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  • richardmitnick 4:46 pm on July 25, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: 3-D printing, , , ,   

    From U Wisconsin: “Tiny 3-D models may yield big insights into ovarian cancer” 

    U Wisconsin

    University of Wisconsin

    July 25, 2016
    Will Cushman

    With a unique approach that draws on 3-D printing technologies, a team of University of Wisconsin–Madison researchers is developing new tools for understanding how ovarian cancer develops in women.

    About 1.5 percent of American women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer, but most of them will not be diagnosed until late in the disease’s progression — after the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. This is reflected in the grim outlook for most women: The five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer is about 25 percent.

    Paul Campagnola, a professor of biomedical engineering and medical physics at UW–Madison, leads a group of researchers aiming to improve that outlook by understanding how ovarian cancer cells interact with nearby body tissue, and by developing new tools for imaging and detecting the disease. With a $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, they will use technology they’ve developed on the UW–Madison campus to develop images of tissues from surgical patients. The first target is collagen, a common protein that gives much of the body structure by holding bones, ligaments and muscles together.

    A normal ovarian epithelial cell clings to a tiny model of an ovarian cancer tumor made with a 3-D printer. The tumor models will help scientists study ovarian cancer in mice, which do not naturally develop the disease. Image courtesy of Paul Campagnola

    “In most cancers, including ovarian, there are large changes in the collagen structure that goes along with the disease,” Campagnola says. “It might happen first. It might be later. It’s actually not known.”

    Campagnola and his colleagues, including Kevin Eliceiri, director of UW–Madison’s Laboratory for Optical and Computational Instrumentation, and Manish Patankar, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology, hope to eliminate that unknown by printing tiny, 3-D models of the collagen samples.

    The models will be biomimetic — synthetic, but mimicking biological materials, as Velcro mimics the burs of a plant — and extremely small. Because, after seeding the models with ovarian cancer cells, the researchers will implant them into mice.

    Why not simply inject the mice with cancer cells and skip the painstaking imaging and 3-D printing process? Mice don’t get ovarian cancer — a partial answer for why we still don’t understand ovarian cancer as well as many other cancers.

    “The current way that people study ovarian cancer in a mouse is very poor,” Campagnola explains. “They just take human cell lines and then inject them into a mouse. Then some of them will form into a tumor, but most do not.”

    By implanting a 3-D tissue model seeded with ovarian cancer into mice, Campagnola hopes to mimic more closely the conditions of metastatic ovarian cancer in humans.

    “What’s different is our tissues will already be 3-D structured,” Campagnola says. “One problem when people study cancer sometimes is that they put cells in a dish. Cells in a dish don’t act like cells in tissue. So we’re trying to give them the tissue structure that cancer cells would have in a native environment.”

    From there, they’ll study how the implanted tumors grow inside the mice, and hopefully begin to learn more about the cues and processes involved in the disease’s progression and spread.

    It’s an approach that no one has ever attempted, one that will also help improve the way doctors make images of ovaries inside the body.

    “It’s an integrated approach to improving our imaging capabilities, but then also using our imaging capabilities to make these models so we can study the biology,” Campagnola says.

    Ultimately, the team’s long-term goal is to improve screening, diagnosis and treatment of ovarian cancer. One of the most effective ways to improve the outlook for women with ovarian cancer is to develop a straightforward method for screening women at higher risk for the disease. Women with a mutation in a gene called BRCA — a mutation also implicated in a higher risk for breast cancer — have a 40 percent chance of developing ovarian cancer in their lifetime.

    “Those are the women we really want to follow,” Campagnola says. “You could imagine — we’re a long way off from this — screening those women every few years with a minimally invasive device through a laparoscope or through the fallopian tubes.”

    But to get to that point, Campagnola says, researchers need to know a lot more about how ovarian cancer works.

    “You have to know what you’re looking for,” he says. “That’s why we have all this more basic work to do to get to that point. That’s why we need better imaging tools and we need better models to understand the biology of the disease.”

    See the full article here .

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    In achievement and prestige, the University of Wisconsin–Madison has long been recognized as one of America’s great universities. A public, land-grant institution, UW–Madison offers a complete spectrum of liberal arts studies, professional programs and student activities. Spanning 936 acres along the southern shore of Lake Mendota, the campus is located in the city of Madison.

  • richardmitnick 4:35 pm on July 25, 2016 Permalink | Reply
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    From Rockefeller: ” New antibody drug continues to show promise for treatment of HIV” 

    Rockefeller U bloc

    Rockefeller University

    July 25, 2016
    Katherine Fenz

    Halting HIV: Antibody treatment delayed the virus (above) from rebounding in patients taken off their anti-retroviral medications.

    Great strides have been made in recent years to develop treatment options for HIV, and the disease can now be controlled with anti-retroviral drugs. But a cure remains elusive and current medications have limitations: they must be taken daily, for life, and can cause long-term complications.

    Now, Rockefeller scientists report that they are one step closer to an alternative treatment that utilizes antibodies. This therapy has the potential for long-acting effects and would allow for less frequent dosing.

    Recently published in Nature, the findings suggest that an antibody called 3BNC117 can effectively delay the virus from rebounding in patients who temporarily suspended their anti-retroviral medications, currently the standard treatment for HIV.

    “These are very positive results,” says Marina Caskey, Assistant Professor of Clinical Investigation in the Laboratory of Molecular Immunology, headed by Michel Nussenzweig. “This is the longest any antibody has been able to delay virus rebound.”

