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  • richardmitnick 12:23 pm on November 26, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Applied Research & Technology, Bandwidth for Earth observation,   

    From DLR: “More bandwidth for Earth observation” 

    DLR Bloc

    German Aerospace Center

    26 November 2015

    Martin Fleischmann
    German Aerospace Center (DLR)
    Space Administration
    Tel.: +49 228 447-120
    Fax: +49 228 447-386

    Dr. Ralf Ewald
    German Aerospace Center (DLR)
    Space Administration, Frequency Coordinator
    Tel.: +49 228 447-219
    Fax: +49 228 447-737

    Agreement reached for new X-band satellite mission

    Ralf Ewald

    DLR makes progress with a new radar mission at the World Radiocommunication Conference

    Mobile telephones, high-speed Internet, up-to-date meteorological data and navigation programs available anytime, anywhere – all thanks to satellites. Bandwidth and frequencies that are revised every three to four years at the World Radiocommunication Conference play an important role in this. This year’s conference – attended by 3800 delegates from 193 countries – is being held in Geneva and is the largest World Radiocommunication Conference thus far. Ralf Ewald, from the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) Space Administration, is the Frequency Coordinator and, until 27 November 2015, together with German delegates, will revise the bandwidth and frequency allocations that will be available to, among other things, future satellite missions. Now, an agreement has been reached for a new X-band German radar satellite mission.

    Interview by Martin Fleischmann

    What is being negotiated at the World Radiocommunication Conference?

    Ewald: Here in Geneva, we are negotiating international law. Although use of the radiofrequency spectrum in Germany is subject to national law and is regulated by the German Federal Network Agency (Bundesnetzagentur; BNetzA), radio signals and the use of frequencies are not subject to national borders. We speak of cross-border frequency use as soon as somebody operates a mobile telephone to place a call while abroad. Naturally, this also applies to satellites that constantly pass over other countries. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is responsible when radio signals cross national borders. It deals with all ‘transnational’ issues. These regulations are defined in an international treaty, and then in most cases implemented into national law. The World Radiocommunication Conference is usually held every three to four years to revise this international contract whenever it becomes necessary. Each country sends a delegation to this conference to represent their various national interests. This time there are 70 German delegates in Geneva – the largest group from Germany ever to attend.

    That shows the significance of this radio communication summit. Why are these negotiations so important?

    Ewald: We have a problem; ongoing technical developments mean that every service – whether it is mobile telephony, science or satellite communications – needs more bandwidth. That is a fact of life. Unfortunately, the frequency spectrum that can be used in this way is limited. This is why our delegation, led by the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (Bundesministerium für Verkehr und digitale Infrastruktur; BMVI), and supported by the Bundesnetzagentur, representatives of the industrial sector – for instance, mobile communications providers – and DLR, are negotiating to obtain more bandwidth and ensure its meaningful use. DLR is representing the interests of the German government with regard to satellite radio services used for scientific purposes. My task is to carry forward these issues from a German perspective, to ensure that the contractual text ultimately reflects our interests.

    There is also an extremely important topic under negotiation for DLR…

    Ewald: Yes, precisely. Politically speaking, item 1.12 on the agenda could have given rise to conflict. Put in simple terms, it is a question of more bandwidth. DLR and Airbus Defence and Space are preparing the next generation of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellites to conduct Earth observation in X-band – the spectrum in which the twin radar satellites TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X operate. We want to produce images that, in terms of resolution, are comparable with optical images – so essentially, with a resolution better than 25 centimetres per pixel. The highest resolution that TerraSAR-X can offer is approximately one metre. Given that resolution is synonymous with bandwidth, we need a larger frequency allocation to achieve this improvement. So, we have to receive more bandwidth to acquire the resolution we are targeting. Until now, we had agreed on 600 megahertz, which is only approximately half of the necessary bandwidth. Now we have been granted 1.2 gigahertz, twice this amount.

    Why was it so difficult to find a solution?

    Ewald: We applied for an additional 600 megahertz, so many of the applications currently in use would come under pressure if our attempt to receive a total frequency allocation of 1.2 gigahertz were to be approved. Initially, this prompted several countries to reject our proposal. We wanted to know exactly how big the problem was and whether their concerns were justified. To analyse the issue, we have been conducting studies for the last three years. Now we have attempted to reach a common standpoint. Other countries attempting to secure more bandwidth in this frequency band – and who share our strong interest in radar-supported Earth observation – have helped us. These countries – for instance the oceanic nations – need better Earth observation technology to provide their emergency services with more up-to-date and high-resolution map data when faced with catastrophic flooding. We spent days in innumerable multilateral and bilateral meetings to arrive at a solution. Now we have found a good compromise, which all 193 member states – all resolutions at the World Radiocommunication Conference have to be passed unanimously – have agreed to. The outcome is an additional 600 megahertz of bandwidth and the option for an X-band Earth observation mission in hitherto unseen, almost optical resolution.

    See the full article here .

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    DLR Center

    DLR is the national aeronautics and space research centre of the Federal Republic of Germany. Its extensive research and development work in aeronautics, space, energy, transport and security is integrated into national and international cooperative ventures. In addition to its own research, as Germany’s space agency, DLR has been given responsibility by the federal government for the planning and implementation of the German space programme. DLR is also the umbrella organisation for the nation’s largest project management agency.

    DLR has approximately 8000 employees at 16 locations in Germany: Cologne (headquarters), Augsburg, Berlin, Bonn, Braunschweig, Bremen, Goettingen, Hamburg, Juelich, Lampoldshausen, Neustrelitz, Oberpfaffenhofen, Stade, Stuttgart, Trauen, and Weilheim. DLR also has offices in Brussels, Paris, Tokyo and Washington D.C.

  • richardmitnick 11:32 am on November 26, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Applied Research & Technology, , ,   

    From SPACE.com: ” To See Deep into Space, Start Deep Underground” 

    space-dot-com logo


    November 25, 2015
    Constance Walter, Sanford Underground Research Facility

    The Davis Cavern on the 4850 Level of the Sanford Underground Research Facility was once home to Ray Davis’s Nobel Prize-winning solar neutrino experiment. The cavern has been enlarged, the walls coated in a spray-on concrete (shotcrete) and outfitted for the Large Underground Xenon (LUX) experiment. Credit: Matthew Kapust, Sanford Underground Research Facility, © South Dakota Science and Technology Authority

    In 1969, Neil Armstrong fired my imagination when he took “a giant leap” onto the moon. I was 11 years old as I watched him take that first step, and like millions around the world, I was riveted to the screen. Today I wonder how I would have reacted if the news anchor had simply described this incredible moment. Would I have been so excited? So inspired? So eager to learn more? I don’t think so. It was seeing the story unfold that made it magical, that pulled me into the story.

    How we see the world impacts how we view it: That first glimpse of outer space sparked an interest in science. And although I didn’t become a scientist, I found a career in science, working with researchers at Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead, South Dakota, explaining the abstract and highly complex physics experiments in ways the rest of us can appreciate. It isn’t always easy. Ever heard of neutrinoless double-beta decay? Probably not. If I told you this rare form of nuclear decay could go a long way in helping us understand some of the mysteries of the universe, would you get the picture? Maybe. The words are important, but an illustration or animation might give you a better idea.

