what he called a “Public Academy of Philadelphia”. Unlike the other colonial colleges that existed in 1749—Harvard University, William & Mary, Yale Unversity, and The College of New Jersey—Franklin’s new school would not focus merely on education for the clergy. He advocated an innovative concept of higher education, one which would teach both the ornamental knowledge of the arts and the practical skills necessary for making a living and doing public service. The proposed program of study could have become the nation’s first modern liberal arts curriculum, although it was never implemented because Anglican priest William Smith (1727-1803), who became the first provost, and other trustees strongly preferred the traditional curriculum.

    Franklin assembled a board of trustees from among the leading citizens of Philadelphia, the first such non-sectarian board in America. At the first meeting of the 24 members of the board of trustees on November 13, 1749, the issue of where to locate the school was a prime concern. Although a lot across Sixth Street from the old Pennsylvania State House (later renamed and famously known since 1776 as “Independence Hall”), was offered without cost by James Logan, its owner, the trustees realized that the building erected in 1740, which was still vacant, would be an even better site. The original sponsors of the dormant building still owed considerable construction debts and asked Franklin’s group to assume their debts and, accordingly, their inactive trusts. On February 1, 1750, the new board took over the building and trusts of the old board. On August 13, 1751, the “Academy of Philadelphia”, using the great hall at 4th and Arch Streets, took in its first secondary students. A charity school also was chartered on July 13, 1753 by the intentions of the original “New Building” donors, although it lasted only a few years. On June 16, 1755, the “College of Philadelphia” was chartered, paving the way for the addition of undergraduate instruction. All three schools shared the same board of trustees and were considered to be part of the same institution. The first commencement exercises were held on May 17, 1757.

    The institution of higher learning was known as the College of Philadelphia from 1755 to 1779. In 1779, not trusting then-provost the Reverend William Smith’s “Loyalist” tendencies, the revolutionary State Legislature created a University of the State of Pennsylvania. The result was a schism, with Smith continuing to operate an attenuated version of the College of Philadelphia. In 1791, the legislature issued a new charter, merging the two institutions into a new University of Pennsylvania with twelve men from each institution on the new board of trustees.

    Penn has three claims to being the first university in the United States, according to university archives director Mark Frazier Lloyd: the 1765 founding of the first medical school in America made Penn the first institution to offer both “undergraduate” and professional education; the 1779 charter made it the first American institution of higher learning to take the name of “University”; and existing colleges were established as seminaries (although, as detailed earlier, Penn adopted a traditional seminary curriculum as well).

    After being located in downtown Philadelphia for more than a century, the campus was moved across the Schuylkill River to property purchased from the Blockley Almshouse in West Philadelphia in 1872, where it has since remained in an area now known as University City. Although Penn began operating as an academy or secondary school in 1751 and obtained its collegiate charter in 1755, it initially designated 1750 as its founding date; this is the year that appears on the first iteration of the university seal. Sometime later in its early history, Penn began to consider 1749 as its founding date and this year was referenced for over a century, including at the centennial celebration in 1849. In 1899, the board of trustees voted to adjust the founding date earlier again, this time to 1740, the date of “the creation of the earliest of the many educational trusts the University has taken upon itself”. The board of trustees voted in response to a three-year campaign by Penn’s General Alumni Society to retroactively revise the university’s founding date to appear older than Princeton University, which had been chartered in 1746.

    Research, innovations and discoveries

    Penn is classified as an “R1” doctoral university: “Highest research activity.” Its economic impact on the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for 2015 amounted to $14.3 billion. Penn’s research expenditures in the 2018 fiscal year were $1.442 billion, the fourth largest in the U.S. In fiscal year 2019 Penn received $582.3 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health.

    In line with its well-known interdisciplinary tradition, Penn’s research centers often span two or more disciplines. In the 2010–2011 academic year alone, five interdisciplinary research centers were created or substantially expanded; these include the Center for Health-care Financing; the Center for Global Women’s Health at the Nursing School; the $13 million Morris Arboretum’s Horticulture Center; the $15 million Jay H. Baker Retailing Center at Wharton; and the $13 million Translational Research Center at Penn Medicine. With these additions, Penn now counts 165 research centers hosting a research community of over 4,300 faculty and over 1,100 postdoctoral fellows, 5,500 academic support staff and graduate student trainees. To further assist the advancement of interdisciplinary research President Amy Gutmann established the “Penn Integrates Knowledge” title awarded to selected Penn professors “whose research and teaching exemplify the integration of knowledge”. These professors hold endowed professorships and joint appointments between Penn’s schools.

    Penn is also among the most prolific producers of doctoral students. With 487 PhDs awarded in 2009, Penn ranks third in the Ivy League, only behind Columbia University and Cornell University (Harvard University did not report data). It also has one of the highest numbers of post-doctoral appointees (933 in number for 2004–2007), ranking third in the Ivy League (behind Harvard and Yale University) and tenth nationally.

    In most disciplines Penn professors’ productivity is among the highest in the nation and first in the fields of epidemiology, business, communication studies, comparative literature, languages, information science, criminal justice and criminology, social sciences and sociology. According to the National Research Council nearly three-quarters of Penn’s 41 assessed programs were placed in ranges including the top 10 rankings in their fields, with more than half of these in ranges including the top five rankings in these fields.

    Penn’s research tradition has historically been complemented by innovations that shaped higher education. In addition to establishing the first medical school; the first university teaching hospital; the first business school; and the first student union Penn was also the cradle of other significant developments. In 1852, Penn Law was the first law school in the nation to publish a law journal still in existence (then called The American Law Register, now the Penn Law Review, one of the most cited law journals in the world). Under the deanship of William Draper Lewis, the law school was also one of the first schools to emphasize legal teaching by full-time professors instead of practitioners, a system that is still followed today. The Wharton School was home to several pioneering developments in business education. It established the first research center in a business school in 1921 and the first center for entrepreneurship center in 1973 and it regularly introduced novel curricula for which BusinessWeek wrote, “Wharton is on the crest of a wave of reinvention and change in management education”.

    Several major scientific discoveries have also taken place at Penn. The university is probably best known as the place where the first general-purpose electronic computer (ENIAC) was born in 1946 at the Moore School of Electrical Engineering.

    ENIAC UPenn

    It was here also where the world’s first spelling and grammar checkers were created, as well as the popular COBOL programming language. Penn can also boast some of the most important discoveries in the field of medicine. The dialysis machine used as an artificial replacement for lost kidney function was conceived and devised out of a pressure cooker by William Inouye while he was still a student at Penn Med; the Rubella and Hepatitis B vaccines were developed at Penn; the discovery of cancer’s link with genes; cognitive therapy; Retin-A (the cream used to treat acne), Resistin; the Philadelphia gene (linked to chronic myelogenous leukemia) and the technology behind PET Scans were all discovered by Penn Med researchers. More recent gene research has led to the discovery of the genes for fragile X syndrome, the most common form of inherited mental retardation; spinal and bulbar muscular atrophy, a disorder marked by progressive muscle wasting; and Charcot–Marie–Tooth disease, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects the hands, feet and limbs.

    Conductive polymer was also developed at Penn by Alan J. Heeger, Alan MacDiarmid and Hideki Shirakawa, an invention that earned them the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. On faculty since 1965, Ralph L. Brinster developed the scientific basis for in vitro fertilization and the transgenic mouse at Penn and was awarded the National Medal of Science in 2010. The theory of superconductivity was also partly developed at Penn, by then-faculty member John Robert Schrieffer (along with John Bardeen and Leon Cooper). The university has also contributed major advancements in the fields of economics and management. Among the many discoveries are conjoint analysis, widely used as a predictive tool especially in market research; Simon Kuznets’s method of measuring Gross National Product; the Penn effect (the observation that consumer price levels in richer countries are systematically higher than in poorer ones) and the “Wharton Model” developed by Nobel-laureate Lawrence Klein to measure and forecast economic activity. The idea behind Health Maintenance Organizations also belonged to Penn professor Robert Eilers, who put it into practice during then-President Nixon’s health reform in the 1970s.

    International partnerships

    Students can study abroad for a semester or a year at partner institutions such as the London School of Economics(UK), University of Barcelona [Universitat de Barcelona](ES), Paris Institute of Political Studies [Institut d’études politiques de Paris](FR), University of Queensland(AU), University College London(UK), King’s College London(UK), Hebrew University of Jerusalem(IL) and University of Warwick(UK).