    Keeping HIV at bay

    The 3BNC117 antibody was isolated in the Nussenzweig lab several years ago by guest investigator Johannes Scheid, co-first author of this most recent publication. It was cloned from cells of an HIV-infected patient whose immune system was able to fight HIV particularly well. The virus primarily infects CD4 T cells, part of the immune system that helps protect the body from infection. 3BNC117 stops multiple strains of HIV from hijacking these cells.

    Anti-retroviral drugs suppress HIV by preventing its replication, but the virus remains dormant in the body, mostly in reservoirs within CD4 cells. If a patient stops taking anti-retroviral drugs, the virus is released from these reservoirs, and quickly rebounds.

    This small study, called a Phase IIa clinical trial, builds on a previous study from the Nussenzweig lab, in which HIV-infected patients were given the antibody without receiving other treatment. This time, the researchers tested 13 HIV-infected patients who had been treated successfully with antiviral therapy. The goal of the study was to determine whether the antibody alone would be able to maintain virus suppression in patients that were taken off anti-retroviral drugs.

    Caskey and colleagues found that the antibody was able to delay when the virus came back to about 10 weeks, compared to about 3 weeks in controls.

    Virus under pressure

    One of the many challenges in treating HIV is that the virus quickly mutates. As a result, patients carry many different strains that cannot be eliminated with a single medication, and each person’s virus repertoire is different. An advantage of 3BNC117 is that is has the ability to fight a wide range of HIV strains, but not all; some studies suggest it can neutralize about 80 percent of viral isolates taken from patients.

    In this study, the researchers tried to select participants whose viral strains were likely to be a good target for 3BNC117. However, current testing methods are not very precise in predicting exactly which strains are present, and patients had varied responses.

    “In one-third of participants, rebound happened very late, when the antibody levels were low,” says co-first author and former graduate student in the Nussenzweig lab, Josh Horwitz. “This means that the antibody was effective at suppressing the viruses that are sensitive to it, but it’s also clear that for the remaining patients with different strains of HIV, this antibody is not sufficient.”

    The researchers also found that the antibody was able to reduce the assortment of viral strains that rebounded, which tends to be very diverse in patients taken off antiretroviral medications. “We were excited to see a significant delay in rebound,” says Sheid, “but the reduced diversity of viruses that we saw is also promising because it will take fewer additional antibodies to target them.”

    The next step will be to test 3BNC117 in combination with another HIV-specific antibody, such as 10-1074, which targets the virus from a different angle, and has also been shown to decrease virus levels when given to HIV patients not on treatment.

    “There are a lot of factors at play here, part of which is that we are working with a diverse reservoir of viruses with different sensitivities to different antibodies,” says Caskey. “However, we are hopeful that testing the antibodies in combination will be successful in bringing us closer to better strategies to prevent and treat HIV.”

    This study was supported by the Collaboration for AIDS Vaccine Discovery, the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, NIH Clinical and Translational Science Award program, NIH Center for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Immunology and Immunogen Discovery, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Robertson Foundation, the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award, and other sources.

    See the full article here .


    The Fight AIDS at home (FAAH@home) Phase II project is now running at World Community Grid (WCG)

    FAAH Phase II

    WCG runs on your home computer or tablet on software from Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing [BOINC]. Many other scientific projects run on BOINC software.Visit WCG or BOINC, download and install the software, then at WCG attach to the FAAH@home Phase II project. You will be joining tens of thousands of other “crunchers” processing computational data and saving the scientists literally thousands of hours of work at no real cost to you.

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    Rockefeller U Campus

    The Rockefeller University is a world-renowned center for research and graduate education in the biomedical sciences, chemistry, bioinformatics and physics. The university’s 76 laboratories conduct both clinical and basic research and study a diverse range of biological and biomedical problems with the mission of improving the understanding of life for the benefit of humanity.

    Founded in 1901 by John D. Rockefeller, the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research was the country’s first institution devoted exclusively to biomedical research. The Rockefeller University Hospital was founded in 1910 as the first hospital devoted exclusively to clinical research. In the 1950s, the institute expanded its mission to include graduate education and began training new generations of scientists to become research leaders around the world. In 1965, it was renamed The Rockefeller University.

  • richardmitnick 4:17 pm on July 25, 2016 Permalink | Reply
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    From U Southampton: “Study suggests 1.6 million childbearing women could be at risk of Zika virus infection” 

    U Southampton bloc

    University of Southampton

    25 July 2016
    No writer credit found

    This map shows the predicted distribution of Aedis aegypti, the mosquito that carries Zika virus. The redder the area, the higher the probability. eLife. NPR

    Research by scientists in the US and UK has estimated that up to 1.65 million childbearing women in Central and South America could become infected by the Zika virus by the end of the first wave of the epidemic.

    Researchers from the WorldPop Project and Flowminder Foundation at the University of Southampton and colleagues from the University of Notre Dame and University of Oxford have also found that across Latin America and the Caribbean over 90 million infections could result from the initial stages of the spread of Zika.

    The team’s projections, detailed in the paper Model-based projections of Zika virus infections in childbearing women in the Americas and published in Nature Microbiology, also show that Brazil is expected to have the largest total number of infections (by more than three-fold), due to its size and suitability for transmission.

    The estimates reflect the sum of thousands of localised projections of how many people could become infected within every five x five km grid cell across Central and South America. Because the virus may not reach each corner of this region, or may do so slowly, the total figure of 1.65 million represents an upper limit estimate for the first wave of the epidemic.

