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  • richardmitnick 1:05 pm on October 13, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA Earth: “El Niño Strengthening” 

    NASA Earth Observatory

    NASA Earth Observatory

    acquired October 5, 1997 – October 4, 2015

    The latest analyses from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and from NASA confirm that El Niño is strengthening and it looks a lot like the strong event that occurred in 1997–98. Observations of sea surface heights and temperatures, as well as wind patterns, show surface waters cooling off in the Western Pacific and warming significantly in the tropical Eastern Pacific.

    “Whether El Niño gets slightly stronger or a little weaker is not statistically significant now. This baby is too big to fail,” said Bill Patzert, a climatologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. October sea level height anomalies show that 2015 is as big or bigger in heat content than 1997. “Over North America, this winter will definitely not be normal. However, the climatic events of the past decade make ‘normal’ difficult to define.”

    The maps above show a comparison of sea surface heights in the Pacific Ocean as observed at the beginning of October in 1997 and 2015. The measurements come from altimeters on the TOPEX/Poseidon mission (left) and Jason-2 (right); both show averaged sea surface height anomalies. Shades of red indicate where the ocean stood higher (in tens of millimeters) than the normal sea level because warmer water expands to fill more volume. Shades of blue show where sea level and temperatures were lower than average (contraction). Normal sea-level conditions appear in white.

    “The trade winds have been weakening again,” Patzert said. “This should strengthen this El Niño.” Weaker trade winds out of the eastern Pacific allow west wind bursts to push warm surface waters from the central and western Pacific toward the Americas. Click here [in the full article] to watch a video of Kelvin waves propagating across the ocean in the first seven months of 2015.

    In its October monthly update, scientists at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center stated: “All multi-model averages predict a peak in late fall/early winter. The forecaster consensus unanimously favors a strong El Niño…Overall, there is an approximately 95 percent chance that El Niño will continue through Northern Hemisphere winter 2015–16.”


    The July–September average of sea surface temperatures was 1.5°C above normal, NOAA reported, ranking third behind 1982 (1.6°C) and 1997 (1.7°C). The plot above shows sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific for all moderate to strong El Niño years since 1950.

    Both Patzert and NOAA forecasters believe the southern tier of North America, particularly southern California, is likely to see a cooler and wetter than normal winter, while the northern tier could be warmer and drier. But the sample of El Niños in the meteorological record are still too few and other elements of our changing climate are too new to say with certainty what the winter will bring.

    NASA Earth Observatory map by Jesse Allen, using Jason-2 and TOPEX/Posideon data provided by Akiko Kayashi and Bill Patzert, NASA/JPL Ocean Surface Topography Team. NASA Earth Observatory chart by Joshua Stevens, using data from NOAA. Caption by Mike Carlowicz.

    NASA Jason 2

    NASA Topex Poseiden
    NASA TOPEX/Poseodon


    See the original article for further reading references.

    See the full article here .

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    The Earth Observatory’s mission is to share with the public the images, stories, and discoveries about climate and the environment that emerge from NASA research, including its satellite missions, in-the-field research, and climate models. The Earth Observatory staff is supported by the Climate and Radiation Laboratory, and the Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences Laboratory located at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

  • richardmitnick 12:23 pm on October 13, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From Symmetry: “Xenon, xenon everywhere” 


    Artwork by Sandbox Studio, Chicago with Ana Kova

    October 13, 2015
    Glenn Roberts Jr.

    It’s in the air we breathe, but it’s not so easy to get ahold of 10 metric tons of xenon in its liquid form.

    So, you want to buy some xenon to try to detect dark matter deep underground. Not a problem. There’s a market for that, with a few large-scale suppliers.

    Wait, what’s that you say? You need 10 metric tons of incredibly pure, liquid xenon for the LUX-ZEPLIN dark matter experiment? That’s a bit trickier.

    LUX Dark matter
    LUX-ZEPLIN dark matter experiment

    Looking for large amounts of xenon is a bit like searching for dark matter: It’s all around us, but it’s colorless, odorless and hard to separate from everything else. Xenon is in the air that we breathe, but it’s also one of the rarest elements on Earth.

    There is about 1 part xenon in every 11.5 million parts of air. The global industry that extracts liquid xenon produces a total of about 40 tons of xenon per year, so 10 tons is a very tall order.

    “Buying several tons per year won’t perturb the market too much,” says Thomas Shutt, a SLAC physicist who, along with physicist Daniel Akerib, left Case Western Reserve University in Ohio last year to join SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. “If you buy 10 tons in a year that’s a quarter of the market.”

    Akerib and Shutt are heading up SLAC’s effort in the planned LUX-ZEPLIN, or LZ, experiment, one of the largest-scale efforts to find dark matter particles. Like its smaller predecessor experiment, called LUX (for Large Underground Xenon), LZ will be filled with supercooled liquid xenon.

