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  • richardmitnick 4:44 pm on June 16, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Chemistry, , New type of photosynthesis discovered   

    From Imperial College London: “New type of photosynthesis discovered” 

    Imperial College London
    From Imperial College London

    15 June 2018
    Hayley Dunning

    Colony of cells where colours represent chlorophyll-a and -f driven photosynthesis. Dennis Nuernberg

    The discovery changes our understanding of the basic mechanism of photosynthesis and should rewrite the textbooks.

    It will also tailor the way we hunt for alien life and provide insights into how we could engineer more efficient crops that take advantage of longer wavelengths of light.

    The discovery, published today in Science, was led by Imperial College London, supported by the BBSRC, and involved groups from the ANU in Canberra, the CNRS in Paris and Saclay and the CNR in Milan.

    The vast majority of life on Earth uses visible red light in the process of photosynthesis, but the new type uses near-infrared light instead. It was detected in a wide range of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) when they grow in near-infrared light, found in shaded conditions like bacterial mats in Yellowstone and in beach rock in Australia.

    As scientists have now discovered, it also occurs in a cupboard fitted with infrared LEDs in Imperial College London.

    Photosynthesis beyond the red limit

    The standard, near-universal type of photosynthesis uses the green pigment, chlorophyll-a, both to collect light and use its energy to make useful biochemicals and oxygen. The way chlorophyll-a absorbs light means only the energy from red light can be used for photosynthesis.

    Since chlorophyll-a is present in all plants, algae and cyanobacteria that we know of, it was considered that the energy of red light set the ‘red limit’ for photosynthesis; that is, the minimum amount of energy needed to do the demanding chemistry that produces oxygen. The red limit is used in astrobiology to judge whether complex life could have evolved on planets in other solar systems.

    However, when some cyanobacteria are grown under near-infrared light, the standard chlorophyll-a-containing systems shut down and different systems containing a different kind of chlorophyll, chlorophyll-f, takes over.

    Cross-section of beach rock (Heron Island, Australia) showing chlorophyll-f containing cyanobacteria (green band) growing deep into the rock, several millimetres below the surface. Dennis Nuernberg

    Until now, it was thought that chlorophyll-f just harvested the light. The new research shows that instead chlorophyll-f plays the key role in photosynthesis under shaded conditions, using lower-energy infrared light to do the complex chemistry. This is photosynthesis ‘beyond the red limit’.

    Lead researcher Professor Bill Rutherford, from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial, said: “The new form of photosynthesis made us rethink what we thought was possible. It also changes how we understand the key events at the heart of standard photosynthesis. This is textbook changing stuff.”

    Preventing damage by light

    Another cyanobacterium, Acaryochloris, is already known to do photosynthesis beyond the red limit. However, because it occurs in just this one species, with a very specific habitat, it had been considered a ‘one-off’. Acaryochloris lives underneath a green sea-squirt that shades out most of the visible light leaving just the near-infrared.

    The chlorophyll-f based photosynthesis reported today represents a third type of photosynthesis that is widespread. However, it is only used in special infrared-rich shaded conditions; in normal light conditions, the standard red form of photosynthesis is used.

    It was thought that light damage would be more severe beyond the red limit, but the new study shows that it is not a problem in stable, shaded environments.

    Co-author Dr Andrea Fantuzzi, from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial, said: “Finding a type of photosynthesis that works beyond the red limit changes our understanding of the energy requirements of photosynthesis. This provides insights into light energy use and into mechanisms that protect the systems against damage by light.”

    These insights could be useful for researchers trying to engineer crops to perform more efficient photosynthesis by using a wider range of light. How these cyanobacteria protect themselves from damage caused by variations in the brightness of light could help researchers discover what is feasible to engineer into crop plants.

    Textbook-changing insights

    More detail could be seen in the new systems than has ever been seen before in the standard chlorophyll-a systems. The chlorophylls often termed ‘accessory’ chlorophylls were actually performing the crucial chemical step, rather than the textbook ‘special pair’ of chlorophylls in the centre of the complex.