    Geographer at the University of Southampton and WorldPop and Flowminder Director Professor Andrew Tatem comments: “It is difficult to accurately predict how many child-bearing women may be at risk from Zika because a large proportion of cases show no symptoms. This largely invalidates methods based on case data and presents a formidable challenge for scientists trying to understand the likely impact of the disease on populations.”

    In fact, an estimated 80 per cent of Zika infections don’t show symptoms and of those which do, some may be due to other viruses. Coupled with inconsistent case reporting and variable access to health care for different populations, these factors make case based data unreliable.

    However, this latest research has built a picture of the projected spread of the disease by examining its likely impact at very local levels –at a scale of five kilometres squared. The researchers have brought this local data together to model infection rates across the region.

    The team took into account disease patterns displayed in similar epidemics, along with other factors such as how the virus is transmitted (in this instance by mosquito), climate conditions and virus incubation periods. They also examined transmission behaviour in dengue and chikungunya viruses. Their projections for Zika are largely consistent with annual, region-wide estimates of 53 million infections by the dengue virus (2010), which has many similarities to Zika.

    Coupled with existing data on population, fertility, pregnancies, births and socio-economic conditions for the region, the team has been able to model the possible scale of the projected spread of the Zika virus and provide a detailed understanding of the places likely to be most affected – helping to inform which areas will need the most support in combatting the disease and helping sufferers.

    Professor Tatem adds: “These projections are an important early contribution to global efforts to understand the scale of the Zika epidemic, and provide information about its possible magnitude to help allow for better planning for surveillance and outbreak response, both internationally and locally.”

    Scientists are still investigating the potential link between microcephaly in babies and Zika.

    Notes for editors

    On February 1, 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) designated the ongoing Zika virus epidemic in the Americas as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), defined as an “extraordinary event” that “potentially require[s] a coordinated international response”. This declaration acknowledges the high potential for Zika to establish across the Americas given that its dominant vector, Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, are endophilic and occupy an exceptionally broad range. Concern underlying this rare WHO declaration also stems from an association between Zika virus infection in pregnant women and congenital microcephaly in their babies. Nearly 5,000 cases of microcephaly have been documented in areas experiencing Zika virus transmission, and there is widespread concern that these numbers could grow rapidly as the virus sweeps across the Americas.

    See the full article here .


    There is a new project at World Community Grid [WCG] called OpenZika.
    Image of the Zika virus

    Rutgers Open Zika

    WCG runs on your home computer or tablet on software from Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing [BOINC]. Many other scientific projects run on BOINC software.Visit WCG or BOINC, download and install the software, then at WCG attach to the OpenZika project. You will be joining tens of thousands of other “crunchers” processing computational data and saving the scientists literally thousands of hours of work at no real cost to you.

    This project is directed by Dr. Alexander Perryman a senior researcher in the Freundlich lab, with extensive training in developing and applying computational methods in drug discovery and in the biochemical mechanisms of multi-drug-resistance in infectious diseases. He is a member of the Center for Emerging & Re-emerging Pathogens, in the Department of Pharmacology, Physiology, and Neuroscience, at the Rutgers University, New Jersey Medical School. Previously, he was a Research Associate in Prof. Arthur J. Olson’s lab at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), where he ran the day-to-day operations of the FightAIDS@Home project, the largest computational drug discovery project devoted to HIV/AIDS, which also runs on WCG. While in the Olson lab, he also designed, led, and ran the largest computational drug discovery project ever performed against malaria, the GO Fight Against Malaria project, also on WCG.

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    U Southampton campus

    The University of Southampton is a world-class university built on the quality and diversity of our community. Our staff place a high value on excellence and creativity, supporting independence of thought, and the freedom to challenge existing knowledge and beliefs through critical research and scholarship. Through our education and research we transform people’s lives and change the world for the better.

    Vision 2020 is the basis of our strategy.

    Since publication of the previous University Strategy in 2010 we have achieved much of what we set out to do against a backdrop of a major economic downturn and radical change in higher education in the UK.

    Vision 2020 builds on these foundations, describing our future ambition and priorities. It presents a vision of the University as a confident, growing, outwardly-focused institution that has global impact. It describes a connected institution equally committed to education and research, providing a distinctive educational experience for its students, and confident in its place as a leading international research university, achieving world-wide impact.

  • richardmitnick 3:54 pm on July 25, 2016 Permalink | Reply
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    From Goddard: “NASA to Map the Surface of an Asteroid” 

    NASA Goddard Banner

    NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    July 25, 2016
    Sarah Schlieder
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

    NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will launch September 2016 and travel to a near-Earth asteroid known as Bennu to harvest a sample of surface material and return it to Earth for study. The science team will be looking for something special. Ideally, the sample will come from a region in which the building blocks of life may be found.

    NASA OSIRIS-Rex Spacecraft
    NASA OSIRIS-Rex Spacecraft

    To identify these regions on Bennu, the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) team equipped the spacecraft with an instrument that will measure the spectral signatures of Bennu’s mineralogical and molecular components.


    The OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer, or OVIRS, will look at the asteroid’s spectral signature to detect organics and other minerals.

    Known as OVIRS (short for the OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer), the instrument will measure visible and near-infrared light reflected and emitted from the asteroid and split the light into its component wavelengths, much like a prism that splits sunlight into a rainbow.