  • richardmitnick 11:09 am on March 31, 2023 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Scientists observe flattest explosion ever seen in space", , , , ,   

    From The University of Sheffield (UK) : “Scientists observe flattest explosion ever seen in space” 

    From The University of Sheffield (UK)

    George Dean
    Media and PR Assistant
    Corporate Communications
    +44 114 222 1050

    Astronomers have observed an explosion 180 million light years away which challenges our current understanding of explosions in space, that appeared much flatter than ever thought possible.

    Credit: Philip Drury, University of Sheffield.
    Astronomers have observed an explosion 180 million light years away which challenges our current understanding of explosions in space, that appeared much flatter than ever thought possible.

    Explosions are almost always expected to be spherical, as the stars themselves are spherical, but this one is the flattest ever seen.

    The explosion observed was an extremely rare Fast Blue Optical Transient (FBOT) – known colloquially amongst astronomers as “the cow” – only four others have ever been seen, and scientists don’t know how they occur, but this discovery has helped solve part of the puzzle.

    A potential explanation for how this explosion occurred is that the star itself may have been surrounding by a dense disk or it may have been a failed supernova.

    An explosion the size of our solar system has baffled scientists, as part of its shape – similar to that of an extremely flat disc – challenges everything we know about explosions in space.

    The explosion observed was a bright Fast Blue Optical Transient (FBOT) – an extremely rare class of explosion which is much less common than other explosions, such as supernovas. The first bright FBOT was discovered in 2018 and given the nickname “the cow”.

    Explosions of stars in the universe are almost always spherical in shape, as the stars themselves are spherical. However, this explosion, which occurred 180 million light years away, is the most aspherical ever seen in space, with a shape like a disc emerging a few days after it was discovered. This section of the explosion may have come from material shed by the star just before it exploded.

    It’s still unclear how bright FBOT explosions occur, but it’s hoped that this observation, published in MNRAS [below], will bring us closer to understanding them.

    Dr Justyn Maund, Lead Author of the study from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, said: “Very little is known about FBOT explosions – they just don’t behave like exploding stars should, they are too bright and they evolve too quickly. Put simply, they are weird, and this new observation makes them even weirder.

    “Hopefully this new finding will help us shed a bit more light on them – we never thought that explosions could be this aspherical. There are a few potential explanations for it: the stars involved may have created a disc just before they died or these could be failed supernovas, where the core of the star collapses to a blackhole or neutron star which then eats the rest of the star.”

    Scientists made the discovery after spotting a flash of polarized light completely by chance. They were able to measure the polarization of the blast – using the astronomical equivalent of polaroid sunglasses – with the Liverpool Telescope (owned by Liverpool John Moores University) located on La Palma.

    By measuring the polarization, it allowed them to measure the shape of the explosion, effectively seeing something the size of our Solar System but in a galaxy 180 million light years away. They were then able to use the data to reconstruct the 3D shape of the explosion, and were able to map the edges of the blast – allowing them to see just how flat it was.

    The mirror of the Liverpool Telescope is only 2.0m in diameter, but by studying the polarization the astronomers were able to reconstruct the shape of the explosion as if the telescope had a diameter of about 750km.

    Researchers will now undertake a new survey with the international Vera Rubin Observatory in Chile, which is expected to help discover more FBOTs and further understand them.


    See the full article here .

    Comments are invited and will be appreciated, especially if the reader finds any errors which I can correct. Use “Reply”.


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The University of Sheffield (UK) is a public research university in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England. It received its royal charter in 1905 as successor to the University College of Sheffield, which was established in 1897 by the merger of Sheffield Medical School (founded in 1828), Firth College (1879) and Sheffield Technical School (1884).

    Sheffield is a multi-campus university predominantly over two campus areas: the Western Bank and the St George’s. The university is organized into five academic faculties composed of multiple departments. It had 20,005 undergraduate and 8,710 postgraduate students in 2016/17. The annual income of the institution for 2016–17 was £623.6 million of which £155.9 million was from research grants and contracts, with an expenditure of £633.0 million. Sheffield ranks among the top 10 of UK universities for research grant funding.

    Sheffield was placed 75th worldwide according to QS World University Rankings and 104th worldwide according to Times Higher Education World University Rankings. It was ranked 12th in the UK amongst multi-faculty institutions for the quality (GPA) of its research and for its Research Power in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework. In 2011, Sheffield was named ‘University of the Year’ in the Times Higher Education awards. The Times Higher Education Student Experience Survey 2014 ranked the University of Sheffield 1st for student experience, social life, university facilities and accommodation, among other categories.

    It is one of the original red brick universities, a member The Russell Group Association (UK), The Worldwide Universities Network, The N8 Group of the eight most research-intensive universities in Northern England and The White Rose University Consortium. There are eight Nobel laureates affiliated with Sheffield and six of them are the alumni or former long-term staffs of the university.

  • richardmitnick 10:29 am on March 31, 2023 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "ORNL-led team designs molecule to disrupt SARS-CoV-2 infection", , , , , , , The molecule targets a lesser-studied enzyme in COVID-19 research-PLpro-that helps the coronavirus multiply and hampers the host body’s immune response., The research turned a previously identified noncovalent inhibitor of PLpro into a covalent one with higher potency., The team showed that the inhibitor molecule limits replication of the original SARS-CoV-2 virus strain as well as the Delta and Omicron variants.   

    From The DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory And From The DOE’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory: “ORNL-led team designs molecule to disrupt SARS-CoV-2 infection” 

    From The DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory


    From The DOE’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

    Kimberly A Askey

    Papain Molecule. A new molecule designed by ORNL scientists and tested by a multi-institutional team forms a strong chemical bond to the PLpro enzyme in the SARS-CoV-2 virus, disrupting its ability to multiply and impede the host body’s immune system. Image Credit: Michelle Lehman/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy.

    A team of scientists led by the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory designed a molecule that disrupts the infection mechanism of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and could be used to develop new treatments for COVID-19 and other viral diseases.

    The molecule targets a lesser-studied enzyme in COVID-19 research, PLpro, that helps the coronavirus multiply and hampers the host body’s immune response. The molecule, called a covalent inhibitor, is effective as an antiviral treatment because it forms a strong chemical bond with its intended protein target.

    “We’re attacking the virus from a different front, which is a good strategy in infectious disease research,” said Jerry Parks, who led the project and leads the Molecular Biophysics group at ORNL.

    The research, detailed in Nature Communications [below], turned a previously identified noncovalent inhibitor of PLpro into a covalent one with higher potency, Parks said. Using mammalian cells, the team showed that the inhibitor molecule limits replication of the original SARS-CoV-2 virus strain as well as the Delta and Omicron variants.

    The ORNL scientists used computational modeling to predict whether their designs would effectively bind to the enzyme and disrupt its function. They then synthesized the molecules and tested them at ORNL and partner company Progenra to confirm their predictions.

    The protein was expressed and purified using the capabilities of the Center for Structural Molecular Biology at the Spallation Neutron Source, or SNS, at ORNL [below]. The bright X-rays generated by the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource, or SSRL [below], at the DOE’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory were used to map the molecule and examine the binding process at an atomic level, validating the simulations.

    SNS and SSRL are DOE Office of Science user facilities.

    Partners at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and Utah State University performed the testing on mammalian cells infected with the virus. Other collaborators on the project include the Stanford University School of Medicine, the DOE’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, the DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, the University of Chicago, the DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory, the DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Northeastern University.

    “We took an existing compound and made it more potent by designing it to form a new chemical bond with PLpro,” said ORNL chemist and lead author Brian Sanders. “Our efforts are now to build on what we have developed to make better compounds that could one day be taken as a pill.”

    Other ORNL scientists who collaborated on the project are Russell Davidson, Kevin Weiss, Qiu Zhang and Hugh O’Neill. Audrey Labbe, Connor Cooper, Gwyndalyn Phillips, Stephanie Galanie and Marti Head are former ORNL staff.

    Preparing for future virus outbreaks

    Oak Ridge National Laboratory led a team of scientists to design a molecule that disrupts the infection mechanism of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and could be used to develop new treatments for COVID-19 and future virus outbreaks. Credit: Michelle Lehman/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy.

    The researchers are already working on a second generation of the covalent PLpro inhibitor that is more stable and better absorbed and distributed by the body, aiming to improve its suitability as an oral drug under the ORNL Technology Innovation Program.