    This indicates that this pattern holds for the other types of photosynthesis, which would change the textbook view of how the dominant form of photosynthesis works.

    Dr Dennis Nürnberg, the first author and initiator of the study, said: “I did not expect that my interest in cyanobacteria and their diverse lifestyles would snowball into a major change in how we understand photosynthesis. It is amazing what is still out there in nature waiting to be discovered.”

    Peter Burlinson, lead for frontier bioscience at BBSRC – UKRI says, “This is an important discovery in photosynthesis, a process that plays a crucial role in the biology of the crops that feed the world. Discoveries like this push the boundaries of our understanding of life and Professor Bill Rutherford and the team at Imperial should be congratulated for revealing a new perspective on such a fundamental process.”

    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 4:54 pm on June 13, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Chemistry, In 2016 four new elements were added: nihonium [113] moscovium [115] tennessine [117] and oganesson [118], Is there an end to the periodic table?,   

    From Michigan State University: “Is there an end to the periodic table?” This is For All The Chemists OUT There 

    Michigan State Bloc

    From Michigan State University

    Karen King
    Facility for Rare Isotope Beams office:

    Witold Nazarewicz
    Facility for Rare Isotope Beams office:
    (517) 908-7326


    Witold Nazarewicz is the chief scientist at the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams and an MSU Hannah Distinguished Professor in physics. He is part of an international team of researchers that is unlocking the mysteries of atomic nuclei. Photo courtesy of the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams.

    As the 150th anniversary of the formulation of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements looms, a Michigan State University professor probes the table’s limits in a recent Nature Physics Perspective.

    Next year will mark the 150th anniversary of the formulation of the periodic table created by Dmitry Mendeleev. Accordingly, the United Nations proclaimed 2019 as the International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements. At 150 years old, the table is still growing. In 2016, four new elements were added: nihonium, moscovium, tennessine and oganesson. Their atomic numbers – the number of protons in the nucleus that determines their chemical properties and place in the periodic table – are 113, 115, 117 and 118, respectively.

    It took a decade and worldwide effort to confirm these last four elements. And now scientists wonder: how far can this table go? Some answers can be found in a recent Nature Physics Perspective by Witek Nazarewicz [link is above], Hannah Distinguished Professor of Physics at MSU and chief scientist at the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams.

    All elements with more than 104 protons are labeled as “superheavy,” and are part of a vast, totally unknown land that scientists are trying to uncover. It is predicted that atoms with up to 172 protons can physically form a nucleus that is bound together by the nuclear force. That force is what prevents its disintegration, but only for a few fractions of a second.

    These lab-made nuclei are unstable and spontaneously decay soon after they are formed. For the ones heavier than oganesson, this might be so quick that it prevents them from having enough time to attract and capture an electron to form an atom. They will spend their entire lifetime as congregations of protons and neutrons.

    If that is the case, this would challenge the way scientists today define and understand atoms. They can no longer be described as a central nucleus with electrons orbiting it much like planets orbit the sun.

    And as to whether these nuclei can form at all, it is still a mystery.

    Scientists are slowly but surely crawling into that region, synthesizing element by element, not knowing what they will look like, or where the end is going to be. The search for element 119 continues at several labs, mainly at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Russia, at GSI in Germany and RIKEN in Japan.

    “Nuclear theory lacks the ability to reliably predict the optimal conditions needed to synthesize them, so you have to make guesses and run fusion experiments until you find something. In this way, you could run for years,” said Nazarewicz.

    Although the new Facility for Rare Isotope Beams at MSU is not going to produce these superheavy systems, at least within its current design, it might shed light on what reactions could be used, pushing the boundaries of current experimental methods. If element 119 is confirmed, it will add an eighth period to the periodic table.

    This was captured by the Elemental haiku by Mary Soon Lee:

    Will the curtain rise?

    Will you open the eighth act?

    Claim the center stage?

    The discovery might not be too far off. Soon could be now or in two to three years, Nazarewicz said.