    Kathryn Jepsen, editor-in-chief of the physics magazine Symmetry, captured this need for the visual in this way: In trying to create images for her readers, she is never sure if her intent is what readers “see” in their mind’s eye — so she works with illustrators, videographers and photographers to create the images she wants them to see. “Videos and animations show them exactly what we want to get across,” Jepsen said.

    And such visualizations can be profound. Take a look at this operatic animation from Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Created using simulations run on the supercomputers at the National Center of Computational Sciences, it shows the expected operation of the ITER fusion reactor. The video clearly outlines the objectives of the experiment, but the animation allows greater understanding as to how the fusion reactor could be used to create energy.

    download the mp4 video here.

    Digging deep into science bedrock

    The Sanford Lab has many stories to tell: complex research experiments, a Nobel Prize, and a 126-year history as a mine, to name a few. We write stories for a newsletter called Deep Thoughts, the Sanford Lab website and other publications. But we don’t rely solely on words. Photographs and video play a big role in how we present the lab to the world.

    Researchers at Sanford Lab go deep underground to try to answer some of the most challenging physics questions about the universe. What is the origin of matter? What is dark matter and how do we know it exists? What are the properties of neutrinos? Going deep underground may help them answer these fundamental questions about the universe.

    Here’s how: Hold out your hand. On the Earth’s surface, thousands of cosmic rays pass through it every day. But nearly a mile underground, where these big physics experiments operate, it’s more than a million times quieter. The rock acts as a natural shield, blocking most of the radiation that can interfere with sensitive physics experiments. It turns out Sanford Lab is particularly suited to large physics experiments for another reason — the hard rock of the former Homestake Gold Mine is perfect for excavating the large caverns needed for big experiments.

    From 1876 to 2001, miners pulled more than 40 million ounces of gold and 9 million ounces of silver from the mine. In the beginning they mined with pickaxes, hammers and shovels — often in the dark with only candles for light. As they dug deeper, they brought wagons and mules underground to haul ore. Some animals were born, raised and died without ever seeing the sunshine. By the early 1900s, Homestake was using locomotives, drills and lights. By the early 1980s, the mine reached 8,000 feet, becoming the deepest gold mine in North America, with tunnels and drifts pocketing 370 miles of underground. At its heyday, Homestake employed nearly 2,000 people, but as gold prices plummeted and operation costs soared, the company began decreasing operations and reducing staff.

    Finally, in 2001, the Barrick Gold Corp., which owned the mine, closed the facility. Five years later, the company donated the property to South Dakota for use as an underground laboratory. That same year, philanthropist T. Denny Sanford donated $70 million to the project. Since then, the state has committed more than $45 million in funds to the project. Early on, South Dakota received a $10 million Community Development Block Grant to help rehabilitate the aging facility.

    Part of the glamor of using Homestake to build a deep underground science laboratory was its history as a physics landmark. Starting in the mid-1960s, nuclear chemist Ray Davis operated his solar neutrino experiment 4,850 feet underground (designated the 4850 Level) of Homestake mine. Using a 100,000-gallon tank full of perchloroethylene (fluid used in dry cleaning), Davis looked for interactions between neutrinos and the chlorine atoms, believing they would change into argon atoms.

    Far from the mining activity, Davis worked for nearly three decades to prove the theory developed with his collaborator John Bahcall, professor of astrophysics in the School of Natural Sciences at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. The two proposed that the mysteries of the sun could be examined by measuring the number of neutrinos arriving on Earth from the sun. By the 1970s, Davis proved the theory worked; however, there was a slight problem: Davis found only one-third of the neutrinos predicted based on the standard solar and particle physics model. This led to the solar neutrino problem.

    “The solar neutrino problem caused great consternation among physicists and astrophysicists,” Davis said years later. “My opinion in the early years was that something was wrong with the standard solar model; many physicists thought there was something wrong with my experiment.”

    Scientists at underground laboratories around the world wanted an answer to this riddle. Eventually, the mystery was solved by researchers in two separate experiments: one at SNOLab in Canada, the other at the Super-Kamiokande Collaboration in Japan.


    Super-Kamiokande experiment Japan

    As it turns out, neutrinos are pretty tricky characters, changing flavors as they travel through space, oscillating between electron, muon and tau neutrinos. Davis’s detector was only able to see the electron neutrino.

    In 2002, Davis’s groundbreaking research earned him the Nobel Prize in Physics — energizing physicists to lobby for a laboratory on the hallowed ground at the abandoned Homestake Mine. (This year, Takaaki Kajita of Super-Kamiokande and Arthur McDonald of SNOLab shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for their discoveries of neutrino oscillation.)

    A one-of-a-kind (incredibly deep) hole

    Because of the site’s rich physics history and unique structure, South Dakota and many scientists lobbied to have a billion-dollar deep underground laboratory at the mine, as deep as 7,400 feet — and in 2007 the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) selected it as the preferred site for a proposed Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL).

    But in 2010, the National Science Board decided not to fund further design of DUSEL. Physicists, citizens and politicians immediately began seeking other funding sources, and in 2011, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), through the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, agreed to support ongoing science operations at Sanford Lab, while investigating how to use the underground research facility for other longer-term experiments.

    Today, Sanford Lab hosts three large physics experiments nearly a mile underground on the 4850 Level.

    The Large Underground Xenon (LUX) experiment, is looking for dark matter, which makes up most of the matter in the universe, but has yet to be detected.

    We can’t see or touch dark matter, but we know it exists because of its gravitational effects on galaxies and clusters of galaxies. Scientists with LUX use a vessel filled with one-third of a ton of liquid xenon, hoping that when a weakly interacting massive particle, or WIMP, strikes a xenon atom, detectors will recognize the signature. In October 2013, after an initial run of 80 days, LUX was named the most sensitive dark-matter detector in the world.

    LUX watertank just before it was filled with 70,000 gallons of deionized water. Credit: Matthew Kapust, Sanford Underground Research Facility, © South Dakota Science and Technology Authority

    The Majorana experiment brings us back to that obscure-sounding neutrinoless double-beta decay. Neutrinos, among the most abundant particles in the universe, are often called “ghost” particles because they pass through matter like it isn’t there. Scientists with the Majorana experiment hope to spot the rare neutrinoless double-beta decay phenomenon, which could reveal if neutrinos are their own antiparticles.

    The inner copper shielding for the Majorana Demonstrator experiment is actually made of two layers of copper. The outermost layer is the purest copper that can be purchased commercially. The inner layer of copper is the purest in the world. It was “grown” by electroforming in a lab underground at Sanford Lab. Credit: Matthew Kapust, Sanford Underground Research Facility, © South Dakota Science and Technology Authority

    The answer to this question could help us understand why humans — and, indeed, the universe — exist. Majorana needs an environment so clean it was built almost entirely out of copper, electroformed deep underground, and it uses dozens of detectors made of enriched germanium crystals (76Ge) in its quest. The detectors are built in an ultraclean “glove box,” which is purged periodically with nitrogen gas, to ensure not even a single speck of dust will touch the highly sensitive detectors. When completed, the strings of detectors are placed inside a copper vessel that goes into a layered shield for extra protection against the environment.