    The same design strategy of identifying a molecule, understanding how it binds to a target, and modifying it to make it more effective could be applied to understanding and combatting future viruses, the scientists noted.

    “Antiviral drug discovery will always be needed and was one of the main motivations for this project,” Parks said.

    “If a new coronavirus emerges, our models and compounds can be used to continue the efforts for new antiviral drugs,” Sanders said. “We are working on checking the boxes that a potential industry or pharmaceutical partner would want to see. I find that very exciting.”

    This research was supported by the National Virtual Biotechnology Laboratory, a group of DOE national laboratories focused on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic with funding provided by the Coronavirus CARES Act; as well as DOE’s Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences and Office of Biological and Environmental Research. Additional support was provided by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

    Nature Communications
    See the science paper for instructive material with images.

    See the full article here .

    Comments are invited and will be appreciated, especially if the reader finds any errors which I can correct. Use “Reply”.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    DOE’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory campus

    The DOE’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory originally named Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, is a Department of Energy National Laboratory operated by Stanford University under the programmatic direction of the Department of Energy Office of Science and located in Menlo Park, California. It is the site of the Stanford Linear Accelerator, a 3.2 kilometer (2-mile) linear accelerator constructed in 1966 and shut down in the 2000s, which could accelerate electrons to energies of 50 GeV.
    Today SLAC research centers on a broad program in atomic and solid-state physics, chemistry, biology, and medicine using X-rays from synchrotron radiation and a free-electron laser as well as experimental and theoretical research in elementary particle physics, astroparticle physics, and cosmology.

    Founded in 1962 as the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, the facility is located on 172 hectares (426 acres) of Stanford University-owned land on Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park, California—just west of the University’s main campus. The main accelerator is 3.2 kilometers (2 mi) long—the longest linear accelerator in the world—and has been operational since 1966.

    Research at SLAC has produced three Nobel Prizes in Physics

    1976: The charm quark—see J/ψ meson
    1990: Quark structure inside protons and neutrons
    1995: The tau lepton

    SLAC’s meeting facilities also provided a venue for the Homebrew Computer Club and other pioneers of the home computer revolution of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

    In 1984 the laboratory was named an ASME National Historic Engineering Landmark and an IEEE Milestone.

    SLAC developed and, in December 1991, began hosting the first World Wide Web server outside of Europe.

    In the early-to-mid 1990s, the Stanford Linear Collider (SLC) investigated the properties of the Z boson using the Stanford Large Detector [below].

    As of 2005, SLAC employed over 1,000 people, some 150 of whom were physicists with doctorate degrees, and served over 3,000 visiting researchers yearly, operating particle accelerators for high-energy physics and the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory (SSRL) [below] for synchrotron light radiation research, which was “indispensable” in the research leading to the 2006 Nobel Prize in Chemistry awarded to Stanford Professor Roger D. Kornberg.

    In October 2008, the Department of Energy announced that the center’s name would be changed to SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. The reasons given include a better representation of the new direction of the lab and the ability to trademark the laboratory’s name. Stanford University had legally opposed the Department of Energy’s attempt to trademark “Stanford Linear Accelerator Center”.

    In March 2009, it was announced that the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory was to receive $68.3 million in Recovery Act Funding to be disbursed by Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

    In October 2016, Bits and Watts launched as a collaboration between SLAC and Stanford University to design “better, greener electric grids”. SLAC later pulled out over concerns about an industry partner, the state-owned Chinese electric utility.


    The main accelerator was an RF linear accelerator that accelerated electrons and positrons up to 50 GeV. At 3.2 km (2.0 mi) long, the accelerator was the longest linear accelerator in the world, and was claimed to be “the world’s most straight object.” until 2017 when the European x-ray free electron laser opened. The main accelerator is buried 9 m (30 ft) below ground and passes underneath Interstate Highway 280. The above-ground klystron gallery atop the beamline, was the longest building in the United States until the LIGO project’s twin interferometers were completed in 1999. It is easily distinguishable from the air and is marked as a visual waypoint on aeronautical charts.

    A portion of the original linear accelerator is now part of the Linac Coherent Light Source [below].

    Stanford Linear Collider

    The Stanford Linear Collider was a linear accelerator that collided electrons and positrons at SLAC. The center of mass energy was about 90 GeV, equal to the mass of the Z boson, which the accelerator was designed to study. Grad student Barrett D. Milliken discovered the first Z event on 12 April 1989 while poring over the previous day’s computer data from the Mark II detector. The bulk of the data was collected by the SLAC Large Detector, which came online in 1991. Although largely overshadowed by the Large Electron–Positron Collider at CERN, which began running in 1989, the highly polarized electron beam at SLC (close to 80%) made certain unique measurements possible, such as parity violation in Z Boson-b quark coupling.

    Presently no beam enters the south and north arcs in the machine, which leads to the Final Focus, therefore this section is mothballed to run beam into the PEP2 section from the beam switchyard.

    The SLAC Large Detector (SLD) was the main detector for the Stanford Linear Collider. It was designed primarily to detect Z bosons produced by the accelerator’s electron-positron collisions. Built in 1991, the SLD operated from 1992 to 1998.

    SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory Large Detector


    PEP (Positron-Electron Project) began operation in 1980, with center-of-mass energies up to 29 GeV. At its apex, PEP had five large particle detectors in operation, as well as a sixth smaller detector. About 300 researchers made used of PEP. PEP stopped operating in 1990, and PEP-II began construction in 1994.


    From 1999 to 2008, the main purpose of the linear accelerator was to inject electrons and positrons into the PEP-II accelerator, an electron-positron collider with a pair of storage rings 2.2 km (1.4 mi) in circumference. PEP-II was host to the BaBar experiment, one of the so-called B-Factory experiments studying charge-parity symmetry.

    SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory BaBar

    SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory SSRL

    Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope

    SLAC plays a primary role in the mission and operation of the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, launched in August 2008. The principal scientific objectives of this mission are:

    To understand the mechanisms of particle acceleration in AGNs, pulsars, and SNRs.
    To resolve the gamma-ray sky: unidentified sources and diffuse emission.
    To determine the high-energy behavior of gamma-ray bursts and transients.
    To probe dark matter and fundamental physics.

    National Aeronautics and Space Administration Fermi Large Area Telescope

    National Aeronautics and Space Administration Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope.


    KIPAC campus

    The Stanford PULSE Institute (PULSE) is a Stanford Independent Laboratory located in the Central Laboratory at SLAC. PULSE was created by Stanford in 2005 to help Stanford faculty and SLAC scientists develop ultrafast x-ray research at LCLS.

    The Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS)[below] is a free electron laser facility located at SLAC. The LCLS is partially a reconstruction of the last 1/3 of the original linear accelerator at SLAC, and can deliver extremely intense x-ray radiation for research in a number of areas. It achieved first lasing in April 2009.

    The laser produces hard X-rays, 10^9 times the relative brightness of traditional synchrotron sources and is the most powerful x-ray source in the world. LCLS enables a variety of new experiments and provides enhancements for existing experimental methods. Often, x-rays are used to take “snapshots” of objects at the atomic level before obliterating samples. The laser’s wavelength, ranging from 6.2 to 0.13 nm (200 to 9500 electron volts (eV)) is similar to the width of an atom, providing extremely detailed information that was previously unattainable. Additionally, the laser is capable of capturing images with a “shutter speed” measured in femtoseconds, or million-billionths of a second, necessary because the intensity of the beam is often high enough so that the sample explodes on the femtosecond timescale.

    The LCLS-II [below] project is to provide a major upgrade to LCLS by adding two new X-ray laser beams. The new system will utilize the 500 m (1,600 ft) of existing tunnel to add a new superconducting accelerator at 4 GeV and two new sets of undulators that will increase the available energy range of LCLS. The advancement from the discoveries using these new capabilities may include new drugs, next-generation computers, and new materials.


    In 2012, the first two-thirds (~2 km) of the original SLAC LINAC were recommissioned for a new user facility, the Facility for Advanced Accelerator Experimental Tests (FACET). This facility was capable of delivering 20 GeV, 3 nC electron (and positron) beams with short bunch lengths and small spot sizes, ideal for beam-driven plasma acceleration studies. The facility ended operations in 2016 for the constructions of LCLS-II which will occupy the first third of the SLAC LINAC. The FACET-II project will re-establish electron and positron beams in the middle third of the LINAC for the continuation of beam-driven plasma acceleration studies in 2019.

    SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory FACET

    SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory FACET-II upgrading its Facility for Advanced Accelerator Experimental Tests (FACET) – a test bed for new technologies that could revolutionize the way we build particle accelerators.

    The Next Linear Collider Test Accelerator (NLCTA) is a 60-120 MeV high-brightness electron beam linear accelerator used for experiments on advanced beam manipulation and acceleration techniques. It is located at SLAC’s end station B

    SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory Next Linear Collider Test Accelerator (NLCTA)

    SLAC National Accelerator LaboratoryLCLS

    SLAC National Accelerator LaboratoryLCLS II projected view

    Magnets called undulators stretch roughly 100 meters down a tunnel at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, with one side (right) producing hard x-rays and the other soft x-rays.

    SSRL and LCLS are DOE Office of Science user facilities.

    Established in 1942, The DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory is the largest science and energy national laboratory in the Department of Energy system (by size) and third largest by annual budget. It is located in the Roane County section of Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Its scientific programs focus on materials, neutron science, energy, high-performance computing, systems biology and national security, sometimes in partnership with the state of Tennessee, universities and other industries.

    ORNL has several of the world’s top supercomputers, including Summit, ranked by the TOP500 as Earth’s second-most powerful.

    ORNL OLCF IBM Q AC922 SUMMIT supercomputer, No. 5 on the TOP500. .

    The lab is a leading neutron and nuclear power research facility that includes the Spallation Neutron Source and High Flux Isotope Reactor.

    ORNL Spallation Neutron Source annotated.

    It hosts the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences, the BioEnergy Science Center, and the Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Nuclear Reactors.

    ORNL is managed by UT-Battelle for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time.

    Areas of research

    ORNL conducts research and development activities that span a wide range of scientific disciplines. Many research areas have a significant overlap with each other; researchers often work in two or more of the fields listed here. The laboratory’s major research areas are described briefly below.

    Chemical sciences – ORNL conducts both fundamental and applied research in a number of areas, including catalysis, surface science and interfacial chemistry; molecular transformations and fuel chemistry; heavy element chemistry and radioactive materials characterization; aqueous solution chemistry and geochemistry; mass spectrometry and laser spectroscopy; separations chemistry; materials chemistry including synthesis and characterization of polymers and other soft materials; chemical biosciences; and neutron science.
    Electron microscopy – ORNL’s electron microscopy program investigates key issues in condensed matter, materials, chemical and nanosciences.
    Nuclear medicine – The laboratory’s nuclear medicine research is focused on the development of improved reactor production and processing methods to provide medical radioisotopes, the development of new radionuclide generator systems, the design and evaluation of new radiopharmaceuticals for applications in nuclear medicine and oncology.
    Physics – Physics research at ORNL is focused primarily on studies of the fundamental properties of matter at the atomic, nuclear, and subnuclear levels and the development of experimental devices in support of these studies.
    Population – ORNL provides federal, state and international organizations with a gridded population database, called Landscan, for estimating ambient population. LandScan is a raster image, or grid, of population counts, which provides human population estimates every 30 x 30 arc seconds, which translates roughly to population estimates for 1 kilometer square windows or grid cells at the equator, with cell width decreasing at higher latitudes. Though many population datasets exist, LandScan is the best spatial population dataset, which also covers the globe. Updated annually (although data releases are generally one year behind the current year) offers continuous, updated values of population, based on the most recent information. Landscan data are accessible through GIS applications and a USAID public domain application called Population Explorer.

  • richardmitnick 9:39 am on March 31, 2023 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Structure of 'Oil-Eating' Enzyme Opens Door to Bioengineered Catalysts", AlkB was discovered 50 years ago in a machine shop where bacteria were digesting cooling oil making it smell rancid., , Atomic level details reveal how enzyme selectively breaks hydrocarbon bonds suggesting bioengineering strategies for making useful chemicals., Biocatalysts, , , , , Most industrial catalytic processes used for alkane conversions produce unwanted byproducts and heat-trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) gas., , Structure reveals how enzyme works., The biological enzyme known as AlkB, , The first atomic-level structure of an enzyme that selectively cuts carbon-hydrogen bonds, The scientists used cryo-EM-which does not require a crystallized sample-to take pictures of a few million individual frozen protein molecules from many different angles., Turning simple hydrocarbons into more useful chemicals   

    From The DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory: “Structure of ‘Oil-Eating’ Enzyme Opens Door to Bioengineered Catalysts” 

    From The DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory

    Karen McNulty Walsh
    (631) 344-8350

    Peter Genzer
    (631) 344-3174

    Atomic level details reveal how enzyme selectively breaks hydrocarbon bonds suggesting bioengineering strategies for making useful chemicals.

    Long-sought structure of oil-eating enzyme complex: A high-resolution cryo-EM map of the transmembrane two-protein complex (left) allows researchers to determine the locations of individual amino acids that make up the two proteins (right). AlkG (gray) serves and an electron carrier, transporting electrons from its single iron atom (red sphere) to the two iron atoms (red spheres) at the active site of the AlkB enzyme (colorful ribbon structure). The magenta structure below the active site is the substrate (see close-up views). Credit: BNL.

    Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory have produced the first atomic-level structure of an enzyme that selectively cuts carbon-hydrogen bonds—the first and most challenging step in turning simple hydrocarbons into more useful chemicals. As described in a paper just published in Nature Structural & Molecular Biology [below], the detailed atomic level “blueprint” suggests ways to engineer the enzyme to produce desired products.

    “We want to create a diverse pool of biocatalysts where you can specifically select the desired substrate to produce wanted and unique products from abundant hydrocarbons,” said study co-lead Qun Liu, a Brookhaven Lab structural biologist. “The approach would give us a controllable way to convert cheap and abundant alkanes—simple carbon-hydrogen compounds that make up 20-50 percent of crude oil—into more valuable bioproducts or chemical precursors, including alcohols, aldehydes, carboxylates, and epoxides.”

    The idea is particularly attractive because most industrial catalytic processes used for alkane conversions produce unwanted byproducts and heat-trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) gas. They also contain costly materials and require high temperatures and pressure. The biological enzyme, known as AlkB, operates under more ordinary conditions and with very high specificity. It uses inexpensive earth-abundant iron to initiate the chemistry while producing few unwanted byproducts.

    “Nature has figured out how to do this kind of chemistry with an inexpensive abundant metal and at ambient temperature and pressures,” said John Shanklin, chair of Brookhaven Lab’s Biology Department and a senior author on the paper. “As a result, there’s been massive interest in this enzyme, but a complete lack of understanding of its architecture and how it works—which is necessary to re-engineer it for new purposes. With this structure, we have now overcome this obstacle.”

    From rancid oil to sweet success

    Research team: Brookhaven Lab scientists Jin Chai, Qun Liu, John Shanklin, and Sean McSweeney stand in front of the cryo-electron microscope (cryo-EM) used to decipher the long-sought structure of an enzyme that selectively cleaves hydrocarbon bonds. Credit: BNL.

    AlkB was discovered 50 years ago in a machine shop where bacteria were digesting cooling oil making it smell rancid. Biochemists discovered the bacterial enzyme AlkB as the factor enabling the microbes’ unusual appetite. Scientists have been interested in harnessing AlkB’s hydrocarbon-chomping ability ever since.

    Over the years, studies revealed that the enzyme sits partially embedded in the bacteria’s membranes, and that it operates in conjunction with two other proteins. Shanklin and Liu—and scientists elsewhere—tried solving the enzyme’s structure using x-ray crystallography. That method bounces high-intensity x-rays off a crystallized version of a protein to identify where the atoms are. But membrane proteins like AlkB are notoriously difficult to crystallize—especially when they are part of a multi-protein complex.

    “We couldn’t get high enough resolution,” Liu said.

    Then in early 2021, Brookhaven opened its new cryo-electron microscope (cryo-EM) facility, the Laboratory for BioMolecular Structure (LBMS). The scientists used a cryo-EM, which does not require a crystallized sample, to take pictures of a few million individual frozen protein molecules from many different angles. Computational tools then sorted through the images, identified and averaged the common features—and ultimately generated a high-resolution, three-dimensional map of the enzyme complex. Using this map, the scientists then pieced together the known atomic-level structures of the individual amino acids that make up the protein complex to fill in the details in three dimensions.