    Another exciting question remains. Can superheavy nuclei be produced in space? It is thought that these can be made in neutron star mergers, a stellar collision so powerful that it literally shakes the very fabric of the universe. In stellar environments like this where neutrons are abundant, a nucleus can fuse with more and more neutrons to form a heavier isotope. It would have the same proton number and therefore is the same element but heavier. The challenge here is that heavy nuclei are so unstable that they break down long before adding more neutrons and forming these superheavy nuclei. This hinders their production in stars. The hope is that through advanced simulations, scientists will be able to “see” these elusive nuclei through the observed patterns of the synthesized elements.

    As experimental capabilities progress, scientists will pursue these heavier elements to add to the remodeled table. In the meantime, they can only wonder what fascinating applications these exotic systems will have.

    “We don’t know what they look like, and that’s the challenge,” Nazarewicz said. “But what we have learned so far could possibly mean the end of the periodic table as we know it.”

    MSU is establishing FRIB as a new scientific user facility for the Office of Nuclear Physics in the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science. Under construction on campus and operated by MSU, FRIB will enable scientists to make discoveries about the properties of rare isotopes in order to better understand the physics of nuclei, nuclear astrophysics, fundamental interactions, and applications for society, including in medicine, homeland security and industry.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Michigan State Campus

    Michigan State University (MSU) is a public research university located in East Lansing, Michigan, United States. MSU was founded in 1855 and became the nation’s first land-grant institution under the Morrill Act of 1862, serving as a model for future land-grant universities.

    MSU pioneered the studies of packaging, hospitality business, plant biology, supply chain management, and telecommunication. U.S. News & World Report ranks several MSU graduate programs in the nation’s top 10, including industrial and organizational psychology, osteopathic medicine, and veterinary medicine, and identifies its graduate programs in elementary education, secondary education, and nuclear physics as the best in the country. MSU has been labeled one of the “Public Ivies,” a publicly funded university considered as providing a quality of education comparable to those of the Ivy League.

    Following the introduction of the Morrill Act, the college became coeducational and expanded its curriculum beyond agriculture. Today, MSU is the seventh-largest university in the United States (in terms of enrollment), with over 49,000 students and 2,950 faculty members. There are approximately 532,000 living MSU alumni worldwide.

  • richardmitnick 3:56 pm on June 11, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Chemistry, , Experiments at Berkeley Lab Help Trace Interstellar Dust Back to Solar System’s Formation, ,   

    From Lawrence Berkeley National Lab: “Experiments at Berkeley Lab Help Trace Interstellar Dust Back to Solar System’s Formation” 

    Berkeley Logo

    From Lawrence Berkeley National Lab

    June 11, 2018
    Glenn Roberts Jr.
    (510) 486-5582

    Chemical studies show that dust particles originated in a low-temperature environment.

    This energy dispersive X-ray spectrometry (EDS) map of tiny glassy grains (blue with green specks) inside a cometary-type interplanetary dust particle was produced using the FEI TitanX microscope at Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry.

    LBNL FEI TitanX microscope

    Carbonaceous material (red) holds these objects together. (Credit: Hope Ishii/University of Hawaii; Berkeley Lab; reproduced with permission from PNAS)

    Experiments conducted at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) helped to confirm that samples of interplanetary particles – collected from Earth’s upper atmosphere and believed to originate from comets – contain dust leftover from the initial formation of the solar system.

    An international team, led by Hope Ishii, a researcher at the University of Hawaii at Manoa (UH Manoa), studied the particles’ chemical composition using infrared light at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source (ALS).


    Scientists also explored their nanoscale chemical makeup using electron microscopes at the Lab’s Molecular Foundry, which specializes in nanoscale R&D, and at the University of Hawaii’s Advanced Electron Microscopy Center.

    LBNL Molecular Foundry – No image credits found

    University of Hawaii’s Advanced Electron Microscopy Center

    The study was published online June 11 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    The initial solids from which the solar system formed consisted almost entirely of carbon, ices, and disordered (amorphous) silicate, the team concluded. This dust was mostly destroyed and reworked by processes that led to the formation of planets. Surviving samples of pre-solar dust are most likely to be preserved in comets – small, cold bodies that formed in the outer solar nebula.