    “OVIRS is key to our search for organics on Bennu,” said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for the OSIRIS-REx mission at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “In particular, we will rely on it to find the areas of Bennu rich in organic molecules to identify possible sample sites of high science value, as well as the asteroid’s general composition.”

    OVIRS will work in tandem with another OSIRIS-REx instrument — the Thermal Emission Spectrometer, or OTES. While OVIRS maps the asteroid in the visible and near infrared, OTES picks up in the thermal infrared. This allows the science team to map the entire asteroid over a range of wavelengths that are most interesting to scientists searching for organics and water, and help them to select the best site for retrieving a sample.

    In the visible and infrared spectrum, minerals and other materials have unique signatures like fingerprints. These fingerprints allow scientists to identify various organic materials, as well as carbonates, silicates and absorbed water, on the surface of the asteroid. The data returned by OVIRS and OTES will actually allow scientists to make a map of the relative abundance of various materials across Bennu’s surface.

    “I can’t think of a spectral payload that has been quite this comprehensive before,” said Dennis Reuter, OVIRS instrument scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

    OVIRS will be active during key phases throughout the mission. As the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft approaches Bennu, OVIRS will view one entire hemisphere at a time to measure how the spectrum changes as the asteroid rotates, allowing scientists to compare ground-based observations to those from the spacecraft. Once at the asteroid, OVIRS will gather spectral data and create detailed maps of the surface and help in the selection of a sample site.

    Using information gathered by OVIRS and OTES from the visible to the thermal infrared, the science team will also study the Yarkovsky Effect, or how Bennu’s orbit is affected by surface heating and cooling throughout its day. The asteroid is warmed by sunlight and re-emits thermal radiation in different directions as it rotates. This asymmetric thermal emission gives Bennu a small but steady push, thus changing its orbit over time. Understanding this effect will help scientists study Bennu’s orbital path, improve our understanding of the Yarkovsky effect, and improve our predictions of its influence on the orbits of other asteroids.

    But despite its capabilities to perform complex science, OVIRS is surprisingly inexpensive and compact in its design. The entire spectrometer operates at 10 watts, requiring less power than a standard household light bulb.

    “When you put it into that perspective, you can see just how efficient this instrument is, even though it is taking extremely complicated science measurements,” said Amy Simon, deputy instrument scientist for OVIRS at Goddard. “We’ve put a big job in a compact instrument.”

    Unlike most spectrometers, OVIRS has no moving parts, reducing the risk of a malfunction.

    “We designed OVIRS to be robust and capable of lasting a long time in space,” Reuter said. “Think of how many times you turn on your computer and something doesn’t work right or it just won’t start up. We can’t have that type of thing happen during the mission.”

    Drastic temperature changes in space will put the instrument’s robust design to the test. OVIRS is a cryogenic instrument, meaning that it must be at very low temperatures to produce the best data. Generally, it doesn’t take much for something to stay cool in space. That is, until it comes in contact with direct sunlight.

    Heat inside OVIRS would increase the amount of thermal radiation and scattered light, interfering with the infrared data. To avoid this risk, the scientists anodized the spectrometer’s interior coating. Anodizing increases a metal’s resistance to corrosion and wear. Anodized coatings can also help reduce scattered light, lowering the risk of compromising OVIRS’ observations.

    The team also had to plan for another major threat: water. The scientists will search for traces of water when they scout the surface for a sample site. Because the team will be searching for tiny water levels on Bennu’s surface, any water inside OVIRS would skew the results. And while the scientists don’t have to worry about a torrential downpour in space, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft may accumulate moisture while resting on its launch pad in Florida’s humid environment.

    Immediately after launch, the team will turn on heaters on the instrument to bake off any water. The heat will not be intense enough to cause any damage to OVIRS, and the team will turn the heaters off once all of the water has evaporated.

    “There are always challenges that we don’t know about until we get there, but we try to plan for the ones that we know about ahead of time,” said Simon.

    OVIRS will be essential for helping the team choose the best sample site. Its data and maps will give the scientists a picture of what is present on Bennu’s surface.

    In addition to OVIRS, Goddard will provide overall mission management, systems engineering and safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta is the mission’s principal investigator at the University of Arizona. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages New Frontiers for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

    For more information about OSIRIS-REx, visit:


    See the full article here.

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    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation’s largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe.

    Named for American rocketry pioneer Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the center was established in 1959 as NASA’s first space flight complex. Goddard and its several facilities are critical in carrying out NASA’s missions of space exploration and scientific discovery.

    NASA Goddard Campus
    NASA/Goddard Campus

  • richardmitnick 3:36 pm on July 25, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , TH2K, VA Tech   

    From phys.org: “CP violation or new physics?” 


    July 25, 2016
    Lisa Zyga

    This is the “South Pillar” region of the star-forming region called the Carina Nebula. Like cracking open a watermelon and finding its seeds, the infrared telescope “busted open” this murky cloud to reveal star embryos tucked inside finger-like pillars of thick dust. Credit: NASA/Spitzer

    Over the past few years, multiple neutrino experiments have detected hints for leptonic charge parity (CP) violation—a finding that could help explain why the universe is made of matter and not antimatter. So far, matter-antimatter asymmetry cannot be explained by any physics theory and is one of the biggest unsolved problems in cosmology.

    But now in a new study published in Physical Review Letters, physicists David V. Forero and Patrick Huber at Virginia Tech have proposed that the same hints could instead indicate CP-conserving “new physics,” and current experiments would have no way to tell the difference.