    Xenon, like several other rare gases, can emit flashes of light and electrons when its atoms are hit by other particles. The LZ detector will sit 1 mile underground in a South Dakota mine [SURF], shielded from most other particles, and wait to see signals from dark matter particles.

    Sanford Underground Research Facility Interior
    Sanford Underground levels
    Sanford Underground Research Facility [SURF], in South Dakota

    “Xenon has really good stopping power,” Akerib says. Its liquid form is so dense that aluminum can float on it. It is particularly sensitive to passing particles.

    Xenon is used in more than just dark matter experiments. It is also in demand as a component in halogen lights such as the bluish headlights in some vehicles, in the bulbs for other specialized lighting such as flash lamps that drive lasers, and as a propellant for satellites and other spacecraft. It is also used in semiconductor manufacturing and medical imaging, and it has been used as an anesthetic.

    Xenon is a by-product of the steel-making process, which uses liquid oxygen to wash away contaminants on the surface of molten iron. Russia, South Africa and Saudi Arabia are among the major producers of xenon. Russia became a major player in this market during the era of the Soviet Union, when steel-making was largely centralized.

    Industrially produced xenon isn’t nearly pure enough for the exacting requirements of LZ, though.

    Shutt says extracting its own xenon from air was not an option. “If we had to start from scratch in refining xenon, it would be vastly more expensive,” he says.

    The LZ team plans to acquire xenon over the next 3 to 4 years.

    There is no expiration date on xenon, Shutt said; it just needs to be tightly contained so no venting occurs. “The xenon we use we can put back on the market or put to other scientific uses after the LZ experiment is complete,” he says. “It’s around forever.”

    To ensure that the dark matter detector is ultrasensitive, the LZ team is building a purification system at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory to remove krypton, another rare gas that can get mixed in with liquid xenon. LUX started with xenon that had 100 parts of krypton per billion and purified it down to four parts per trillion, and LZ needs xenon purified to a standard of 0.015 parts krypton per trillion—a factor of 300 purer.

    Shutt jokes that, while LZ is all about particle physics, “we have become armchair chemical engineers” in the process of putting the experiment together.

    The current plan is to purify the xenon in 2018, and to run each batch through the purification process twice. The process is expected to take several months in total. LZ is scheduled to start running in 2019.

    See the full article here.

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    Symmetry is a joint Fermilab/SLAC publication.

  • richardmitnick 11:37 am on October 13, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Resonators   

    From ETH Zürich: “A resonator for electrons” 

    ETH Zurich bloc

    ETH Zürich

    Oliver Morsch

    Resonators are an important tool in physics. The curved mirrors inside the resonators usually focus light waves that act, for instance, on atoms. Physicists at ETH Zürich have now managed to build a resonator for electrons and to direct the standing waves thus created onto an artificial atom.

    A standing wave in a rectangular cavity resonator.

    Electron microscope image of the ETH Zürich experiment. Between the quantum dot (left) and the curved electrode (right) electronic standing waves arise, which interact with the electrons of the quantum dot. (Photo: Rössler C et al. Physical Review Letters 2015)

    More than two thousand years ago the Greek inventor and philosopher Archimedes already came up with the idea of using a curved mirror to reflect light in such a way as to focus it into a point – legend has it that he used this technique to set fire to the ships of the Roman enemies. Today such curved or parabolic mirrors are used in a host of technical applications ranging from satellite dishes to laser resonators, where light waves are amplified between two mirrors. Modern quantum physics also makes use of resonators with curved mirrors. In order to study single atoms, for example, researchers use the light focused by the mirrors to enhance the interaction between the light waves and the atoms. A team of physicists at ETH Zürich, working within the framework of the National Centre of Competence in Research Quantum Science and Technology (NCCR QSIT), have now managed to build a resonator that focuses electrons rather than light waves. In the near future, such resonators could be used for constructing quantum computers and for investigating many-body effects in solids.

    In their experiments the post-doctoral researchers Clemens Rössler and Oded Zilberberg used semiconductor structures in which electrons are free to move only in a single plane. At one end of that plane there is a so-called quantum dot: a tiny trap for electrons, only a hundred nanometers wide, in which owing to quantum mechanics the electrons exist in well-defined energy states similar to those of an atom. Such quantum dots are, therefore, also known as “artificial atoms”. At the other end, just a few micrometers away, a bent electrode acts as a curved mirror that reflects electrons when a voltage is applied to it.

    Better materials

    The possibility to focus electrons in this way was already investigated in 1997 at Harvard University. The ETH researchers, however, were now able to work with much better materials, which were produced in-house in Werner Wegscheider’s laboratory for Advanced Semiconductor Quantum Materials. “These materials are a hundred times cleaner than those used at the time”, explains Rössler, “and consequently the electrons can move undisturbed a hundred times longer.” This, in turn, allows the quantum mechanical wave nature of the electrons to become very clearly visible, which was not the case in those earlier works.