    Identifying the right conditions to stabilize the transmembrane region of the enzyme and maintain the structural details was a challenge that required a good deal of trial and error. Shanklin credits Jin Chai, one of the researchers in his lab, “for his commitment and determination to solving this puzzle.”

    Structure reveals how enzyme works

    The detailed structure shows exactly how AlkB and one of the two associated proteins (AlkG) work together to cleave carbon-hydrogen bonds. In fact, the solved structure contained an unexpected bonus: a substrate alkane molecule that was trapped in the enzyme’s active site cavity.

    Active site: These closeups of the AlkB active site show how nine histidine amino acids (denoted as “H” in the left image) form a cavity (gray shaded region, right). This cavity guides the substrate (magenta) to the active site (near the two iron, Fe, atoms) in a single orientation, where only the terminal carbon-hydrogen bond can be cleaved. Modifying the enzyme to change the shape of this cavity could allow the enzyme to attack different C-H bonds. Credit: BNL.

    “Our structure shows how the amino acids that make up this enzyme form a cavity that orients the hydrocarbon substrate so that just one specific carbon-hydrogen bond can approach the active site,” Liu said. “It also shows how electrons move from the carrier protein (AlkG) to the di-iron center at the enzyme’s active site, allowing it to activate a molecule of oxygen to attack this bond.”

    Shanklin suggests thinking of the enzyme as a bond-cutting machine like a circular saw: “How you hold the alkane with respect to the enzyme’s di-iron center determines how the activated oxygen interacts with the hydrocarbon. If you guide the end of the alkane against the activated oxygen, it’s going to initiate some chemistry on that last carbon.

    “The engineering we want to do is to change the shape of the active site cavity so we can have the substrate (or a different substrate) approach the activated oxygen at different angles and in different C-H bond locations to perform different reactions.”

    In nature, the scientists noted, a third protein not included in this structure (AlkT) provides the electrons to AlkG, the carrier protein. The carrier protein then transports the electrons to the two iron atoms that activate oxygen at AlkB’s active site. Replacing that electron donating protein with an electrode to supply electrons would be simpler and less costly than using the biological electron donor, they suggest.

    DOE just funded the team’s proposal to develop such ‘Transformative Biohybrid Diiron Catalysts for C-H Bond Functionalization,’ based in part on this preliminary structural work.

    “This structure and our knowledge of how the AlkG/AlkB complex works, puts us in a great position to bioengineer this enzyme to select which carbon-hydrogen bond gets activated in a variety of substrates and to control the electrons and oxygen to re-engineer its selectivity,” Liu said.

    This work was supported by the DOE Office of Science (BES) and by Laboratory Directed Research and Development funds at Brookhaven Lab. LBMS is supported by the DOE Office of Science (BER). This research also used resources of Brookhaven Lab’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN), which is a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science (BES) User Facility.

    Nature Structural & Molecular Biology
    See the science paper for instructive material with images.

    See the full article here .

    Comments are invited and will be appreciated, especially if the reader finds any errors which I can correct. Use “Reply”.


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

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

    Research at BNL specializes in nuclear and high energy physics, energy science and technology, environmental and bioscience, nanoscience and national security. The 5300 acre campus contains several large research facilities, including the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider [below] and National Synchrotron Light Source II [below]. Seven Nobel prizes have been awarded for work conducted at Brookhaven lab.

    BNL is staffed by approximately 2,750 scientists, engineers, technicians, and support personnel, and hosts 4,000 guest investigators every year. The laboratory has its own police station, fire department, and ZIP code (11973). In total, the lab spans a 5,265-acre (21 km^2) area that is mostly coterminous with the hamlet of Upton, New York. BNL is served by a rail spur operated as-needed by the New York and Atlantic Railway. Co-located with the laboratory is the Upton, New York, forecast office of the National Weather Service.

    Major programs

    Although originally conceived as a nuclear research facility, Brookhaven Lab’s mission has greatly expanded. Its foci are now:

    Nuclear and high-energy physics
    Physics and chemistry of materials
    Environmental and climate research
    Energy research
    Structural biology
    Accelerator physics


    Brookhaven National Lab was originally owned by the Atomic Energy Commission and is now owned by that agency’s successor, the United States Department of Energy (DOE). DOE subcontracts the research and operation to universities and research organizations. It is currently operated by Brookhaven Science Associates LLC, which is an equal partnership of Stony Brook University and Battelle Memorial Institute. From 1947 to 1998, it was operated by Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI), but AUI lost its contract in the wake of two incidents: a 1994 fire at the facility’s high-beam flux reactor that exposed several workers to radiation and reports in 1997 of a tritium leak into the groundwater of the Long Island Central Pine Barrens on which the facility sits.


    Following World War II, the US Atomic Energy Commission was created to support government-sponsored peacetime research on atomic energy. The effort to build a nuclear reactor in the American northeast was fostered largely by physicists Isidor Isaac Rabi and Norman Foster Ramsey Jr., who during the war witnessed many of their colleagues at Columbia University leave for new remote research sites following the departure of the Manhattan Project from its campus. Their effort to house this reactor near New York City was rivalled by a similar effort at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to have a facility near Boston, Massachusetts. Involvement was quickly solicited from representatives of northeastern universities to the south and west of New York City such that this city would be at their geographic center. In March 1946 a nonprofit corporation was established that consisted of representatives from nine major research universities — Columbia University, Cornell University, Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Rochester, and Yale University.

    Out of 17 considered sites in the Boston-Washington corridor, Camp Upton on Long Island was eventually chosen as the most suitable in consideration of space, transportation, and availability. The camp had been a training center from the US Army during both World War I and World War II. After the latter war, Camp Upton was deemed no longer necessary and became available for reuse. A plan was conceived to convert the military camp into a research facility.

    On March 21, 1947, the Camp Upton site was officially transferred from the U.S. War Department to the new U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), predecessor to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

    Research and facilities

    Reactor history

    In 1947 construction began on the first nuclear reactor at Brookhaven, the Brookhaven Graphite Research Reactor. This reactor, which opened in 1950, was the first reactor to be constructed in the United States after World War II. The High Flux Beam Reactor operated from 1965 to 1999. In 1959 Brookhaven built the first US reactor specifically tailored to medical research, the Brookhaven Medical Research Reactor, which operated until 2000.

    Accelerator history

    In 1952 Brookhaven began using its first particle accelerator, the Cosmotron. At the time the Cosmotron was the world’s highest energy accelerator, being the first to impart more than 1 GeV of energy to a particle.

    BNL Cosmotron 1952-1966.

    The Cosmotron was retired in 1966, after it was superseded in 1960 by the new Alternating Gradient Synchrotron (AGS).

    BNL Alternating Gradient Synchrotron (AGS).

    The AGS was used in research that resulted in 3 Nobel prizes, including the discovery of the muon neutrino, the charm quark, and CP violation.

    In 1970 in BNL started the ISABELLE project to develop and build two proton intersecting storage rings.

    The groundbreaking for the project was in October 1978. In 1981, with the tunnel for the accelerator already excavated, problems with the superconducting magnets needed for the ISABELLE accelerator brought the project to a halt, and the project was eventually cancelled in 1983.

    The National Synchrotron Light Source operated from 1982 to 2014 and was involved with two Nobel Prize-winning discoveries. It has since been replaced by the National Synchrotron Light Source II. [below].

    BNL National Synchrotron Light Source.

    After ISABELLE’S cancellation, physicist at BNL proposed that the excavated tunnel and parts of the magnet assembly be used in another accelerator. In 1984 the first proposal for the accelerator now known as the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC)[below] was put forward. The construction got funded in 1991 and RHIC has been operational since 2000. One of the world’s only two operating heavy-ion colliders, RHIC is as of 2010 the second-highest-energy collider after the Large Hadron Collider (CH). RHIC is housed in a tunnel 2.4 miles (3.9 km) long and is visible from space.

    On January 9, 2020, it was announced by Paul Dabbar, undersecretary of the US Department of Energy Office of Science, that the BNL eRHIC design has been selected over the conceptual design put forward by DOE’s Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility [Jlab] as the future Electron–ion collider (EIC) in the United States.

    In addition to the site selection, it was announced that the BNL EIC had acquired CD-0 from the Department of Energy. BNL’s eRHIC design proposes upgrading the existing Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, which collides beams light to heavy ions including polarized protons, with a polarized electron facility, to be housed in the same tunnel.