    Both possibilities—CP violation or new physics—would have a major impact on the scientific understanding of some of the biggest questions in cosmology. Currently, one of the most pressing problems is the search for new physics, or physics beyond the Standard Model, which is a theory that scientists know is incomplete but aren’t sure exactly how to improve. New physics could potentially explain several phenomena that the Standard Model cannot, including the matter-antimatter asymmetry problem, as well as dark matter, dark energy, and gravity.

    As the scientists show in the new study, determining whether the recent hints indicate CP violation or new physics will be very challenging. The main goal of the study was to “quantify the level of confusion” between the two possibilities. The physicists’ simulations and analysis revealed that both CP violation and new physics have distributions centered at the exact same value for what the neutrino experiments measure—something called the Dirac CP phase. This identical preference makes it impossible for current neutrino experiments to distinguish between the two cases.

    “Our results show that establishing leptonic CP violation will need exceptional care, and that new physics can in many ways lead to non-trivial confusion,” Huber told Phys.org.

    The good news is that new and future experiments may be capable of resolving the issue. One possible way to test the two proposals is to compare the measurements of the Dirac CP phase made by two slightly different experiments: DUNE (the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment) at Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois; and T2HK (the Tokai to Hyper-Kamiokande project) at J-PARC in Tokai, Japan.


    Proposed TH2K

    “The trick is that the type of new physics we postulate in our paper manifests itself in the way in which neutrino oscillations are affected by the amount of earth matter through which the neutrino traverses,” Huber said. “The more matter travelled through, the larger the effect of this type of new physics.”

    “Now, for DUNE, neutrinos would have to travel roughly 1300 km in the earth, whereas for T2HK they would travel only about 300 km. Thus one would find two different values for the Dirac CP phase in both cases, indicating a problem.”

    In order to be accurate, these experiments will require extremely high degrees of precision, which Huber emphasizes should not be overlooked.

    “Of course, the same result could arise if for some reason either experiment was not properly calibrated and thus precisely calibrating these experiments will be extraordinarily important—a very difficult task, which I believe is not quite getting the attention it should.”

    See the full article here .

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    About Phys.org in 100 Words

    Phys.org™ (formerly Physorg.com) is a leading web-based science, research and technology news service which covers a full range of topics. These include physics, earth science, medicine, nanotechnology, electronics, space, biology, chemistry, computer sciences, engineering, mathematics and other sciences and technologies. Launched in 2004, Phys.org’s readership has grown steadily to include 1.75 million scientists, researchers, and engineers every month. Phys.org publishes approximately 100 quality articles every day, offering some of the most comprehensive coverage of sci-tech developments world-wide. Quancast 2009 includes Phys.org in its list of the Global Top 2,000 Websites. Phys.org community members enjoy access to many personalized features such as social networking, a personal home page set-up, RSS/XML feeds, article comments and ranking, the ability to save favorite articles, a daily newsletter, and other options.

  • richardmitnick 2:55 pm on July 25, 2016 Permalink | Reply
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    From Ethan Siegel: “The Stars Of Andromeda, Inside And Out, As Revealed By Hubble” 

    From Ethan Siegel

    Andromeda Galaxy Adam Evans
    Andromeda Galaxy Adam Evans

    The Milky Way’s plane obscures our view of most stars in our own galaxy, but an even grander spiral — Andromeda — lies 2.5 million light years away.

    A Mosaic of the 117 million resolved stars — plus many more unresolved ones — in the disk of the Andromeda galaxy. Image credit: NASA, ESA, J. Dalcanton, B.F. Williams, L.C. Johnson (University of Washington), the PHAT team, and R. Gendler.

    Even at this modest distance, incredible telescope and camera technology is needed to resolve individual stars in a galaxy beyond our own.

    The Hubble Space Telescope recently completed the Panchromatic Hubble Andromeda Treasury, mapping a third of Andromeda’s disk and resolving over 117 million individual stars.

    Closeup of a large region of the Andromeda galaxy’s disk, containing hundreds of open star clusters (identifiable as bright blue sparkles). Image credit: NASA, ESA, J. Dalcanton, B.F. Williams, L.C. Johnson (University of Washington), the PHAT team, and R. Gendler.

    Six of the most spectacular star clusters in Andromeda. The brilliant red star in the fifth image is actually a foreground star in the Milky Way. Over a thousand new clusters were found in this survey. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and Z. Levay (STScI); Science Credit: NASA, ESA, J. Dalcanton, B.F. Williams, L.C. Johnson (University of Washington), and the PHAT team.

    Far outside of the center, in the outer disk and the faint galactic halo, a different set of populations thrive.

    Image credit: NASA, ESA and T.M. Brown (STScI), of the stars in Andromeda’s outer disc.

    The outer disc of Andromeda (above) shows a wide variety of stars, including many Sun-like ones and older variables.

    Image credit: NASA, ESA and T.M. Brown (STScI), of the stars in Andromeda’s giant stellar stream. The Milky Way’s foreground stars are clearly identified by their diffraction spikes.

    The stars from the giant stellar stream are also densely packed, obscuring the Universe beyond.

    While the diffuse halo’s low-density regions contain many of the oldest, least evolved stars.

    They’re lower in heavy elements than any stars found in the disk, with galaxies up to billions of light years away visible through the gaps in the halo stars.

    See the full article here .

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

  • richardmitnick 2:32 pm on July 25, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Milky Way Galaxy’s 'Halo',   

    From NASA: “Astronomers Discover Dizzying Spin of the Milky Way Galaxy’s ‘Halo’ “ 

    NASA image


    July 25, 2016
    Felicia Chou
    NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C.