    CASPAR (Compact Accelerator System for Performing Astrophysical Research) researchers are studying the nuclear processes in stars. Essentially, the goal is to create the same reactions that happen in stars a bit “older” than our sun. If researchers can do that, it could help complete the picture of how the elements in our universe are built. The experiment is undergoing calibration tests and will go online in early 2016.

    CASPAR project

    But can you see the science?

    Do you have a picture in your mind of each of these experiments? Is it the right picture? It’s not easy. Writers want the public to clearly understand why the science is important. And so we look for images that will complement our stories.

    Delicate work assembling the Majorana cryostat is done inside a glovebox. The cryostat contains strings of hockey puck shaped germainium detectors. Credit: Matthew Kapust, Sanford Underground Research Facility, © South Dakota Science and Technology Authority

    Matt Kapust is the creative services developer at Sanford Lab (the two of us make up the entire communications team). Since 2009, Kapust has been documenting the conversion of the mine into a world-leading research laboratory, using photography and video to record each stage of construction and outfitting.

    “Video is one of the most important tools we have in our tool belt,” Kapust said. “As content developers, we need to find creative ways to explain esoteric science concepts to mainstream audiences in ways that get them excited about science.”

    Film is important for other reasons, as well. “Massive science projects like the ones we have at Sanford Lab are not privately funded, they are not corporate run,” Kapust said. “They are funded by the public and need public support. Film’s mass appeal allows us to tell the stories in new ways and generate that widespread support.”

    Sanford Lab receives $15 million year for operations each year from the DOE. In addition to the $40 million given to support the lab in 2007, South Dakota recently gave the lab nearly $4 million for upgrades to one of the shafts. The individual experiments receive millions of dollars in funding from NSF and DOE, and a proposed future experiment, the Long Baseline Neutrino Facility and associated Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (LBNF/DUNE) is expected to cost $1 billion. All of this comes from taxpayers. And they want to know where their money is going — and why.

    Our stories, if we do them right, create excitement and spur the public’s collective imagination — I mean, we’re talking about possibly discovering the origins of the universe! When you think about it in those terms, a picture — or video — could be worth a million words, or a billion dollars.

    Nailing down neutrinos

    Kapust points to that billion-dollar experiment as an example. LBNF/DUNE, currently in the planning stages, will be an internationally designed, coordinated and funded collaboration that will attempt to unlock the mysteries of the neutrino.

    Billions of neutrinos pass through our bodies every second. Billions. They are formed in nuclear reactors, the sun (a huge nuclear reactor) and other stars, supernovae and cosmic rays as they strike the Earth’s atmosphere.

    In particular, researchers with LBNF/DUNE want to more fully understand neutrino oscillations, determine the mass of these ghostly particles, and solve the mystery of the matter/antimatter imbalance in the universe. To do this, they will follow the world’s highest-intensity neutrino beam as it travels 800 miles through the Earth, from Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois, to four massive detectors on the 4850 Level of Sanford Lab. And should a star go supernova while the experiment is running, the researchers could learn a lot more.

    Depiction of the Long Baseline Neutrino Facility/Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment. Credit: Fermilab

    LBNF/DUNE will be one of the largest international megascience experiments to ever occur on U.S. soil. The sheer scale of the experiment is mind-boggling.

    For example, the detectors are filled with 13 million gallons of liquid argon, an element used in the SNOLab experiment that discovered neutrino oscillation. And more than 800,000 tons of rock will be excavated to create three caverns — two for the detectors and one for utilities. Each cavern will be nearly the length of two football fields.

    That will require a lot of blasting, and engineers at Sanford Lab want to document the test blasts for a couple of reasons: They want a graphic representation of what the blast will look like and they hope to catch any visual appearance of dust going down the drift. The huge experiment is being built near existing experiments and dust could have a negative impact. Capturing the event on video could help them determine better ways to blast the rock to route the dust away from other sensitive physics experiments. As the experiment moves forward, our team will document each stage. We can’t bring visitors underground, but we can show them our progress.

    Katie Yurkewicz, head of communications at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab), said, “If words are our only tools, it can be extremely difficult (if not impossible) to get people to that ‘Aha!’ moment of understanding. Video and animations are invaluable in communicating those complex construction and physics topics.”

    In our field, it’s important to seek the expertise and interest of other communicators and the media. “We often rely on documentary filmmakers, news organizations and public broadcasting to help us tell our stories,” Kapust said, citing RAW Science, the BBC and South Dakota Public Broadcasting among those entities. “It’s important for us to be able to work with these groups because we have limited resources. We need the assistance and networking opportunities they offer.”

    download mp4 video here.

    In May 2015, a team from PRI’s Science Friday arrived at Sanford Lab to do a story about LUX and the search for dark matter. The team spent three days filming underground and on the surface. They interviewed scientists, students and administrators. The story was told on radio, of course, but the program also included a 17-minute video on Science Friday’s website. The radio program used sound, tone and words to great effect. But the video takes viewers onto the cage and down the shaft, into a modern, well-lit laboratory, and on a locomotive ride through the dark caverns of the underground. (Science Friday submitted the video for competition in the RAW Science Film Festival, which takes place Dec. 4-5 in Los Angeles.)

    Setting the scenes

    Producing film at Sanford Lab isn’t easy. Trips underground require careful planning, and even a trip action plan, part of a log that keeps track of everyone working underground. Should an emergency arise, the underground will be evacuated; the log ensures everyone gets to the surface safely. Because we are required to spend a lot of time underground, we undergo regular safety training that adds up to several hours a year.

    For every trip, we don restrictive clothing — hardhats as a safety measure and coveralls to keep dust from our clothing — then take an 11-minute ride in a dark cage, or elevator, to laboratories nearly a mile down. We lug our heavy lighting, sound and camera equipment with us, and shoot video in tight spaces. If we forget something, we can’t turn around and go back — the cage only runs at certain times of the day. Bringing our lunch is a definite must. Once underground, we enter the cart wash area, where we remove our coveralls, don clean hardhats, and clean all of the equipment with alcohol wipes — we don’t want to bring any dirt into the lab. Finally, we put booties over our shoes, then enter the laboratory area. One big perk? There’s an espresso machine and a panini press.

    Recently, we did a story about the innermost portion of the six-layered shield around the Majorana Demonstrator project. The shield gives the experiment extra protection from the radiation that permeates through the surrounding rock, especially radon, which can create noise in the experiment. The inner shield is special — it was made with ultrapure electroformed copper grown on the 4850 Level of Sanford Lab. We interviewed physicist Vincent Guiseppe, the mastermind behind the shield, inside the deeply buried class-100 clean room where all the work is done. Despite our precautions, we couldn’t go into the clean room without putting on a “bunny suit”: Tyvek clothing that includes a hood, booties, two pairs of gloves and a face mask, and we had to maneuver carefully as the research continued around us. It was a challenge, but it was worth it to get the story and a stunning image of the shield.