    Other discoveries

    In 1958, Brookhaven scientists created one of the world’s first video games, Tennis for Two. In 1968 Brookhaven scientists patented Maglev, a transportation technology that utilizes magnetic levitation.

    Major facilities

    Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), which was designed to research quark–gluon plasma and the sources of proton spin. Until 2009 it was the world’s most powerful heavy ion collider. It is the only collider of spin-polarized protons.

    Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN), used for the study of nanoscale materials.

    BNL National Synchrotron Light Source II, Brookhaven’s newest user facility, opened in 2015 to replace the National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS), which had operated for 30 years. NSLS was involved in the work that won the 2003 and 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

    Alternating Gradient Synchrotron, a particle accelerator that was used in three of the lab’s Nobel prizes.
    Accelerator Test Facility, generates, accelerates and monitors particle beams.
    Tandem Van de Graaff, once the world’s largest electrostatic accelerator.

    Computational Science resources, including access to a massively parallel Blue Gene series supercomputer that is among the fastest in the world for scientific research, run jointly by Brookhaven National Laboratory and Stony Brook University-SUNY.

    Interdisciplinary Science Building, with unique laboratories for studying high-temperature superconductors and other materials important for addressing energy challenges.
    NASA Space Radiation Laboratory, where scientists use beams of ions to simulate cosmic rays and assess the risks of space radiation to human space travelers and equipment.

    Off-site contributions

    It is a contributing partner to the ATLAS experiment, one of the four detectors located at the The European Organization for Nuclear Research [La Organización Europea para la Investigación Nuclear][Organization européenne pour la recherche nucléaire] [Europäische Organization für Kernforschung](CH)[CERN] Large Hadron Collider(LHC). Credit: CERN.

    The European Organization for Nuclear Research [La Organización Europea para la Investigación Nuclear][Organization européenne pour la recherche nucléaire] [Europäische Organization für Kernforschung](CH)[CERN] map. Credit: CERN.

    It is currently operating at The European Organization for Nuclear Research [La Organización Europea para la Investigación Nuclear][Organization européenne pour la recherche nucléaire] [Europäische Organization für Kernforschung](CH) [CERN] near Geneva, Switzerland.

    Brookhaven was also responsible for the design of the Spallation Neutron Source at DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee.

    DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory Spallation Neutron Source annotated.

    Brookhaven plays a role in a range of neutrino research projects around the world, including the Daya Bay Neutrino Experiment (CN) nuclear power plant, approximately 52 kilometers northeast of Hong Kong and 45 kilometers east of Shenzhen, China.

    Daya Bay Neutrino Experiment (CN) nuclear power plant, approximately 52 kilometers northeast of Hong Kong and 45 kilometers east of Shenzhen, China .

  • richardmitnick 8:51 am on March 31, 2023 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "An Archaeological Re-discovery Offers Clues About Distant Human Past", , , , , New findings about 40000-year-old teeth unearthed in the 1930s from a site called Ksâr ‘Akil in Lebanon., , , Paleolithic archaeology,   

    From The University of Connecticut: “An Archaeological Re-discovery Offers Clues About Distant Human Past” 

    From The University of Connecticut

    Elaina Hancock

    A University of Connecticut researcher has been scouring the archives to dig up new details about lost fossils that are vital for understanding human history.

    University of Connecticut professor of anthropology Christian Tryon poses for a photo in his lab in Beach Hall on March 17, 2023. (Sydney Herdle/UConn Photo)

    In their recent publication in the Journal of Human Evolution [below], UConn Department of Anthropology Professor Christian Tryon and Shara Bailey, Director of the Center for the Study of Human Origins at New York University, detail new findings about 40,000-year-old teeth unearthed in the 1930s from a site called Ksâr ‘Akil in Lebanon.

    The tricky part is that these teeth are missing.

    The story of how Tryon and Bailey came to study these artifacts is fascinating and includes war, loss, and chance findings which saved this information from being lost to history. The fossils were found in a rock shelter just outside of modern-day Beirut, in a region that probably saw a lot of traffic when Homo sapiens left Africa. The evidence for this largely comes from the campsites, tools, food debris, and rare art that make up the archaeological record, but Tryon says there are very few sites where you can find a fossil and definitively say whether it was Homo sapiens or Homo neanderthalensis who actually made an archaeological site, but Ksâr ‘Akil is one of those few, rare places. Some 40,000 years ago, two children were buried at Ksâr ‘Akil, and on that dig in the late 1930s, they were unearthed and later lost. Tryon and Bailey are now trying to piece together as much information as they can with the few remaining records.

    ‘Egbert’s’ Stony Bed

    Tryon has focused on Ksâr ‘Akil by combing through archives at Harvard’s Peabody Museum for all the evidence he can find about the site.

    The story of how the teeth were found starts with a group of Jesuit priests in the Holy Land who informed a group of fellow priests and archaeologists, including the Rev. J. Franklin Ewing, of a site they may find interesting.

    “They were all deeply interested in the past, but they were kind of figuring things out as they went along because, in the 1930s, there was no place to get formal training in Paleolithic archaeology or human evolution at that point in the United States,” Tryon says. “Some trained at Cambridge in the U.K., and Ewing had studied in Vienna.”

    Ewing later led the dig, which extended down an astonishing 75 feet and yielded millions of artifacts and fossils along the way, including those of anatomically modern humans. Tryon explains that these artifacts are from an important time in human history called the Upper Paleolithic:

    “This is when, suddenly, something very different was going on. People were making different kinds of tools in different ways, probably living in larger and more dense groups, apparently staying in contact with groups hundreds of miles away, and using art by wearing personal ornaments like jewelry and decorating cave walls and other surfaces with red or yellow paint. It’s a whole different way of life.”

    Because this unique site yielded so many artifacts, and because we have relatively few human remains from this period of history, Tryon explains that it has assumed almost outsized importance. Ksâr ‘Akil became a key reference site since being first dug in the 1930s, in part because those 75 feet of stratified sediment rich in artifacts and fossils showed change over time in an era before the radiocarbon dating method was invented. Yet almost nothing ended up being published about the Ksâr ‘Akil artifacts that eventually made their way to collections in the United States. The human skeletal remains include those of an individual Ewing called “Egbert” and a second, unnamed individual briefly mentioned in the original, brief publication. The second individual was never mentioned again except in some unpublished correspondence and diaries, and never actually described, says Tryon.

    Then, World War II erupted and Lebanon was under the control of Vichy France, which had a policy of collaboration with Nazi Germany, and was invaded by British troops as part of the Syrian-Lebanon Campaign. The archaeologists were forced to flee the conflict but before they left “Egbert” and the other human remains were encased in concrete and left buried at the site.

    Ewing, on the other hand, was not as secure in his escape. Ewing left for the U.S. but traveled via the Philippines where he had previously been a teacher. While he was in the Philippines, Japanese forces invaded, and Ewing was captured and spent the rest of the war in a prisoner of war camp. When he died a little over 20 years later, it was due to an illness he attributed to the difficulties of his time as a prisoner.

    After the war, the concrete blocks were shipped to Harvard, says Tryon. It wasn’t until 1960 that Ewing was able to publish the preliminary descriptions of what was discovered at Ksâr ‘Akil, and he died before he could fully document the findings.

    “Not much has ever been written about the human remains and the originals have been lost,” says Tryon. “All that was left of the most famous fossil is a cast or copy, and for the shape of the skull, it’s fine, but for the teeth, which we were particularly interested in, the quality of the cast is not that good.”

    Tryon explains that to create the cast, a reconstruction was first created using those fossil parts that remained, but that since large parts of the skull were missing, clay was used to represent some of the missing but inferred parts of the shape of the skull. Then, the mold was taken of this reproduction, from which casts of plaster or resin could be made. If any anthropologist is familiar with “Egbert,” it is because of copies of this reproduction of a reconstruction. Tryon stresses that the poor quality of the cast and loss of the fossil itself represents missed opportunities and several generations of data loss.

    Fortunately, Tryon’s work in the archives led him to previously unpublished photographs and X-rays of the teeth that he assumed belonged to “Egbert.” Tryon shared the findings with Bailey, who realized that was not the case.