    Astronomers at the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA) discovered for the first time that the hot gas in the halo of the Milky Way galaxy is spinning in the same direction and at comparable speed as the galaxy’s disk, which contains our stars, planets, gas, and dust. This new knowledge sheds light on how individual atoms have assembled into stars, planets, and galaxies like our own, and what the future holds for these galaxies.

    Our Milky Way galaxy and its small companions are surrounded by a giant halo of million-degree gas (seen in blue in this artists’ rendition) that is only visible to X-ray telescopes in space. University of Michigan astronomers discovered that this massive hot halo spins in the same direction as the Milky Way disk and at a comparable speed. Credits: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss/Ohio State/A Gupta et al, 2012

    “This flies in the face of expectations,” says Edmund Hodges-Kluck, assistant research scientist. “People just assumed that the disk of the Milky Way spins while this enormous reservoir of hot gas is stationary – but that is wrong. This hot gas reservoir is rotating as well, just not quite as fast as the disk.”

    The new NASA-funded research using the archival data obtained by XMM-Newton, a European Space Agency telescope, was recently published [Published 2016 April 27] in the Astrophysical Journal. The study focuses on our galaxy’s hot gaseous halo, which is several times larger than the Milky Way disk and composed of ionized plasma.

    Because motion produces a shift in the wavelength of light, the U-M researchers measured such shifts around the sky using lines of very hot oxygen. What they found was groundbreaking: The line shifts measured by the researchers show that the galaxy’s halo spins in the same direction as the disk of the Milky Way and at a similar speed—about 400,000 mph for the halo versus 540,000 mph for the disk.

    “The rotation of the hot halo is an incredible clue to how the Milky Way formed,” said Hodges Kluck. “It tells us that this hot atmosphere is the original source of a lot of the matter in the disk.”

    Scientists have long puzzled over why almost all galaxies, including the Milky Way, seem to lack most of the matter that they otherwise would expect to find. Astronomers believe that about 80% of the matter in the universe is the mysterious “dark matter” that, so far, can only be detected by its gravitational pull. But even most of the remaining 20% of “normal” matter is missing from galaxy disks. More recently, some of the “missing” matter has been discovered in the halo. The U-M researchers say that learning about the direction and speed of the spinning halo can help us learn both how the material got there in the first place, and the rate at which we expect the matter to settle into the galaxy.

    “Now that we know about the rotation, theorists will begin to use this to learn how our Milky Way galaxy formed – and its eventual destiny,” says Joel Bregman, a U-M LSA professor of astronomy.

    “We can use this discovery to learn so much more – the rotation of this hot halo will be a big topic of future X-ray spectrographs,” Bregman says.

    For more information, please visit:


    See the full article here .

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

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

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

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

  • richardmitnick 12:21 pm on July 25, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: A Pulsar and a Disk, , ,   

    From AAS NOVA: “A Pulsar and a Disk” 


    American Astronomical Society

    25 July 2016
    Susanna Kohler

    Artist’s illustration of a Be star and its circumstellar disk, orbited by an accreting compact object. Recent observations of a similar system, SXP 214, suggest that the pulsar periodically passes through the circumstellar disk of its companion. [SMM (IAC)/Gabriel Pérez]

    Recent, unusual X-ray observations from our galactic neighbor, the Small Magellanic Cloud, have led to an interesting model for SXP 214, a pulsar in a binary star system.

    An Intriguing Binary

    An X-ray pulsar is a magnetized, rotating neutron star in a binary system with a stellar companion. Material is fed from the companion onto the neutron star, channeled by the object’s magnetic fields onto a “hotspot” that’s millions of degrees. This hotspot rotating past our line of sight is what produces the pulsations that we observe from X-ray pulsars.

    Located in the Small Magellanic Cloud, SXP 214 is a transient X-ray pulsar in a binary with a Be-type star. This star is spinning so quickly that material is thrown off of it to form a circumstellar disk.

    Recently, a team of authors led by JaeSub Hong (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) have presented new Chandra X-ray observations of SXP 214, tracking it for 50 ks (~14 hours) in January 2013. These observations reveal some very unexpected behavior for this pulsar.

    The energy distribution of the X-ray emission from SXP 214 over time. Dark shades or blue colors indicate high counts, and light shades or yellow colors indicate low counts. Lower-energy X-ray emission appeared only later, after about 20 ks. [Hong et al. 2016]

    X-ray Puzzle

    Three interesting pieces of information came from the Chandra observations:

    SXP 214’s rotation period was measured to be 211.5 s — an increase in the spin rate since the discovery measurement of a 214-second period. Pulsars usually spin down as they lose angular momentum over time … so what caused this one to spin up?
    Its overall X-ray luminosity steadily increased over the 50 ks of observations.
    Its spectrum became gradually softer (lower energy) over time; in the first 20 ks, the spectrum only consisted of hard X-ray photons above 3 keV, but after 20 ks, softer X-ray photons below 2 keV appeared.

    Hong and collaborators were then left with the task of piecing together this strange behavior into a picture of what was happening with this binary system.

    The authors’ proposed model for SXP 214. Here the binary has a ~30-day orbit tilted at 15° to the circumstellar disk. The pulsar passes through the circumstellar disk of its companion once per orbit. The interval marked “A” (orange line) is suggested as the period of time corresponding to the Chandra observations in this study: just as the neutron star is emerging from the disk after passing through it. [Hong et al. 2016]

    Passing Through a Disk

    In the model the authors propose, the pulsar is on a ~30-day eccentric orbit that takes it through the circumstellar disk of its companion once per orbit.