    Randy Hughes works in a cleanroom machine shop nearly one mile underground. He machines all the copper parts for the Majorana Demonstrator experiment. Credit: Matthew Kapust, Sanford Underground Research Facility, © South Dakota Science and Technology Authority

    While the lunar landing inspired my generation to look to the cosmos — and inspired me to want to fly to distant planets, see the Milky Way from a distant galaxy, and learn the secrets of the universe — none of us expected to be looking up from nearly a mile underground. But with the right mix of sights and stories, science is inspiring a new generation, while searching for answers to universal questions using tools that are only now reaching for the stars.

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 10:29 am on November 26, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Applied Research & Technology, ,   

    From TUM: “The “dark matter” in the protein universe” 

    Techniche Universitat Munchen

    Techniche Universitat Munchen

    Dr. Andrea Schafferhans
    Technical University of Munich
    Chair of Bioinformatics, Prof. Burkhard Rost
    Tel.: +49 289 17833

    Scientists try to reveal the structures of the dark proteome. (Picture: Schafferhans / Aquaria)

    Whether in the form of antibodies, enzymes or carriers: proteins play a crucial role in biology. While researchers have been able to at least partially determine the three-dimensional structure of many proteins, the structures of many other protein building blocks and even entire protein molecules remain as yet unknown. These “dark proteins” could be the key to understanding diseases. Using bioinformatics methods, an international team of scientists including researchers from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has come one step closer to unveiling the mystery that surrounds the dark proteome. Protein research and biomedicine are two of TUM’s core research areas.

    Fifteen percent of the mass of an average human: that is the overall amount of all proteins, also known as the proteome. The protein molecules perform essential functions in the body and cells. They initiate metabolic processes, help the organism ward off diseases and ensure that vital biological substances are transported.

    The function of these proteins is significantly determined by their three-dimensional structure. Yet there are also proteins that either completely or at least partially differ from the structure that has so far been elucidated by scientific experiments. As a result, their structure cannot be modeled. Researchers refer to these proteins and protein building blocks as “dark proteins” and collectively as the “dark proteome”, in analogy to the dark matter found in outer space. Up until now, scientists still did not know how many of these proteins form part of the dark proteome.

    Half of the proteome is dark

    Together with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Sydney and the University of Lisbon, Dr. Andrea Schafferhans from the Chair of Bioinformatics at TUM studied the properties of the dark proteome. They did so by filtering out pieces of information from various databases, linking them with each other and evaluating the data.

    The “Aquaria” database, a joint project organized by CSIRO and TUM, played an important role in this process. The website went live in early 2015 and allows all researchers to have the 3D structure of protein sequences computed. The database does this by referring to existing structures and using that information to create a probable model for the new structure. This website helps researchers determine which protein structures are in fact “dark”.

    The result: Half of the proteome of all living beings whose cells have a nucleus – and that includes humans – is part of the dark proteome. “And again half of that has structures that remain completely unidentified,” says Schafferhans.

    Few relatives, hardly any interactions with other proteins

    Furthermore, the researchers were able to identify the following properties of dark proteins: Most dark proteins are short, rarely interact with other proteins, are frequently excreted and only have a small number of evolutionary relatives.

    The scientists also found out that some of the assumptions previously held about dark proteins are in fact wrong. The majority of them are not disordered proteins, for example. The latter only adopt their actual structure once they perform a function. The remainer of the time they aopt varying shapes. Moreover, the majority of dark proteins are not transmembrane proteins, i.e. proteins located inside a membrane that separates cell components or entire cells from each other. Up until now, these two assumptions were believed to explain why the structure of dark proteins is so hard to identify.

    With their findings, which were published in the specialist journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers have laid important groundwork that will help scientists better analyze these mysterious protein molecules in the future.

    The researchers also hope to draw more attention to the dark proteome, because it could contain proteins that play a key role in human health.

    Medical protein research at TUM

    Biomedicine is a key research area at TUM, which consequently combines basic and applied research. As part of this concept, the following new research facilities were set up: the TUM Center for Functional Protein Assemblies (CPA), the Bavarian Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Center, the Central Institute for Translational Cancer Research of the Tech­nical University of Munich (TranslaTUM) and the Klaus Tschira Foundation’s Research Center for Multiple Sclerosis. As an integrative research center, TUM’s MUNICH SCHOOL OF BIOENGINEERING forms a joint learning and research platform for all pertinent activities carried out in medically relevant fields of engineering in the various faculties, including imaging technologies. TUM is also a major stakeholder in the Center for Integrated Protein Science Munich (CIPSM) cluster of excellence.

    Nelson Perdigãoa et al.: Unexpected features of the dark proteome. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2015). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1508380112

    See the full article here .

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    Techniche Universitat Munchin Campus

    Technische Universität München (TUM) is one of Europe’s top universities. It is committed to excellence in research and teaching, interdisciplinary education and the active promotion of promising young scientists. The university also forges strong links with companies and scientific institutions across the world. TUM was one of the first universities in Germany to be named a University of Excellence. Moreover, TUM regularly ranks among the best European universities in international rankings.

  • richardmitnick 11:14 pm on November 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Applied Research & Technology, , , Peatland studies   

    From EPFL: “Tiny amoebas could play a big role in climate” 

    EPFL bloc

    École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne EPFL
    Jan Overney

    Martha Vageus

    For the first time, researchers at EPFL and the WSL investigate how the fate of tiny algae-harboring amoebas that live in peatlands could reinforce global warming.

    The world’s peatlands store tremendous amounts of carbon – up to 20 years’ worth of human and natural emissions. While today they sequester more carbon than they release, research suggests that in a warmer world, they could decompose more quickly, reinforcing the vicious cycle of global warming by releasing additional CO2 into the atmosphere. In a recent study, scientists have investigated one of the most predominant types of peatland microorganisms and how their response to higher temperatures could impact the uptake or release of carbon by peatlands. Their findings, published in the journal Scientific Reports (Nature Publishing Group), suggest how increasing temperatures could decrease levels of carbon fixation in peatlands.

    Peatlands are teeming with microorganisms – algae, bacteria, and others – with a wide range of feeding strategies. Because of their sheer abundance, these microorganisms may have it in them to push their habitat towards increased sequestration of atmospheric CO2 in peatlands, or towards an increased release of the gas back into the atmosphere. But according to Vincent Jassey, the lead author of the study, “Until now, nobody has ever looked into the role of the most prevalent microorganisms that are called mixotrophic testate amoebas in the peatland carbon cycle.”

    Much like corals, these amoebas live in symbiosis – in a mutually beneficial relationship – with tiny photosynthetic algae. While on their own the amoebas are able to feed on bacteria, they can also delegate the job to the algae they harbor, which, using photosynthesis, can transform atmospheric carbon into sugar.