    “I know my stone tools, but I’m no expert on teeth,” Tryon says. “I thought they were all just a bunch of photographs of different views of Egbert’s teeth, but they were subtly different enough that she could tell they were not the same individual. There were two different individuals shown in these photos. It was right then that I knew we’d found the other eight-year-old that had been mentioned in a single sentence in that first publication. Given that there are only a handful of human fossils from Upper Paleolithic sites in the Mediterranean region, I knew we had something exciting. I mean, all we have now are photographs, but what else can you do but get everything you can out of them? We don’t have anything else.”

    Knowing What to Look For

    To anyone unfamiliar with Ksâr ‘Akil, coming across photographs and X-rays in the archives may seem random or unremarkable, but Tryon knows what to keep an eye out for, and it has helped him trace the thread of details from this unique site.

    After the war, Ewing taught at Fordham College in New York, and the dig resumed in Lebanon. Tryon found correspondence from the priests, most of them trying to secure money for the dig from various people, including a Harvard professor named Hallam Movius, Jr., to whom they shipped the human remains after the war.

    “I think that when Ewing died, his stuff went to Movius and part of the reason nobody’s really discussed them is that it was Ewing’s stuff, but it is now inside Movius’s personal archive,” Tryon says. “A search for ‘Ewing’ wouldn’t turn up much in the hunt. In this case, the archivists discovered and documented the photographs when they went through and organized things in the Movius archives. My act of discovery happened once I came across the photos and was more about recognizing their significance, knowing what to do with that information, and finding the right person to work with.”

    While studying the archives, Tryon says it feels like he’s had a glimpse into the lives of the researchers who came before him.

    “One of the people who dug a site other than Ksar ‘Akil but around the same time was sadly known to have had problems with alcohol, but I came to appreciate this in a very direct and very sad way because the archives included some pretty monstrous bar tabs,” he says. “Sometimes you dig up these weird personal things, things that I kind of wish I didn’t know about, but it’s a very graphic example of the lives of these people working in the same field almost 100 years ago. I can get a real sense of their personalities through their private correspondence and notes as well.

    “Ewing frequently wrote to Father Doherty who directed a lot of the excavation. Doherty basically made his own newsletter called ‘Oriental ‘Orizons,’ which is itself a nice little pun on ‘orison,’ or prayer, and ‘horizon,’ or archaeological level. It’s like a zine for the site, but nobody was there but him, so it pretty much had a readership of one. And as you read it, you can tell he is going stir-crazy after months at the excavation. Most of the issues start with something like ‘Same dig, different day,’ or ‘Another day in the pit’; one tagline is ‘a policy of crossed fingers will forestall the blues.’ It’s chatty, gossipy, hilarious, and full of little observations about daily life, like his fascination with one of his workers who is trying to date this other worker’s daughter but not getting anywhere. By the end, he starts to get worn out by visitors, and he’s tired of having to put on a dog and pony show. I definitely get a sense of their personalities.”

    Be on the Lookout

    Tryon did not expect to find pictures of the forgotten remains from Ksâr ‘Akil, which had essentially become a footnote lost to history. Through his and Bailey’s work, however, they can confirm the remains are Homo sapiens and they can confirm the original age estimate that both are 8-year-old children.

    “There are also some weird details on the lower first permanent molar teeth, which have an unusual number of cusps or ridges on them. Does it mean anything? It’s unclear, because we have so little else to compare it to from this time period, but having five rather than four of these cusps is very rare in any living or fossil population. But it’s present in two eight-year-olds buried side by side at the same time 40,000 years ago. It may just be an unusual family trait shared between both of the children, maybe because they were twins. We don’t know. But it’s certainly the kind of feature that people interested in tracing population movements have in the past used as a kind of marker or signal to connect the dots between groups.”

    There are other human remains from Ksâr ‘Akil as well. They include an isolated tooth, and another specimen nicknamed “Ethelrud” that is a portion of the upper mouth bone called the maxilla, says Tryon.

    “It has no teeth in it. It’s about as uninformative as you could possibly get but still say it’s human. Like so many other specimens from this site, it was lost. But luckily it was re-found by a team in Lebanon a few years ago. It’s the fact that so many of these specimens have gone missing that makes the photos we found become important, because there’s just nothing else.”

    Any new details from the Upper Paleolithic and the people living then can build on our understanding of this time and the significant shifts that occurred for our species at the same time as Neanderthals and other extinct relatives disappeared.

    “The appearance of the Upper Paleolithic in many parts of the world doesn’t seem to be a gradual thing,” Tryon says. “The evidence is certainly consistent with some new ways of doing things showing up fast in many parts of the world. For instance, something like the internet took a long time to develop, but once it appeared we all adopted it quickly. Whatever the Upper Paleolithic represents in terms of things or behaviors, these ideas and the stuff that went with them were popular and spread quickly across much of Eurasia, for whatever reason. And at least for Ksâr ‘Akil, we know these changes coincided with the appearance of people like us. The Upper Paleolithic is a major turning point in human evolution and that is why these fossils are important.”

    Journal of Human Evolution

    See the full article here.

    Comments are invited and will be appreciated, especially if the reader finds any errors which I can correct.


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The University of Connecticut is a public land-grant research university in Storrs, Connecticut. It was founded in 1881.

    The primary 4,400-acre (17.8 km^2) campus is in Storrs, Connecticut, approximately a half hour’s drive from Hartford and 90 minutes from Boston. It is a flagship university that is ranked as the best public national university in New England and is tied for 23rd in “top public schools” and tied for 63rd best national university in the 2021 U.S. News & World Report rankings. University of Connecticut has been ranked by Money Magazine and Princeton Review top 18th in value. The university is classified among “R1: Doctoral Universities – Very high research activity”. The university has been recognized as a “Public Ivy”, defined as a select group of publicly funded universities considered to provide a quality of education comparable to those of the Ivy League.

    The University of Connecticut is one of the founding institutions of the Hartford, Connecticut/Springfield, Massachusetts regional economic and cultural partnership alliance known as “New England’s Knowledge Corridor”. The University of Connecticut was the second U.S. university invited into Universitas 21, an elite international network of 24 research-intensive universities, who work together to foster global citizenship. The University of Connecticut is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges . The University of Connecticut was founded in 1881 as the Storrs Agricultural School, named after two brothers who donated the land for the school. In 1893, the school became a land grant college. In 1939, the name was changed to The University of Connecticut. Over the next decade, social work, nursing and graduate programs were established, while the schools of law and pharmacy were also absorbed into the university. During the 1960s, The University of Connecticut Health was established for new medical and dental schools. John Dempsey Hospital opened in Farmington in 1975.

    Competing in the Big East Conference as the Huskies, University of Connecticut has been particularly successful in their men’s and women’s basketball programs. The Huskies have won 21 NCAA championships. The University of Connecticut Huskies are the most successful women’s basketball program in the nation, having won a record 11 NCAA Division I National Championships (tied with the UCLA Bruins men’s basketball team) and a women’s record four in a row (2013–2016), plus over 40 conference regular season and tournament championships. University of Connecticut also owns the two longest winning streaks of any gender in college basketball history.

  • richardmitnick 8:13 am on March 31, 2023 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Why are forests turning brown in summer?", , , , , Increasing summer heat and drought are affecting European forests.,   

    From The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich [ETH Zürich] [Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich] (CH): “Why are forests turning brown in summer?” 

    From The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich [ETH Zürich] [Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich] (CH)

    Michael Keller
    Photograph: Valentin Queloz / WSL

    Credit: Valentin Queloz / WSL

    Increasing summer heat and drought are affecting European forests – some years, trees brown prematurely and some even start to die back. Researchers from ETH Zürich and the WSL are showing how exceptional weather conditions over several years are turning forests brown.
    -European forests are increasingly turning brown in the course of hot, dry summers.
    -In the scorching summer of 2022, Europe experienced more trees turning brown than ever, with 37% of temperate and Mediterranean forest regions affected.
    -In the three-​year meteorological history of low-​greenness events, characteristic weather signals can be found as precursors of the events.
    It was as though autumn had arrived in July. Anyone hiking through the Swiss or German forests in the summer of 2018 could literally see how the hot, dry weather in central Europe was affecting the trees. Spruces and beech tress, in particular, withered prematurely, their leaves and needles turning brown, with entire forest stands under constant stress. In the Mediterranean region, such large-​scale phenomena have already occurred several times since 2003.

    Researchers from ETH Zürich have now systematically examined all low-​greenness events in the temperate and Mediterranean forests of Europe over the past 21 years (2002–2022). The resulting study, which they produced with colleagues from the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL), has just been published in the journal Biogeosciences [below].