    In their experiments, the physicists detect this wave nature by measuring the current flowing from the quantum dot to the curved mirror. This current changes in a characteristic way as the applied voltage is varied. “Our results show that the electrons in the resonator do not just fly back and forth, but actually form a standing wave and thus couple coherently to the quantum dot”, stresses Rössler, who developed the experiment in the group of ETH professor Klaus Ensslin. Differently from light waves, the spin of the electrons also causes them to behave as tiny magnets. Indeed, the researchers were able to show that the interaction between the electrons in the quantum dot and the electronic wave in the resonator happens through the spin. “In the future, this spin-coherent coupling could make it possible to connect quantum dots over large distances”, says Zilberberg, who has developed a theoretical model for Rössler’s experiment in the group of ETH professor Gianni Blatter.

    Suitable for quantum computers

    For some time now, quantum dots have been considered as possible candidates for making so-called quantum-bits or qubits, which are used in quantum computers. Until now the quantum dots in such a computer needed to be very close to each other in order to achieve the necessary coupling for performing calculations. This, however, made it difficult to control and read out individual qubits. A long-distance coupling through an appropriately designed resonator could elegantly solve this problem.

    Basic science could also benefit from the electron resonators realized by the ETH researchers, for instance in studies of the Kondo effect. This effect occurs when many electrons together interact with the magnetic moment of an impurity in a material. With the help of a resonator and a quantum dot simulating such an impurity, the physicists hope to be able to study the Kondo effect very precisely.

    It took the young post-docs just over a year to go from the idea for their research – which grew out of discussions during a previous experiment – to the paper that has now been published. Zilberberg has a simple explanation for why this could happen so fast: “Within the QSIT network it’s easy to forge spontaneous collaborations across different groups as we are close both thematically and spatially, and we are often involved in common projects anyway. Plus, if one needs the opinion of an expert, there is usually one just down the corridor.”

    Rössler C, Oehri D, Zilberberg O, Blatter G, Karalic M, Pijnenburg J, Hofmann A, Ihn T, Ensslin K, Reichl C, Wegscheider W: Transport Spectroscopy of a Spin-Coherent Dot-Cavity System. Physical Review Letters, 12 October 2015, doi: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.115.166603

    See the full article here .

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    ETH Zurich campus
    ETH Zurich is one of the leading international universities for technology and the natural sciences. It is well known for its excellent education, ground-breaking fundamental research and for implementing its results directly into practice.

    Founded in 1855, ETH Zurich today has more than 18,500 students from over 110 countries, including 4,000 doctoral students. To researchers, it offers an inspiring working environment, to students, a comprehensive education.

    Twenty-one Nobel Laureates have studied, taught or conducted research at ETH Zurich, underlining the excellent reputation of the university.

  • richardmitnick 7:43 am on October 13, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From NYT: “What Really Keeps Women Out of Tech” 

    [I am posting this article about women and tech. But I am starting to disbelieve that there is a problem. I cover so many institutions and universities in Basic and Applied Science, from D.O.E. labs and CERN to MIT, Caltech, Princeton, I see news of many many women in tech. The writer speaks mostly about Computer Science, and then sometimes equates Computer Science with “science” in the same sentence. Not fair. No mention of Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Astronomy, Medicine, Astrobioogy, or the myriad other areas of interest.]

    New York Times

    The New York Times

    SundayReview | Opinion

    OCT. 10, 2015

    Hanna Barczyk

    TECHNOLOGY companies know they have a gender and diversity problem in their work force, and they are finally taking steps to try to fix it. But where are those new employees going to come from if women and minority students aren’t opting to study computer science or engineering?

    Figuring out why people who choose not to do something don’t in fact do it is like attempting to interview the elves who live inside your refrigerator but come out only when the light is off. People already working for a company might tell you what makes them unhappy. But these complaints won’t necessarily pinpoint the factors that keep women and minorities away from studying computer science in the first place.

    As a woman who earned a bachelor of science degree in physics in the 1970s but left the field because I felt I didn’t belong, I have long been interested, and focus here, on women in science and math. I was fascinated, but not surprised, to learn that many young women today avoid studying computer science because they, too, fear they won’t fit in.

    For the past six years, Sapna Cheryan, a psychology professor at the University of Washington, has been studying why girls in high school are significantly less likely than boys to sign up for a class in computer science, take the Advanced Placement exam in that subject, or express interest in computer science as a career, and why female college students are four times less likely than men to major in computer science or engineering, even though they test extremely well in math.

    Over and over, Dr. Cheryan and her colleagues have found that female students are more interested in enrolling in a computer class if they are shown a classroom (whether virtual or real) decorated not with “Star Wars” posters, science-fiction books, computer parts and tech magazines, but with a more neutral décor — art and nature posters, coffee makers, plants and general-interest magazines.

    The researchers also found that cultural stereotypes about computer scientists strongly influenced young women’s desire to take classes in the field. At a young age, girls already hold stereotypes of computer scientists as socially isolated young men whose genius is the result of genetics rather than hard work. Given that many girls are indoctrinated to believe that they should be feminine and modest about their abilities, as well as brought up to assume that girls are not innately gifted at science or math, it is not surprising that so few can see themselves as successful computer scientists.