    In this picture, the authors’ Chandra detections must have been made just as the pulsar was emerging from the circumstellar disk. The disk had initially hidden the soft X-ray emission from the pulsar, but as the pulsar emerged, that component became brighter, causing both the overall rise in X-ray counts and the shift in the spectrum to lower energies.

    Since the pulsar’s accretion is fueled by material picked up as it passes through the circumstellar disk, the accretion from a recent passage through the disk likely also caused the observed spin-up to the shorter period.

    If the authors’ model is correct, this series of observations of the pulsar as it emerges from the disk provides a rare opportunity to examine what happens to X-ray emission during this passage. More observations of this intriguing system can help us learn about the properties of the disk and the emission geometry of the neutron star surface.


    JaeSub Hong et al 2016 ApJ 826 4. doi:10.3847/0004-637X/826/1/4

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 11:59 am on July 25, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Hydroponic farming, , Shipping containers could be the farms of the future thanks to student design   

    From ICL: “Shipping containers could be the farms of the future thanks to student design” 

    Imperial College London
    Imperial College London

    25 July 2016
    Jon Narcross
    Images © Imperial College London.

    An Imperial design engineering student has created a new hydroponic farming system to utilise wasted space in the shipping container industry.

    Every year millions of tonnes of goods are shipped across the world in shipping containers.

    Global trade patterns mean that whilst these 20,000,000 containers set off packed full of goods, many make their return journey empty.

    Imperial design engineering student Phillipe Hohlfeld has developed Growframe, a collapsable hydroponic farm that can be set up to grow crops in otherwise empty shipping containers on their return journeys.

    Phillipe’s research found that in the market between China and North America alone there is aproximately 7,500,000 containers returning empty each year.


    When set up in a 20 foot container Phillipe estimates that Growframe will be able to produce around $1,500 – $2,000 of crops in a journey. When not in use it collapses to 1/10th of its original size making it easy to transport on the outward journey before being put to use on the return trip.

    “For routes between China and every other continent so many of the containers go back empty because so many goods are produced in China,” Phillipe said. “The empty container was an opportunity. There’s 12sqm of land in a container, it’s essentially free, it’s sealed and you can do anything you want in it.”

    As part of the project Phillipe looked at a range of options to get the most value from the empty container before settling on his farming idea. As well as producing something of benefit to the shipping companies, he was also keen to make sure that the product could be of a benefit to China when it arrived.


    “I wanted to create something that could exist autonomously over three weeks in the sealed container and help fulfil a need in China,” Phillipe added. “I learnt from a study by the Met Office that China is having a lot of problem with crops due to pollution. Growframe could provide a clean, secure and safe source of food for the Chinese market.”

    The product is currently in its testing stage, having produced successful on-land harvests of vegetables such as pak choi, lettuce and beansprouts. Phillipe is currently working to take Growframe to sea for its next big test.

    See the full article here .

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    Imperial College London

    Imperial College London is a science-based university with an international reputation for excellence in teaching and research. Consistently rated amongst the world’s best universities, Imperial is committed to developing the next generation of researchers, scientists and academics through collaboration across disciplines. Located in the heart of London, Imperial is a multidisciplinary space for education, research, translation and commercialisation, harnessing science and innovation to tackle global challenges.

  • richardmitnick 11:42 am on July 25, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , VLBI   

    From blueshift: “Thirty Years of Space VLBI” 

    NASA Blueshift

    NASA Blueshift

    July 25, 2016
    Koji Mukai

    As I write this in July 2016, it has been 30 years since the first successful space very long baseline interferometry (VLBI) observations were made. VLBI is the radio astronomy technique to use widely separated radio dishes to produce exquisite images of celestial radio sources – and space VLBI allows separation between dishes larger than the diameter of the earth, potentially producing higher resolution images.

    But astute readers might be questioning my sanity. Many sources, including a page on our Imagine the Universe site will tell you that the first space VLBI satellite was Japan’s HALCA, which was launched in 1997. And 1997 was less than 20 years ago. Both these statements cannot be true – can they? Actually, yes, they can be, and they are. The actual sentence on the linked page reads: “The first mission dedicated to space interferometry was the Japanese HALCA mission which ran from 1997 to 2005.” The key phrase is “dedicated to” – you see, we sometimes use somewhat awkward phrasing in communicating with the general public when we don’t want to bother you with all the details, at least not initially. The hidden detail behind the sentence above is that well before HALCA, there was an earlier satellite which was used to demonstrate that space VLBI is possible, even though it was not specially designed for that purpose.

    Top: This radio image of the galaxy M87, taken with the Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope in February 1989, shows giant bubble-like structures where radio emission is thought to be powered by the jets of subatomic particles coming from the the galaxy’s central black hole. The false color corresponds to the intensity of the radio energy being emitted by the jet. M87 is located 50 million light-years away in the constellation Virgo. Bottom: A Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) radio image of the region close to the black hole, where an extragalactic jet is formed into a narrow beam by magnetic fields. The false color corresponds to the intensity of the radio energy being emitted by the jet. The red region is about 1/10 light-year across. The image was taken in March 1999. Credit: NASA, National Radio Astronomy Observatory/National Science Foundation, John Biretta (STScI/JHU), and Associated Universities, Inc.