    Browning reached record levels last summer

    In their efforts to study forest browning across Europe, the researchers used high-​resolution satellite data to identify events of large-​scale reduced forest greenness in summer. Reduced greenness is a sign of reduced vitality and stress in forests and is also used as an indicator of forest dieback.

    The findings underline previous observations: summer browning has spread throughout Europe. The Central European (temperate) forests have suffered particularly extensive browning in recent years. The Mediterranean region experienced major events already in the early 2000s.

    Satellite maps of low-​greenness events in Europe from 2002 to 2022: grid cells on a 50-​km scale with widespread low-​greenness are shown in red. The dashed line separates temperate (dark green) from Mediterranean forest areas (cyan). (Graphic: Mauro Hermann / ETH Zürich)

    In their analysis, the researchers also quantified the record summer of 2022 and its impact on European forests for the first time: during the hottest summer since records began, Europe experienced its most extensive browning yet, covering 37% of temperate and Mediterranean forest regions – “far more than any other event in the past two decades,” says Mauro Hermann, a doctoral student in atmospheric dynamics under ETH professor Heini Wernli and lead author of the study.

    Searching for a common history

    This wasn’t actually the goal that the ETH-​WSL team was pursuing. “We wanted to understand how the weather affects forests over a large area during several seasons,” explains ETH Professor of Atmospheric Physics Heini Wernli, who led the study. The central role of drought was clear. “However, the connection between forests and weather is far more complex than it might appear at first glance,” explains Wernli.

    “Not every dry period – even if it is intense and persistent – causes forests to turn brown immediately,” adds Hermann, referring to the “legacy effect” that has been observable in our forests for a number of years. How well trees survive heat and drought depends not only on the current weather conditions, but also on those of the months or years before.

    This was one reason why researchers were especially keen to look into the meteorological history of low-​greenness events. They were aiming to identify characteristic weather patterns that preceded multiple of the investigated events.

    Specific precursors identified

    The researchers did in fact find characteristic weather signals that occurred long before the events, in a kind of precursor to browning with certain specific features for central Europe and the Mediterranean region. “In general, we see that periods with little precipitation occur with unusual frequency over two or three years before the events,” says Hermann.

    Increased dry periods with a clear precipitation deficit over at least two years prior to the events are the most conspicuous meteorological precursors in both zones. In the Mediterranean region, frequent dry periods may even go back as far as three years. Other signals include frequent periods of elevated temperatures for at least two years in the temperate zone. Hermann adds, “Prior to low forest greenness in central Europe, we usually observed two dry, hot summers in a row.”

    Burden of previous years confirmed

    The researchers’ findings are borne out by examples from the 21 years under investigation. The summer of 2003, which was very hot and dry in large parts of Europe, hardly left any large-​scale traces on the colour of forests. Since 2018, however, Europe has experienced repeated large-​scale drought and high temperatures, leading to several instances of extensive browning.

    Precursors, not predictions

    Will these precursor signals allow scientists to predict drought stress and forest browning in future? The researchers are cautious: “We have analyzed events in retrospect, but we haven’t examined their predictability,” says Hermann. The fact that drought stress also indirectly promotes low forest greenness by fostering bark beetle and fungal infestations as well as forest fires makes forecasting generally difficult.

    Thomas Wohlgemuth, head of the Forest Dynamics research unit at WSL and co-​author of the study, thinks that forecasting based solely on weather data is unrealistic. The forest ecologist does, however, believe that the newfound understanding of the process will lead to better forest models and assist in prevention by forestry management. “Targeted monitoring of the weather conditions over several seasons could provide valuable information as to whether premature leaf discoloration is likely to occur the following summer,” he says.

    See the science paper for instructive material with images.

    See the full article here .

    Comments are invited and will be appreciated, especially if the reader finds any errors which I can correct. Use “Reply”.


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    ETH Zurich campus

    The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich [ETH Zürich] [Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich] (CH) is a public research university in the city of Zürich, Switzerland. Founded by the Swiss Federal Government in 1854 with the stated mission to educate engineers and scientists, the school focuses exclusively on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Like its sister institution The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne [EPFL-École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne](CH) , it is part of The Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology Domain (ETH Domain)) , part of the The Swiss Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research [EAER][Eidgenössisches Departement für Wirtschaft, Bildung und Forschung] [Département fédéral de l’économie, de la formation et de la recherche] (CH).

    The university is an attractive destination for international students thanks to low tuition fees of 809 CHF per semester, PhD and graduate salaries that are amongst the world’s highest, and a world-class reputation in academia and industry. There are currently 22,200 students from over 120 countries, of which 4,180 are pursuing doctoral degrees. In the 2021 edition of the QS World University Rankings ETH Zürich is ranked 6th in the world and 8th by the Times Higher Education World Rankings 2020. In the 2020 QS World University Rankings by subject it is ranked 4th in the world for engineering and technology (2nd in Europe) and 1st for earth & marine science.

    As of November 2019, 21 Nobel laureates, 2 Fields Medalists, 2 Pritzker Prize winners, and 1 Turing Award winner have been affiliated with the Institute, including Albert Einstein. Other notable alumni include John von Neumann and Santiago Calatrava. It is a founding member of the IDEA League and the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU) and a member of the CESAER network.

    ETH Zürich was founded on 7 February 1854 by the Swiss Confederation and began giving its first lectures on 16 October 1855 as a polytechnic institute (eidgenössische polytechnische schule) at various sites throughout the city of Zurich. It was initially composed of six faculties: architecture, civil engineering, mechanical engineering, chemistry, forestry, and an integrated department for the fields of mathematics, natural sciences, literature, and social and political sciences.

    It is locally still known as Polytechnikum, or simply as Poly, derived from the original name eidgenössische polytechnische schule, which translates to “federal polytechnic school”.

    ETH Zürich is a federal institute (i.e., under direct administration by the Swiss government), whereas The University of Zürich [Universität Zürich ] (CH) is a cantonal institution. The decision for a new federal university was heavily disputed at the time; the liberals pressed for a “federal university”, while the conservative forces wanted all universities to remain under cantonal control, worried that the liberals would gain more political power than they already had. In the beginning, both universities were co-located in the buildings of the University of Zürich.

    From 1905 to 1908, under the presidency of Jérôme Franel, the course program of ETH Zürich was restructured to that of a real university and ETH Zürich was granted the right to award doctorates. In 1909 the first doctorates were awarded. In 1911, it was given its current name, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule. In 1924, another reorganization structured the university in 12 departments. However, it now has 16 departments.

    ETH Zürich, EPFL (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne) [École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne](CH), and four associated research institutes form The Domain of the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology (ETH Domain) [ETH-Bereich; Domaine des Écoles polytechniques fédérales] (CH) with the aim of collaborating on scientific projects.

    Reputation and ranking

    ETH Zürich is ranked among the top universities in the world. Typically, popular rankings place the institution as the best university in continental Europe and ETH Zürich is consistently ranked among the top 1-5 universities in Europe, and among the top 3-10 best universities of the world.

    Historically, ETH Zürich has achieved its reputation particularly in the fields of chemistry, mathematics and physics. There are 32 Nobel laureates who are associated with ETH Zürich, the most recent of whom is Richard F. Heck, awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2010. Albert Einstein is perhaps its most famous alumnus.

    In 2018, the QS World University Rankings placed ETH Zürich at 7th overall in the world. In 2015, ETH Zürich was ranked 5th in the world in Engineering, Science and Technology, just behind the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University and University of Cambridge (UK). In 2015, ETH Zürich also ranked 6th in the world in Natural Sciences, and in 2016 ranked 1st in the world for Earth & Marine Sciences for the second consecutive year.

    In 2016, Times Higher Education World University Rankings ranked ETH Zürich 9th overall in the world and 8th in the world in the field of Engineering & Technology, just behind the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, California Institute of Technology, Princeton University, University of Cambridge(UK), Imperial College London(UK) and University of Oxford(UK) .

    In a comparison of Swiss universities by swissUP Ranking and in rankings published by CHE comparing the universities of German-speaking countries, ETH Zürich traditionally is ranked first in natural sciences, computer science and engineering sciences.

    In the survey CHE Excellence Ranking on the quality of Western European graduate school programs in the fields of biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics, ETH Zürich was assessed as one of the three institutions to have excellent programs in all the considered fields, the other two being Imperial College London (UK) and the University of Cambridge (UK), respectively.

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