    In another experiment, Dr. Cheryan and her colleagues arranged for female undergraduates to talk to an actor pretending to be a computer science major. If the actor wore a T-shirt that said “I CODE THEREFORE I AM” and claimed to enjoy video games, the students expressed less interest in studying computer science than if the actor wore a solid shirt and claimed to enjoy hanging out with friends — even if the T-shirt-clad actor was another woman.

    Such superficial stereotypes might seem laughably outdated. And yet, studies show that the public’s image of a scientist hasn’t changed since the 1950s. And such stereotypes do have a basis in reality. Who could fail to notice that only one of the eight people awarded Nobel Prizes in science or medicine last week was a woman?

    The percentage of women studying computer science actually has fallen since the 1980s. Dr. Cheryan theorizes that this decline might be partly attributable to the rise of pop-culture portrayals of scientists as white or Asian male geeks in movies and TV shows like Revenge of the Nerds and The Big Bang Theory. The media’s intense focus on start-up culture and male geniuses such as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates might also have inspired more young men than women to enter the field.

    Men sometimes scoff that if young women let such nebulous factors deter them from careers in physics or computer science, the women are exercising their own free choice, and if girls were tough enough, such exaggerated stereotypes and feelings of discomfort wouldn’t discourage them.

    Yet I wonder how many young men would choose to major in computer science if they suspected they might need to carry out their coding while sitting in a pink cubicle decorated with posters of “Sex and the City,” with copies of Vogue and Cosmo scattered around the lunchroom. In fact, Dr. Cheryan’s research shows that young men tend not to major in English for the same reasons women don’t pick computer science: They compare their notions of who they are to their stereotypes of English majors and decide they won’t fit in.

    All this meshes with my own experience. Even though I felt more comfortable wearing a T-shirt and jeans than a skirt and high heels, after four years of studying physics at Yale I felt so much pressure to dress and act like a man that I became extremely uncomfortable about my identity as a woman. I loved teaching myself to program the university’s new IBM mainframe. What a miracle it seemed that boxes of punched cardboard cards could produce pages and pages of a printed simulation of a collision between a K meson and a proton.

    But the summer I worked as a programmer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, I felt out of place among my mostly male colleagues because I hated drinking beer and didn’t like being mocked for reading novels. Not to mention that the men who controlled access to the computer made me listen to a barrage of sexist teasing if I wanted to be given that day’s code to run my program.

    Despite my passion for physics, I didn’t feel what Dr. Cheryan calls “an ambient sense of belonging” and left science. As this new research demonstrates, young women today still are avoiding technical disciplines because, like me, they are afraid they won’t fit in.

    To make computer science more attractive to women, we might help young women change how they think about themselves and what’s expected of them. But we might also diversify the images of scientists they see in the media, along with the décor in the classrooms and offices in which they might want to study or work.

    As Dr. Cheryan points out, stereotypes are only partly true, and women who actually take classes in computer science don’t hold the same prejudices as women who get their ideas from pop culture.

    This is why Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recent announcement that within 10 years all of New York City’s public schools must offer at least some training in computer science is so important. All students will have the opportunity to decide for themselves if they like this work.

    At the college level, some fairly simple changes have proved stunningly effective. At Harvey Mudd College, strategies such as creating separate introductory classes for students with no programming experience and renaming courses (Introduction to programming in Java became Creative approaches to problem solving in science and engineering using Python) led to an increase in the percentage of computer science majors who are female, from 10 to 40 percent, in four years.

    Computer scientists and engineers are going to be designing the future that everyone inhabits. We need women and minorities to enjoy an ambient sense of belonging in those professions if the future they create is going to be one in which all of us feel at home.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 7:06 am on October 13, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Saving newborns   

    From AAAS: “Belly button gel based on a mouthwash ingredient could save thousands of newborns” 



    11 October 2015
    Jon Cohen

    Dressing umbilical cord stumps with chlorhexidine may prevent infections and save nearly 100,000 newborns each year. Colin Crowley, Save the Children

    One Friday night in the summer of 2012, Pauline Williams, glass of wine in hand, was surfing the web when she had an “aha moment.” Williams, head of research and development for maternal and neonatal health at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in London, was looking for ways that GSK could make more of a difference in the developing world. In The Lancet, she found three papers that convincingly showed how chlorhexidine, an antibacterial, prevented infection of the umbilical cord stump in newborns and prevented deaths. Williams went into her bathroom to doublecheck her hunch: Corsodyl, a GSK-made mouthwash, had chlorhexidine as a key ingredient. “I thought, crikey.”

    GSK announced today that it’s applying to the European Medicines Agency for approval of a chlorhexidine gel formulated specifically for use on umbilical cords of newborns in developing countries. The gel, which has a far higher concentration of chlorhexidine than used in the mouthwash, is heat stable and packaged in sachets that resemble ketchup packets used in fast-food restaurants. Studies have show that the gel is more acceptable to people and easier to apply to the stump than chlorhexidine in a solution.