    The question the researchers set out to address was: would higher temperatures cause the amoebas to eat more bacteria, “breathing out” CO2 into the atmosphere as they digest their food, or would they instead rely more heavily on their resident algae, “breathing in” the gas, transforming it, and storing the carbon in their own biomass, like plants?

    To find out, they artificially warmed patches of a peatland in the French Jura Mountains for five years, studying the evolution and the behavior of the amoeba population. While they found that the amoebas continued to gain their energy thanks to the photosynthesis of their algae, the researchers were surprised by the drastic drop in their number.

    “After observing the decline in the amoeba population, we had to find a way to determine how this would affect the overall carbon cycle of the peatland,” explains Jassey. For this, he and his colleagues took samples of plants that form peatlands – Sphagnum mosses, densely inhabited by amoebas – into the laboratory, where, after artificially reducing the amoeba population, they could accurately measure the amount of carbon taken up and released.

    These results suggest that increasing temperatures would lead to an overall decrease in the photosynthetic capacity of the mixotrophic testate amoebas. If the rising temperatures cause these specific amoeba populations to shrink, as this study suggests, peatlands could wind up fix less carbon than they usually do each year, further reinforcing global warming.

    This project was led by the Environmental Systems Laboratory, a joint laboratory between the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL.

    Reference: Jassey, V. E. J. et al. An unexpected role for mixotrophs in the response of peatland carbon cycling to climate warming. Sci. Rep. 5, 16931; doi: 10.1038/srep16931 (2015).

    See the full article here .

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    EPFL campus

    EPFL is Europe’s most cosmopolitan technical university with students, professors and staff from over 120 nations. A dynamic environment, open to Switzerland and the world, EPFL is centered on its three missions: teaching, research and technology transfer. EPFL works together with an extensive network of partners including other universities and institutes of technology, developing and emerging countries, secondary schools and colleges, industry and economy, political circles and the general public, to bring about real impact for society.

  • richardmitnick 2:54 pm on November 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From Science Node: “Supercomputers put photosynthesis in the spotlight” 

    Science Node bloc
    Science Node

    David Lugmayer

    Courtesy Julia Schwab, Pixabay (CC0 Public Domain).

    Photosynthesis is one of the most important processes on Earth, essential to the existence of much life on our planet. But for all its importance, scientists still do not understand some of the small-scale processes of how plants absorb light.

    An international team, led by researchers from the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) in Spain, has conducted detailed simulations of the processes behind photosynthesis. Working in collaboration with several other universities and institutions, the researchers are using supercomputers to better understand how photosynthesis functions at the most basic level.

    Photosynthesis is fundamental to much life on earth. The process of converting energy from our sun into a chemical form that can be stored enables the plethora of plant life that covers the globe to live. Without photosynthesis, plants — along with the animals that depend on them for food and oxygen — would not exist. During photosynthesis, carbon dioxide and water are converted into carbohydrates and oxygen. However, this process requires energy to function; energy that sunlight provides.

    Over half of the sunlight that green plants capture for use in photosynthesis is absorbed by a complex of chlorophyll molecules and proteins called the light-harvesting complex (LHC II). Yet the scientific community still does not fully understand how this molecule acts when it absorbs photons of light.

    The LHC II molecule, visualized here, is a complex of proteins and chlorophyll molecules. It is responsible for capturing over 50% of the solar energy absorbed for the process of photosynthesis. Image courtesy Joaquim Jornet-Somoza and colleagues (CC BY 3.0)

    To help illuminate this mystery, the team at UPV/EHU is simulating the LHC II molecule using a quantum mechanical theory called ‘real-space time-dependent density functional theory’ (TDDFT), implemented in a special software package called ‘Octopus’. Simulating LHC II is an impressive feat considering that the molecule is comprised of over 17,000 atoms, each of which must be simulated individually.

    Because of the size and complexity of the study, some of the TDDFT calculations required significant computing resources. Two supercomputers, MareNostrum III and Hydra, played an important role in the experiment. Joaquim Jornet-Somoza, a postdoctoral researcher from the University of Barcelona in Spain, explains why: “The memory storage needed to solve the equations, and the number of algorithmic operations increases exponentially with the number of electrons that are involved. For that reason, the use of supercomputers is essential for our goal. The use of parallel computing reduces the execution time and makes resolving quantum mechanical equations feasible.” In total 2.6 million core hours have been used for the study.

    MareNostrum III


    However, to run these simulations, several issues had to first be sorted out, and the Octopus software code had to be extensively optimized to cope with the experiment. “Our group has worked on the enhancement of the Octopus package to run in parallel-computing systems,” says Jornet.

    The simulations, comprising of thousands of atoms, are reported to be the biggest of their kind ever performed to date. Nevertheless, the team is still working towards simulating the full 17,000 atoms of the LHC II complex. “The maximum number of atoms simulated in our calculations was 6,025, all of them treated at TDDFT level. These calculations required the use of 5,120 processors, and around 10TB of memory,” explains Jornet.

    The implications of the study are twofold, says Jornet. From a photosynthetic perspective, it shows that the LHC II complex has evolved to optimize the capture of light energy. From a computational perspective, the team successfully applied quantum mechanical simulations on a system comprised of thousands of atoms, paving the way for similar studies on large systems.

    The study, published in the journal Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics, proposed that studying the processes behind photosynthesis could also yield applied benefits. One such benefit is the optimization of crop production. Enhanced understanding of photosynthesis could also potentially be used to improve solar power technologies or the production of hydrogen fuel.

    See the full article here .

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    Science Node is an international weekly online publication that covers distributed computing and the research it enables.

    “We report on all aspects of distributed computing technology, such as grids and clouds. We also regularly feature articles on distributed computing-enabled research in a large variety of disciplines, including physics, biology, sociology, earth sciences, archaeology, medicine, disaster management, crime, and art. (Note that we do not cover stories that are purely about commercial technology.)

    In its current incarnation, Science Node is also an online destination where you can host a profile and blog, and find and disseminate announcements and information about events, deadlines, and jobs. In the near future it will also be a place where you can network with colleagues.

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  • richardmitnick 12:51 pm on November 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From BNL: “Postdoc Alesha Harris: Tackling Chemistry from Nanoparticles to Neutrinos” 

    Brookhaven Lab

    November 24, 2015
    Kay Cordtz

    Alesha Harris

    Alesha Harris has three degrees in chemistry and has taught the subject in her home state of Texas. Although her graduate work was in nanoparticles—materials just a billionth of a meter in size—she joined the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory as an Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate–Transformation (AGEP-T) postdoc working with Minfang Yeh, who leads the neutrino and nuclear chemistry group. Before becoming acquainted with Brookhaven Lab and Yeh’s work, Harris had never heard of the mysterious neutrinos, invisible subatomic particles.

    “In all of my years of study, education, and books, I had never heard of them,” Harris said. “It’s not something that they taught in any of my classes. So it was very ambitious of me to take this on, just like it was ambitious of Dr. Yeh to take me on. Nonetheless, he emphasized that he wanted someone who was less familiar with the area who could bring fresh ideas.”