    But let’s back up and start with a refresher on the basics. Professional astronomers and the general public alike like to have the sharpest, the most detailed images of astronomical objects. For UV and optical telescopes, we need bigger telescope mirrors for this, and to preferably launch them into space so the images are not blurred by the Earth’s atmosphere. With these telescopes, we can approach the diffraction limit – the fundamental limit on the sharpness of images set by the physics of light. You see, light is a wave, and there is an intrinsic fuzziness in how it goes through a slit, is reflected by a mirror, etc. The minimum angular size of an image – the diffraction limit – is proportional to the wavelength and inversely proportional to the diameter of the telescope mirror.

    Radio waves have wavelengths often measured in centimeters, much larger than the wavelength of visible light, by a factor of almost a million. While it is easier to build a bigger radio dish than a bigger optical telescope, there is a practical limit. The giant Arecibo radio telescope, famously featured in the film Contact, based on a book by Carl Sagan, used to be the biggest radio telescope in the world.

    NAIC/Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico, USA
    NAIC/Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico, USA

    Now China just completed what is considered to be the world’s biggest radio telescope.

    FAST Chinese Radio telescope under construction, Guizhou Province, China
    FAST Chinese Radio telescope

    Though the diameters of these big radio dishes are on the order of 100 times the diameters of the biggest visible light mirrors, the wavelengths of radio waves are still so large that the diffraction limited images from any of these single dish telescopes are not very sharp.

    Primary mirror size comparisons. Note Arecibo is so big that it is only represented by a dark gray arc at the bottom of the image. [FAST is not represented at all.] Credit: Cmglee, creative commons.

    Interferometry to the rescue. If you have an array of radio dishes, they can be combined to increase the effective size of the telescope and obtain sharp images. In technical terms, a baseline is the separation between a pair of radio dishes; you want long (and short) baselines in a variety of directions to make a sharp image. For example, the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) has 27 movable dishes in a Y shaped configuration, each arm of which is 21 km (13 miles) long. Image-wise, its performance is similar to a single, 40 km diameter, telescope.

    NRAO/VLA, on the Plains of San Agustin fifty miles west of Socorro, NM, USA
    NRAO/VLA, on the Plains of San Agustin fifty miles west of Socorro, NM, USA

    VLBI is when you combine signal from multiple radio telescopes on Earth. Space VLBI allows you to have baselines that are longer than the diameter of the Earth. With VLBI (Earth-bound or including a satellite), you tend to have fewer participating telescopes, and you may have to rely on the rotation of the Earth or the orbital motion of the satellite to give you a variety of baselines. HALCA allowed baselines up to about 30,000 km (3 times the diameter of the Earth), and the Russian RadioAstron satellite has an orbit that takes it up to distances equivalent to halfway to the distance to the Moon.

    Active galaxy (PKS 1519-273) as imaged with HALCA satellite, along with the National Science Foundation’s VLBA and VLA ground-based radio telescopes. This is the first VLBI image ever made using an orbiting radio-astronomy satellite. Credit: NRAO

    But space VLBI started 30 years ago, before these purposefully built satellites. What they used prior to them was the tracking and data relay satellite system (TDRSS), which NASA started in the 1980s for communication between the Space Shuttles and other satellites and ground stations. The communication is via radio waves in some of the same frequency bands used for astronomical radio observations. Back in July and August of 1986, astronomers and engineers used the TDRSS satellite (there was only one in orbit back then) together with the 64-m antenna of the NASA Deep Space Network at Tidbinbilla, Australia and the 64-m antenna of the Institute for Space and Astronautical Science in Usuda, Japan. They demonstrated space VLBI was possible, and that the three quasars they observed were very compact and beaming radio sources. This success opened the way for HALCA and RadioAstron.

    So, here’s to the 30th anniversary of the first successful space VLBI observations!

    See the full article here .

    [This article suffers from no mention of the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), a new adventure in VLBI. Aimed specifically at exploration of supermassive black hole Sagittarius A*, at the center of the Milky Way, this new adventure will surely take on other projects in a life of its own. That is how science works.

    So, here is the EHT

    Event Horizon Telescope Array

    Event Horizon Telescope map
    Event Horizon Telescope map

    Arizona Radio Observatory
    Arizona Radio Observatory/Submillimeter-wave Astronomy (ARO/SMT)

    Atacama Pathfinder EXperiment (APEX)

    CARMA Array no longer in service
    Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy (CARMA)

    Atacama Submillimeter Telescope Experiment (ASTE)
    Atacama Submillimeter Telescope Experiment (ASTE)

    Caltech Submillimeter Observatory
    Caltech Submillimeter Observatory (CSO)

    IRAM NOEMA interferometer
    Institut de Radioastronomie Millimetrique (IRAM) 30m

    James Clerk Maxwell Telescope interior, Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA
    James Clerk Maxwell Telescope interior, Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA

    Large Millimeter Telescope Alfonso Serrano
    Large Millimeter Telescope Alfonso Serrano

    CfA Submillimeter Array Hawaii SAO
    Submillimeter Array Hawaii SAO

    Future Array/Telescopes

    ESO/NRAO/NAOJ ALMA Array, Chile

    Plateau de Bure interferometer
    Plateau de Bure interferometer

    South Pole Telescope SPTPOL
    South Pole Telescope SPTPOL ]

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    Blueshift is produced by a team of contributors in the Astrophysics Science Division at Goddard. Started in 2007, Blueshift came from our desire to make the fascinating stuff going on here every day accessible to the outside world.

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