    “It’s really exciting,” says Gary Darmstadt, a pediatrician at Stanford University in California, who was part of a team that first showed the promise of chlorhexidine on cord stumps in a Nepal study published in The Lancet in 2006. “I’m personally just so thrilled to see GSK working in this way.” (Darmstadt, who was not involved with the product’s development, is on the board of a partnership between GSK and Save the Children.)

    Most developed countries practice what’s called “dry cord care” with newborns, meaning that the cut umbilical stump is simply allowed to fall off without any treatment. But in developing countries, women often give birth at home in unhygienic conditions; agents like Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli can easily enter the stump and cause infections, sometimes with fatal consequences. Also, in many cultures the cord stump is traditionally dressed with cow dung, lizard droppings, ash, or mustard oil in hopes of speeding its healing, which can further increase the risk, Williams says. Chlorhexidine, she notes, is a widely used, safe antiseptic that has been around “for donkey’s years.”

    The study in Nepal, combined with similar large, controlled trials in Bangladesh and Pakistan, showed that application of chlorhexidine to the stump reduced neonatal mortality by 23%. The trials compared chlorhexidine to applying soap and water, simple handwashing, and dry cord care. On the basis of these encouraging results, the World Health Organization put chlorhexidine for umbilical cord care on its List of Essential Medicines for Children in 2013. According to a U.N. Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children report, wide use of the antiseptic for cord care could save the lives of an estimated 422,000 newborns over 5 years.

    Of course the gel will only work if people use it, and Darmstadt acknowledges that cultures often cling tightly to their traditions. “While you definitely would not want cow dung applied with chlorhexidine, it certainly is a whole lot better than no chlorhexidine,” he says. For the gel to be most effective, he says, education campaigns and behavior change programs will have to be launched.

    If approved, GSK plans to sell chlorhexidine gel at a not-for-profit price, and Williams says the company hopes to transfer its technology to local manufacturers. “Our ultimate success will be when we don’t need to make it anymore,” Williams says.

    See the full article here .

    The American Association for the Advancement of Science is an international non-profit organization dedicated to advancing science for the benefit of all people.

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  • richardmitnick 6:28 am on October 13, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From AAAS: “Cancer Research UK announces grand challenges competition” 



    A blood vessel within a melanoma (brown) is part of the tumor microenvironment, one area targeted by Cancer Research UK’s Grand Challenges.K. Hodivala-Dilke & M. Stone, Wellcome Images

    11 October 2015
    Jocelyn Kaiser

    A £20 million grant awaits a team of researchers who submit the best proposal for tackling one of seven grand challenges in cancer.

    The new competition, announced today by Cancer Research UK, the giant U.K. research charity, is meant to spur collaborations aimed at exploring untested but promising ideas. “They’re willing to take some risks and see some projects fail,” says advisory board member Brian Druker of Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, who helped develop Gleevec, a model for drugs targeted at molecular defects in cancers. The charity expects to spend £100 million on the program over the next 5 years through a series of 5-year grants.

    The challenges were developed over the past few months by Druker and other advisers. The list includes mapping the cells and molecules within tumors, or the microenvironment; devising drugs that target MYC, a gene involved in many cancers; eradicating cancers caused by Epstein-Barr virus, a major cause of certain cancers in East Asia; and developing vaccines to prevent nonviral cancers.

    These areas have been studied before, but haven’t had enough resources or the science hasn’t been ripe enough, says Nic Jones, chief scientist for the charity. For example, recent insights into how tumors evade the immune system that led to several new drugs could shed light on vaccines that prevent tumors from growing in the first place. “You could imagine how powerful that could be,” Jones says. Team members may come from both academia and industry and must include U.K. researchers.

    The U.K. effort brings to mind Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C), a Hollywood-backed fundraising effort that has put millions of dollars into large research “dream teams” since 2008. It is also in line with Provocative Questions, a U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI) project to identify neglected questions in cancer launched in 2010 by then-Director Harold Varmus. But the Cancer Research UK grants will be an order of magnitude larger than the NCI grants and address more fundamental questions than projects funded by SU2C, which are supposed to lead to a clinical trial within 3 years.

    Cancer Research UK won’t mind if some researchers complain about what’s not on the list of challenges, Druker says. “If part of what this does is stimulate a debate, that’s a good thing.”

    Teams that fail to win the challenge may seek funding from other programs at Cancer Research UK or elsewhere, Jones says. The losers could also try again if their proposal addresses a challenge that remains on the list of eligible topics, which will be updated annually.

    Preproposals for the first round are due in February. The winning team will be announced next fall.

    See the full article here .

    The American Association for the Advancement of Science is an international non-profit organization dedicated to advancing science for the benefit of all people.