    Harris comes from a family of high achievers. Her father is a CPA, a college vice president for Business and Finance, as well as a preacher. Her mother is a dentist and recently retired from the US Public Health Service, where she oversaw the quality of health care in 11 states. Harris’ grandfather was a physicist, an architect, a pilot, and a mathematician.

    “I have an uncle who is a lawyer, an aunt working on her PhD in human resources and a cousin who is an archaeologist and speaks Hebrew fluently,” said Harris. “In our family, we go for the opportunity and we work at it.”

    Her career in science is a result of Harris pursuing an earlier goal.

    “When I was younger, I wanted to be a fashion designer,” she said. “So I took sewing classes and I drew all the time. Somewhere along the way I thought that in order to be a fashion designer, you’re probably going to have to have some money, so you should use your other skills to help you get financing. “

    Harris credits a high school teacher with fostering her love of chemistry.

    “She really made me enjoy it,” she said. “ I had to work hard like everybody else but there was something about the way she taught that made me feel success at the end of solving a problem.”

    As an undergraduate at Dillard University in New Orleans, Harris majored in chemistry with a minor in math. She did her graduate work – earning a MS and a PhD in inorganic chemistry — at the University of North Texas.

    “My research was on nanoparticles for targeted drug delivery,” she said. “We used polymers to create nanoparticles as carriers, and our drugs of choice were transition metals. I worked with pancreatic cancer cells as well as cervical cancer cells and I did a variety of experiments from the synthesis and analysis of the nanoparticles and loading of the metals to the toxicity studies. So I learned a lot by doing all those different things, and I think that made my resume interesting to Dr. Yeh.”

    “The study of neutrinos is in a precision era that could use a lot of help from chemistry for the development of the next-generation detector, “ said Yeh. “I enjoy working with young scientists because of their fresh minds and creativity. Alesha has great passion for science and loves to learn. I am happy to have her joining the group.”

    Yeh’s group at Brookhaven works with liquid scintillators for the detection of the elusive neutrinos, and is experimenting with surfactants to generate stability in a new and improved metal-doped scintillation water.

    The AGEP-T program aims to prepare its participants for a possible teaching career, something Harris has already experienced. After receiving her PhD, she taught general chemistry at a small historically black college in Texas.

    “Most of the students I had were only familiar with chemistry at a very basic high school level,” she said. “I think I was able to teach them ways to learn chemistry. I think that’s one thing that should be taught more: how to study.”

    Harris also taught the math portion of the Graduate Record Examination and helped interest students in science and technology careers. She became aware of Brookhaven’s AGEP-T program through networking at conferences.

    “I really appreciate that the program emphasizes mentorship,” she said. “I know that Dr. Yeh is one of the best in his field, and I like the fact that I can attend conferences, go to seminars and have a group of people who are trying to develop me professionally not just scientifically. Since I’ve been here, I’ve been able to learn to use more instruments than I did in graduate school and I’m looking forward to punching out papers.

    “I love health, it’s still my passion,” she said. “The skills that I learn here can be used in many areas of science, including health research. Although, maybe I will just fall in love with studying neutrinos! I’m still young and have time to change my mind, but at least I’m here and learning from the best.”

    In addition to her work in the lab, Harris is involved with numerous outside activities. She plays volleyball — on and off campus—and is part of the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha. The group focuses on community service, and before the school year began, they assembled backpacks for elementary, middle and high school students. She also recently joined Toastmasters.

    “I think I can do a good job taking difficult information and making it a little bit easier to digest for decision makers. Given that as my goal, I’m ready to start working on the craft of speaking. I’d like to be a science liaison, the person who explains science to decision makers and community members.”

    See the full article here .

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    BNL Campus

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

  • richardmitnick 12:35 pm on November 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From BNL: “NSLS-II User Profiles: Emmie Campbell & Karen DeRocher” 

    Brookhaven Lab

    November 23, 2015
    Laura Mgrdichian

    Emmie Campbell and Karen DeRocher, from the Biomineral Engineering group at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering, studied microstructures that make up spicules or “bones” in larval sea urchins with the Hard X-Ray Nanoprobe at NSLS-II.

    Emmie Campbell and Karen DeRocher are Ph.D. students in the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University. They are members of the Biomineral Engineering group led by Derk Joester, an associate professor of materials science and engineering. They recently completed beam time at the Hard X-Ray Nanoprobe at Brookhaven National Laboratory’s National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science User Facility.

    BNL NSLS-II Interior
    BNL NSLS-II Building

    What are your research interests?

    We’re both interested in how organisms are able to manipulate crystal growth to deposit minerals with unique properties under biological conditions and with minimal energetic and material waste. But we took different paths to get to this field of materials science, and we plan to use what we learn in different ways.

    Emmie Campbell:

    I actually chose a field of materials science due to my interest in art history — my undergraduate degree is a double major in chemistry and art history. I worked at the Art Institute of Chicago through a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program with Northwestern, which inspired me to apply to the school’s Materials Science department. For the big picture aspect of biomineralization, we’re interested in understanding how organisms control mineral growth. This includes things with obvious value, like better understanding human teeth and bone growth to reduce disease and discomfort, or technological value, like materially and energetically efficient fabrication. Materials like magnetite — a hard, magnetic material — are usually formed under high pressure and heat under geological conditions. However, bacteria, bumble bees, and even humans are able to produce biogenic magnetite at ambient pressure and temperature. This happens in your brain! If we can harness this kind of fabrication, we’d reduce energy, material, and labor costs for biogenic minerals, which tend to have novel and interesting properties, and possibly even extend what we’ve learned to other materials.

    Karen DeRocher:

    Since I was an undergraduate I have been interested in using materials science to develop new, more efficient materials for structural or energy applications. After hearing about Professor Joester’s work studying biominerals, I was intrigued by this different approach to materials science. Instead of taking the more commonly used approach of mixing materials together to come up with something new, we look at how organisms naturally produce minerals, such as calcite or apatite. While these materials can also be made in the lab (sometimes requiring elevated temperature and pressure), organisms are able to achieve very complex, intricate structures at ambient temperature and pressure. The thought of mimicking their production methods to make highly ordered, functional materials without having to expend a lot of energy excited me. After joining the Joester group, my main research interest has become studying the chemical and structural changes that occur in human enamel as a cavity develops. Eventually, we hope that this work will lead to a deeper understanding of enamel formation, as well as the development of better detection and treatment options for cavities.

    What are you studying at NSLS-II?

    We are studying the skeletons of larval sea urchins, which consist of two single-crystal calcite “bones,” called spicules. The spicules have a highly specialized morphology: instead of the highly faceted structure of inorganically precipitated calcite, the spicules have a cylindrical cross-section and smooth curves. There is a biomolecular basis for this growth, but we’ve observed a microstructure in the spicule that we believe is evidence of a faceted growth-front within the spicule, indicating a second growth mechanism. This is one of the things we studied using the Hard X-Ray Nanoprobe.