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  • richardmitnick 6:08 am on October 13, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From AAS NOVA: “A Galaxy Plunges Into a Cluster Core” 


    Amercan Astronomical Society

    12 October 2015
    Susanna Kohler


    The galaxy that takes up most of the frame in this stunning image (click for in the full article for the full view!) is NGC 1427A. This is a dwarf irregular galaxy (unlike the fortuitously-located background spiral galaxy in the lower right corner of the image), and it’s currently in the process of plunging into the center of the Fornax https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galaxy_cluster”>galaxy cluster. Marcelo Mora (Pontifical Catholic University, Chile) and collaborators have analyzed observations of this galaxy made by both the [ESO]Very Large Telescope in Chile and the NASA/ESA Hubble Hubble Advanced Camera for Surveys [ACS], which produced the image shown here as a color composite in three channels.

    ESO VLT Interferometer

    NASA Hubble ACS
    ACS on Hubble

    The team worked to characterize the clusters of star formation within NGC 1427A — identifiable in the image as bright knots within the galaxy — and determine how the interactions of this galaxy with its cluster environment affect the star formation within it. For more information and the original image, see the paper below.

    Marcelo D. Mora et al 2015 AJ 150 93. doi:10.1088/0004-6256/150/3/93

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 12:42 pm on October 11, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Chinese Medicine,   

    From NYT: “Nobel Renews Debate on Chinese Medicine” 

    New York Times

    The New York Times

    OCT. 10, 2015

    A patient with insomnia at the acupuncture hospital of the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences on Friday. Credit Gilles Sabrie for The New York Times

    As China basks in its first Nobel Prize in science, few places seem as elated, or bewildered, by the honor as the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences.

    Located on a shady street in the Old City, the academy is spread over a city block and welcomes visitors with an incongruous juxtaposition: a six-foot high quotation from Chairman Mao facing bronze statues of gowned doctors from antiquity who devised esoteric theories to heal the human body.

    These contrasts are part of a bigger, century-long debate in China that has been renewed by the award on Monday to one of the academy’s retired researchers, Tu Youyou, for extracting the malaria-fighting compound Artemisinin from the plant Artemisia annua. It was the first time China had won a Nobel Prize in a scientific discipline.

    Traditionalists say the award, in the “physiology or medicine” category, shows the value of Chinese medicine, even if it is based on a very narrow part of this tradition.

    “I feel happiness and sorrow,” said Liu Changhua, a professor of history at the academy. “I’m happy that the drug has saved lives, but if this is the path that Chinese medicine has to take in the future, I am sad.”

    Researchers working at a laboratory at the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences. Credit Gilles Sabrie for The New York Times

    The reason, he said, is that Dr. Tu’s methods were little different from those used by Western drug companies that examine traditional pharmacopoeia around the world looking for new drugs.

    In fact, in its award, the Nobel committee specifically said it was not honoring Chinese medicine, even though Artemisia has been in continuous use for centuries to fight malaria and other fevers, and even though Dr. Tu said she figured out the extraction techniques by reading classical works. Instead, it said it was rewarding Dr. Tu for the specific scientific procedures she used to extract the active ingredient and create a chemical drug.

    But the most sophisticated part of Chinese medicine, Dr. Liu said, involves formulas of 10 to 20 herbs or minerals that a practitioner adjusts weekly after a consultation with a patient. And yet almost no research has been done on how these formulas actually interact with the body, he said. Instead, the government has poured money into finding another Artemisinin — with no luck.

    “Are we truly respecting this cultural heritage?” Dr. Liu said. “When we think Chinese medicine needs to be modernized and the path it shall go down must be like Tu Youyou’s path, I think it is a disrespect.”

    But many Chinese think it should not be respected at all. Scientists like He Zuoxiu, a member of the prestigious Chinese Academy of Sciences, say that the ancient pharmacopoeia should be mined, but the underlying theories that identified these herbs should have been discarded long ago.

    “I think for the future development of Chinese medicine, people should abandon its medical theory and focus more on researching the value of herbs with a modern scientific approach,” Dr. He said in an interview.

    These radically different views on Chinese medicine go back at least a century, and get to the heart of how modern China sees itself.

    After a series of lost wars and national humiliations, Chinese reformers and revolutionaries began jettisoning almost everything from the country’s long past: its political and religious systems; its architecture and urban planning; its national dress and its lunar calendar.

    Traditional medicine came in for especially harsh criticism. Some of the country’s most famous writers, like Lu Xun, Lao She, and Ba Jin, pilloried it as exemplifying everything wrong with the country. Its theories were obscure, its outcomes unproven, and most of all it was “unscientific” in a country that was beginning to worship science as the cure to all ills.

    “Everyone at that time agreed that Chinese medicine had no future,” said Paul Unschuld, a historian of Chinese medicine at the Charité Hospital in Berlin. “Ideas like yin-yang, the Five Elements — all of that was considered backwards.”

    When the Communists took over China in 1949, however, the country had few Western hospitals. A few years later, Mao Zedong declared that “Chinese medicine and pharmacology are a great treasure house.” The praise, though, came with a caveat: It must modernize. That meant setting up traditional Chinese hospitals, schools and research facilities like the academy in Beijing.

    But money has flowed overwhelmingly toward Western medicine. In the Mao era, rural health care workers — “barefoot doctors” — were often traditional practitioners, which raised the profile of Chinese medicine. After Mao’s death and with growing prosperity, the government doubled down on Western medicine.

    Today, China has 1.1 million certified doctors of Western medicine, versus 186,947 traditional practitioners. It has 23,095 hospitals, 2,889 of which specialize in Chinese medicine.

    “It’s part of the nation, but the nation of China defines itself as a modern nation, which is tied very much to science,” said Volker Scheid, an anthropologist at the University of Westminster in London. “So this causes a conflict.”

    The conundrum was on display Friday at a hastily called news conference hosted by the academy’s Institute of Chinese Materia Medica, where Dr. Tu worked. Chinese reporters had been badgering the institute for days for information on Dr. Tu. Finally, late Thursday night, officials announced the briefing.

    For an hour, Chinese journalists asked two officials from the institute for any sort of information on Dr. Tu: what was she like (blunt and hard-working), how many were on her team (50), why was she asked to head the project (no one could say). Mostly, they asked what she had done in the 40 years since her discovery. After a bit of shuffling and grimacing, the answer: She had tried to find other herbs but had not succeeded.

    In a nearby clinic attached to the academy, doctors say they know why. Chinese medicine almost never uses individual plants or minerals. Instead, it relies on diagnoses based solely on the doctor’s questions, observations and the skillful taking of the pulse.

    One senior practitioner is Hu Xin, 61, who began learning herbal medicine 50 years ago from his father. He later went to university, earning advanced degrees, but said that any good herbalist has to study the classics, some of which date back 2,000 years. Sitting in his small consultation room at the end of a long morning, Dr. Hu had just treated 14 patients with serious ailments like intestinal inflammation, ovarian cysts, menstrual cramps and chronic bronchitis.

    But despite the successes that he and his patients report, he worried about the attacks on Chinese medicine. Now, he said excitedly, the Nobel Prize would help keep critics at bay.

    “In the future, how can people say that Chinese medicine isn’t scientific?” Dr. Hu said. “You can’t deny that it’s based on Chinese medical texts and clinical experience.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 12:12 pm on October 11, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From Daily Galaxy: “The Dark Matter Enigma: “Is It the ‘Operating System’ of Our Universe?” (Weekend Feature)” 

    Daily Galaxy
    The Daily Galaxy

    No Writer Credit

    No image credit

    Is dark matter the “operating system” of the Universe? Tom Broadhurst, an Ikerbasque researcher at the UPV/EHU’s Department of Theoretical Physics, thinks it is. He has participated alongside scientists of the National Taiwan University in a piece of research that explores cold dark matter in depth and proposes new answers about the formation of galaxies and the structure of the Universe. These predictions are being contrasted with data provided by the Hubble space telescope.

    NASA Hubble Telescope
    NASA/ESA Hubble

    In cosmology, cold dark matter is a form of matter the particles of which move slowly in comparison with light, and interact weakly with electromagnetic radiation. It is estimated that only a minute fraction of the matter in the Universe is baryonic matter, which forms stars, planets and living organisms. The rest, comprising over 80%, is dark matter and energy.

    The theory of cold dark matter helps to explain how the universe evolved from its initial state to the current distribution of galaxies and clusters, the structure of the Universe on a large scale. In any case, the theory was unable to satisfactorily explain certain observations, but the new research by Broadhurst and his colleagues sheds new light in this respect.

    As the Ikerbasque researcher explained, “guided by the initial simulations of the formation of galaxies in this context, we have reinterpreted cold dark matter as a Bose-Einstein condensate“. So, “the ultra-light bosons forming the condensate share the same quantum wave function, so disturbance patterns are formed on astronomic scales in the form of large-scale waves”.

    This theory can be used to suggest that all the galaxies in this context should have at their center large stationary waves of dark matter called solitons, which would explain the puzzling cores observed in common dwarf galaxies.

    The Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite [dwarf] galaxy of the Milky Way. Picture taken by Hubble.

    The image at the top of the page shows a comparison of the radial density profiles of the galaxies which the researchers have created by displaying the soliton in the centre of each galaxy with a halo surrounding it. The solitons are broader but have less mass in the smaller galaxies.

    The image left, below, shows that a comparison of the distribution of matter is very similar on a large scale between wave dark matter, the focus of this research, and the usual dark matter particle.

    Image right shows that in galaxies the structure is very different in the interpretation of the wave, which has been carried out in this research; the research predicts the soliton of dark matter in the centre surrounded by an extensive halo of dark matter in the form of large “spots”, which are the slowly fluctuating density waves. This leads to many predictions and solves the problem of puzzling cores in smaller galaxies.