    Why have you chosen NSLS-II for your research?

    The spicule microstructure is 400-600 nanometers (nm) in diameter, comprised of 20 nm occlusions. The Hard X-Ray Nanoprobe is uniquely capable of resolving these features, utilizing x-ray fluorescence and x-ray differential phase contrast imaging.

    This research is happening at the National Synchrotron Light Source II, which produces X-rays 10,000 times brighter than its predecessor (NSLS) and is the world’s brightest synchrotron light source.

    See the full article here .

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

  • richardmitnick 12:23 pm on November 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From U Washington: “New center seeks therapies to boost body’s immune system” 

    U Washington

    University of Washington

    Bobbi Nodell

    Research on immune responses underway at a UW Department of Immunology lab. Dennis Wise

    A new Center for Innate Immunity and Immune Disease at UW Medicine seeks to become a world leader in finding therapies to regulate the body’s defense system and fend off a wide variety of diseases. Among these are infectious illnesses like Ebola, influenza and dengue fever, autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and lupus, and common, complex conditions, like cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

    The research center, which was formed over the past two years, will officially open for business in January. A seminar and reception to introduce the center will be held at 3:30 p.m., Monday, Nov. 30, at UW Medicine South Lake Union, Building E, 750 Republican St., Seattle.

    Michael Gale Jr., University of Washington professor of immunology and director of the new center, will provide an overview at the event; his talk will stream live.

    Dr. Gale sat down to answer a few question about the center’s goal to “harness the immune system,” the second most complex system in the body next to the brain:

    Q. What does it mean to harness the immune system?

    A. Our bodies have an inborn ability to respond to infections. It doesn’t require pre-exposure. This response is called the innate immune response. Depending on how the innate response plays out, the rest of the immune response will follow – whether it’s going to activate a T-cell to attack a cancer cell or to turn against our own body, for example. The innate immune response shapes the overall immune response. Scientists didn’t know that five to eight years ago. We are studying innate immunity to the point we can harness these processes to enhance or control the immune response.

    Q. Why Seattle?

    A. Seattle is a hotbed for this kind of research. We now have a critical mass of expertise to support a center like this. UW Medicine has one of the highest-ranking immunology departments in the world. Great research institutions, such as Benaroya Research Institute, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Institute for Systems Biology, Center for Infectious Disease Research, and Seattle Children’s Research Institute are all in walking distance.

    These institutions, as well as several local biotech companies, have people working on being able to trigger an immune system response for various diseases, but there isn’t one center coordinating all the activity and providing the infrastructure.

    Q. What will the Center for Innate Immunity and Immune Disease offer?

    A. We will be the place coordinating different research efforts in innate immunity to push discoveries into human therapies.

    Researchers working in an immunology lab at UW Medicine South Lake Union.

    With local biotech partners, scientists can quickly test and develop these new advances toward clinical applications.

    We have already discovered drug targets and drug-like compounds of innate immune regulation. These research findings offer the promise to treat Ebola virus, influenza, and West Nile virus infections. The center will help bring forward similar discoveries in autoimmune disease, inflammatory disease and cancer.

    Q. Who will be involved in the center?

    A. The center will have scientists from different fields of expertise, such as infectious disease, rheumatology, computational biology, protein biology, pharmaceutics, vaccinology, genetics, and pathology, microbiology, immunology, and medicine, as well as industry partners. They will work with clinicians to bring understanding from diverse perspectives and with our biotech partners and others to evaluate whether a therapy is ready for preclinical and clinical development.

    Q. What is one of the leading edge technologies used by the center?

    A. The center will be designed around four service cores – cell signaling, transgenic mouse models, immunoinformatics, and translational research. It will also have an educational outreach core. All the cores are innovative, but probably the most cutting edge is the immunoinformatics core. It brings together a group of computational biologists who can process high throughput data sets and build computational models to help steer the research direction. [High throughput is the running of several experimental test simultaneously.]

    Q. What kind of outreach does the center do?

    A. The education outreach core is looking at the next generation by bringing basic immunology teaching and lab exercises in immunology to local public school students. This core also runs a summer research internship in its members’ labs for high school students.

    See the full article here .

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    The University of Washington is one of the world’s preeminent public universities. Our impact on individuals, on our region, and on the world is profound — whether we are launching young people into a boundless future or confronting the grand challenges of our time through undaunted research and scholarship. Ranked number 10 in the world in Shanghai Jiao Tong University rankings and educating more than 54,000 students annually, our students and faculty work together to turn ideas into impact and in the process transform lives and our world. For more about our impact on the world, every day.

    So what defines us — the students, faculty and community members at the University of Washington? Above all, it’s our belief in possibility and our unshakable optimism. It’s a connection to others, both near and far. It’s a hunger that pushes us to tackle challenges and pursue progress. It’s the conviction that together we can create a world of good. Join us on the journey.

  • richardmitnick 11:13 am on November 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From AAAS: “Climate change can tear down mountains” 



    23 November 2015
    Eric Hand

    The Bering Glacier is one reason why the St. Elias Mountains in Alaska are eroding faster than they are being built. Robert Simmon/NASA; data source: Landsat 7 Science Team

    The St. Elias Mountains in Alaska are more than 5000 meters tall, testament to a tectonic plate wedged underneath the region that is driving them up like a snowplow. But the St. Elias range also contains some of the world’s largest glaciers, which inexhaustibly scour the mountains and dump sediment in the sea. Now, a new study finds that the glaciers are winning, eroding the mountains faster than they are being built. Moreover, a jump in the region’s erosion rates about a million years ago coincides with a transition to more powerful ice ages—a sign that climate change can have a larger than expected effect in tearing down mountains.

    For many years, geoscientists treated the erosive power of rain and ice as an afterthought to Earth’s mountain-building forces, or tectonics.

    World plate tectonics

    The new study suggests that, in special places, they can dominate. “We have more material leaving than coming in, because of this change in climate,” says Sean Gulick, a marine geophysicist at the University of Texas (UT), Austin, who led the study. “This is the first time that we’ve been able to prove that that can happen at the scale of a whole mountain range.”

    The work also helps confirm an idea that has been hypothesized for 30 years but never conclusively documented in the field: Not only can mountain-building affect climate (by changing weather patterns, for instance), but, surprisingly, climate can also affect mountain-building. Mountain slopes seek a critical resting angle that is a function of the collisional forces driving them up and the material properties of the rock—not unlike the pile of snow that gathers at a certain angle in front of a snowplow. However, if erosion takes too much weight off the top, the mountain will try to rebuild and return to that critical angle through internal deformation and changes to faults inside the mountain. The new study of the St. Elias Mountains shows that erosion has indeed upset the balance, and other studies have shown that the faults involved in building the mountain range are readjusting to the new regime.

    “The whole system is out of whack,” Gulick says. The mountain-building is “already starting to try to catch up” to the erosion, he says.