    The research also makes it possible to predict that galaxies are formed relatively late in this context in comparison with the interpretation of standard particles of cold dark matter. The team is comparing these new predictions with observations by the Hubble space telescope.

    The results are very promising as they open up the possibility that dark matter could be regarded as a very cold quantum fluid that governs the formation of the structure across the whole Universe.

    This was not Thomas Broadhurst’s first publication in the prestigious journal Nature. In 2012, he participated in a piece of research on a galaxy of the epoch of the reionization, a stage in the early universe not explored previously and which could be the oldest galaxy discovered. This research opened up fresh possibilities to conduct research into the first galaxies to emerge after the Big Bang.

    Broadhurst has a PhD in Physics from the University of Durham (United Kingdom). In 2010, he was recruited by Ikerbasque and carries out his work in the UPV/EHU’s department of Theoretical Physics. His line of research focuses on observational cosmology, dark matter and the formation of galaxies.

    See the full article here .

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    • gonmrm 12:33 pm on October 11, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Really great images! Thanks for sharing such interesting space related post! Visit my blog, maybe you’ll enjoy it as much as I enjoyed your post! https://thebeautyinspace.wordpress.com


    • richardmitnick 12:54 pm on October 11, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      You know, a lot of people tell me that the images are good, or great, but I am just using what I find in the articles, or sometimes, I need to get my own images. I have a large folder of images, telescopes and the like, all from Google images or the web sites from which the images originate.

      So, I cannot claim any credit for the images. They are available to anyone.


  • richardmitnick 11:25 am on October 11, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From Brown: “‘Bootstrap’ math/computer science curriculum gets $1.5M from NSF 

    Brown University
    Brown University


    A curriculum that helps middle and high school students learn algebra by creating their own video games is getting a $1.5-million boost from the National Science Foundation.

    The curriculum, called Bootstrap, is a 10-week classroom module in which each student programs her own working game using key algebra concepts including variables, functions, and the Pythagorean theorem. Bootstrap is the latest in 20 years of similar projects and has now grown into an in-school curriculum used in more than 150 schools across the country. Curriculum provider Code.org recently began offering a curriculum based on Bootstrap nationally. Computer literacy advocate CSNYC is bringing Bootstrap to schools throughout New York City.

    The three-year grant from the NSF will support research aimed at assessing and improving the pedagogical tools Bootstrap uses to connect math skills and computer coding. The funding will also be used to set up workshops around the country aimed at training 600 additional teachers to use the curriculum in their classrooms. The award comes at a crucial time for Bootstrap, says Shriram Krishnamurthi, professor of computer science at Brown University and principal investigator on the grant.

    “School districts around the country are coming to recognize that computer science instruction is critical for their students,” Krishnamurthi said. “However, many schools don’t have dedicated computer science teachers, and finding time in the curriculum for CS instruction can be a problem. Bootstrap offers a unique solution. We can train math teachers to do a good job of teaching basic computing, and it can be done as part of the mathematics curriculum.”

    Bootstrap is aligned with both Common Core and state mathematics standards, which is a selling point for math teachers. For students, the allure of the curriculum is clearly the idea of creating a video game.

    “Once we tell students that they’re going to make their own video game, we’ve got their attention,” said Kathi Fisler, professor of computer science at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and co-investigator on the grant. “It provides them with the motivation to learn the algebra concepts required to make the game work.”

    (Read about one teacher’s experience with Bootstrap: https://news.brown.edu/articles/2014/04/bootstrap).

    The curriculum is aimed at students ages 12 to 16. Emmanuel Schanzer, Bootstrap’s program director, says this is an ideal time to reach students.

    “For so many students, this is the age when they decide if math is something they like or don’t like, and that ultimately can be a career-shaping decision,” Schanzer said. “By showing students that math is useful and that understanding it is within their grasp, we hope to keep that door open for students who may have otherwise closed it.”

    Bootstrap materials and other information, including a list of upcoming workshops for teachers, are available at boostrapworld.org.

    See the full article here .

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    Welcome to Brown

    Brown U Robinson Hall
    Located in historic Providence, Rhode Island and founded in 1764, Brown University is the seventh-oldest college in the United States. Brown is an independent, coeducational Ivy League institution comprising undergraduate and graduate programs, plus the Alpert Medical School, School of Public Health, School of Engineering, and the School of Professional Studies.

    With its talented and motivated student body and accomplished faculty, Brown is a leading research university that maintains a particular commitment to exceptional undergraduate instruction.

    Brown’s vibrant, diverse community consists of 6,000 undergraduates, 2,000 graduate students, 400 medical school students, more than 5,000 summer, visiting and online students, and nearly 700 faculty members. Brown students come from all 50 states and more than 100 countries.

    Undergraduates pursue bachelor’s degrees in more than 70 concentrations, ranging from Egyptology to cognitive neuroscience. Anything’s possible at Brown—the university’s commitment to undergraduate freedom means students must take responsibility as architects of their courses of study.

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