    Erosion, a notoriously difficult process to study, is extreme in the St. Elias range. Since the region is at a high latitude, moisture from the nearby Pacific Ocean can accumulate into some of the world’s most powerful glaciers. That was one reason why Gulick and his team decided to study it. Another reason: The region is relatively small, and bounded. There is one way for material to go into the mountains, and one way for it to leave. Using knowledge about the geometry of the tectonic plates, the researchers estimated that, for the past 6 million years, the rate of material going into building the mountains has been pretty constant.

    A bigger challenge was tallying up all the sediments eroded off the mountains and dumped in the ocean by the glaciers. For 2 months in 2013, the JOIDES Resolution, the ship for the International Ocean Discovery Program, drilled into the ocean floor sediments, retrieving cores of mud and rock that were then dated. This allowed the scientists to understand how sedimentation rates changed over time. Between 2.8 million and 1.2 million years ago, the rate of material going into the mountains exceeded the sedimentation rate. About 1.2 million years ago, the sedimentation rate accelerated—the same time that Earth’s ice ages began to occur more intensely at 100,000-year intervals rather than in 40,000-year cycles. Since 700 million years ago, the transport of material out of the region has exceeded the material going in by 50% to 80%, the team reports online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    Gulick says the sedimentation rates are staggeringly high, as much as 80 centimeters per 1000 years. That’s roughly four times the rate of material currently coming off the Himalayas, he says.

    James Spotila, a geologist at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg who was not a part of the study, says the research team needs to be careful not to overstate the precision of its results. In an earlier onshore experiment, Spotila tried to estimate the material going into and out of the St. Elias Mountains, and found it difficult to precisely bound the region. Rivers and glaciers could also be depositing material eroded from outside the mountain range, he says, adding that it’s very hard to say exactly how much material the tectonic plates are bringing in.

    “How well do you really know those two numbers?” he asks. “I’m not sure that I’m personally convinced that the volumetric comparison truly captures all that complexity.” The real news, Spotila says, is the precision of the rates of offshore sedimentation. “Here they nail it quite well,” he says. “It’s ramping up, and the timing of those accelerations match changes in climate.”

    The new study will also help confirm the idea that the mountains themselves can adjust to extreme changes in erosion. There is already evidence that the St. Elias Mountains are reacting to the abnormally high erosion rates, says Terry Pavlis, a structural geologist at UT El Paso and the leader of an earlier onshore study. He discovered many geologically recent faults at shallow angles—which all point to the mountain making adjustments in the past million years to the way its rocks pile up. “It’s going to try to adjust and produce uplift where erosion has stripped out a hole,” Pavlis says. But it may be a lost cause, he says. “Basically erosion won the battle,” he says. “The mountains are trying to rebuild but they can’t keep up.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 11:20 pm on November 24, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From ASU: “Volcanic rocks hold clues to Earth’s interior” 

    ASU Bloc

    Arizona State University

    November 24th, 2015
    Nikki Cassis


    Earth’s deep interior transport system explains volcanic island lava complexities.

    The journey for volcanic rocks found on many volcanic islands began deep within the Earth. Brought to the Earth’s surface in eruptions of deep volcanic material, these rocks hold clues as to what is going on deep beneath Earth’s surface.

    Studies of rocks found on certain volcanic islands, known as ocean island basalts, revealed that although these erupted rocks originate from Earth’s interior, they are not the same chemically.

    According to a group of current and former researchers at Arizona State University, the key to unlocking this complex, geochemical puzzle rests in a model of mantle dynamics consisting of plumes – upwelling’s of abnormally hot rock within the Earth’s mantle – that originate in the lower mantle and physically interact with chemically distinct piles of material.

    The team revealed that this theoretical model of material transport can easily produce the chemical variability observed at hotspot volcanoes (such as Hawaii) around the world.

    “This model provides a platform for understanding links between the physics and chemistry that formed our modern world as well as habitable planets elsewhere,” says Curtis Williams, lead author of the study whose results are published in the Nov. 24 issue of the journal Nature Communications.

    Basalts collected from ocean islands such as Hawaii and those collected from mid-ocean ridges (that erupt at spreading centers deep below oceans) may look similar to the naked eye; however, in detail their trace elements and isotopic compositions can be quite distinct. These differences provide valuable insight into the chemical structure and temporal evolution of Earth’s interior.

    “In particular, it means that the Earth’s mantle – the hot rock below Earth’s crust but above the planet’s iron core – is compositionally heterogeneous. Understanding when and where these heterogeneities are formed and how they are transported through the mantle directly relates to the initial composition of the Earth and how it has evolved to its current, habitable state,” said Williams, a postdoc at UC Davis.

    While a graduate student in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, Williams and faculty members Allen McNamara and Ed Garnero conceived a study to further understand how chemical complexities that exist deep inside the Earth are transported to the surface and erupt as intraplate volcanism (such as that which formed the Hawaiian islands). Along with fellow graduate student Mingming Li and Professional Research Associate Matthijs van Soest, the researchers depict a model Earth, where in its interior resides distinct reservoirs of mantle material that may have formed during the earliest stages of Earth’s evolution.

    Employing such reservoirs into their models is supported by geophysical observations of two, continent-sized regions – one below the Pacific Ocean and one below parts of the Atlantic Ocean and Africa – sitting atop the core-mantle boundary.

    “In the last several years, we have witnessed a sharpening of the focus knob on seismic imaging of Earth’s deep interior. We have learned that the two large anomalous structures at the base of the mantle behave as if they are compositionally distinct. That is, we are talking about different stuff compared to the surrounding mantle. These represent the largest internal anomalies in Earth of unknown chemistry and origin,” said Garnero.

    These chemically distinct regions also underlie a majority of hotspot volcanism, via hot mantle plumes from the top of the piles to Earth’s surface, suggesting a potential link between these ancient, chemically distinct regions and the chemistry of hotspot volcanism.

    To test the validity of their model, Williams and coauthors compare their predictions of the variability of the ratios of helium isotopes (helium-3 and helium-4) in plumes to that observed in ocean island basalts.

    3He is a so-called primordial isotope found in the Earth’s mantle. It was created before the Earth was formed and is thought to have become entrapped within the Earth during planetary formation. Today, it is not being added to Earth’s inventory at a significant rate, unlike 4He, which accumulates over time.

    Williams explained: “The ratio of helium-3 to helium-4 in mid-ocean ridge basalts are globally characterized by a narrow range of small values and are thought to sample a relatively homogenous upper mantle. On the other hand, ocean island basalts display a much wider range, from small to very large, providing evidence that they are derived from different source regions and are thought to sample the lower mantle either partially or in its entirety.”

    The variability of 3He to 4He in ocean island basalts is not only observed between different hotspots, but temporally within the different-aged lavas of a single hotspot track.

    “The reservoirs and dynamics associated with this variability had remained unclear and was the primary motivation behind the study presented here,” said Williams.

    Williams continues to combine noble gas measurements with dynamic models of Earth evolution working with Sujoy Mukhopadhyay (Professor and Director of the Noble Gas Laboratory) at the University of California at Davis.

    The School of Earth and Space Exploration is a unit of ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

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

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

    ASU Tempe Campus
    ASU Tempe Campus

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