    In a relatively obscure class of these interplanetary dust particles believed to originate from comets, there are tiny glassy grains called GEMS (glass embedded with metal and sulfides) that are typically only tens to hundreds of nanometers in diameter, or less than a hundredth of the thickness of a human hair. Researchers embedded the sample grains in an epoxy that was cut into thin slices for the various experiments.

    Using transmission electron microscopy at the Molecular Foundry, the research team made maps of the element distributions and discovered that these glassy grains are made up of subgrains that aggregated together in a different environment prior to the formation of the comet.

    The nanoscale GEMS subgrains are bound together by dense organic carbon in clusters comprising the GEMS grains. These GEMS grains were later glued together with other components of the cometary dust by a distinct, lower-density organic carbon matrix.

    The types of carbon that rim the subgrains and that form the matrix in these particles decompose with even weak heating, suggesting that the GEMS could not have formed in the hot inner solar nebula, and instead formed in a cold, radiation-rich environment, such as the outer solar nebula or pre-solar molecular cloud.

    Jim Ciston, a staff scientist at the Molecular Foundry, said the particle-mapping process of the microscopy techniques provided key clues to their origins. “The presence of specific types of organic carbon in both the inner and outer regions of the particles suggests the formation process occurred entirely at low temperatures,” he said.

    This cometary-type interplanetary dust particle was collected by a NASA stratospheric aircraft. Its porous aggregate structure is evident in this scanning electron microscope image. (Credit: Hope Ishii/University of Hawaii)

    “Therefore, these interplanetary dust particles survived from the time before formation of the planetary bodies in the solar system, and provide insight into the chemistry of those ancient building blocks.”

    He also noted that the “sticky” organics that covered the particles may be a clue to how these nanoscale particles could gather into larger bodies without the need for extreme heat and melting.

    Ishii, who is based at the UH Manoa’s Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology, said, “Our observations suggest that these exotic grains represent surviving pre-solar interstellar dust that formed the very building blocks of planets and stars. If we have at our fingertips the starting materials of planet formation from 4.6 billion years ago, that is thrilling and makes possible a deeper understanding of the processes that formed and have since altered them.”

    Hans Bechtel, a research scientist in the Scientific Support Group at Berkeley Lab’s ALS, said that the research team also employed infrared spectroscopy at the ALS to confirm the presence of organic carbon and identify the coupling of carbon with nitrogen and oxygen, which corroborated the electron microscopy measurements.

    The ALS measurements provided micron-scale (millionths of a meter) resolution that gave an average of measurements for entire samples, while the Molecular Foundry’s measurements provided nanometer-scale (billionths of a meter) resolution that allowed scientists to explore tiny portions of individual grains.

    In the future, the team plans to search the interiors of additional comet dust particles, especially those that were well-protected during their passage through the Earth’s atmosphere, to increase understanding of the distribution of carbon within GEMS and the size distributions of GEMS subgrains.

    Berkeley Lab’s ALS and Molecular Foundry are DOE Office of Science User Facilities.

    The research team included scientists from the University of Washington, NASA Ames Research Center, and the Laboratory for Space Sciences. The work was supported by NASA’s Cosmochemistry, Emerging Worlds, and Laboratory Analysis of Returned Samples programs; the ALS and Molecular Foundry are supported by the DOE Office of Basic Energy Sciences.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    A U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratory Operated by the University of California

    University of California Seal

    DOE Seal

  • richardmitnick 3:23 pm on June 11, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Chemistry, , From Moon Rocks to Space Dust: Berkeley Lab’s Extraterrestrial Research, , ,   

    From Lawrence Berkeley National Lab: “From Moon Rocks to Space Dust: Berkeley Lab’s Extraterrestrial Research” 

    Berkeley Logo

    From Lawrence Berkeley National Lab

    Glenn Roberts Jr.
    (510) 486-5582

    Specialized equipment, techniques, and expertise attract samples from far, far away.

    The Barringer Crater shown in the adjacent image (Ref) is only the best-preserved of large meteor impacts. There is evidence for many more. http://www.pas.rochester.edu/~blackman/ast104/impacts.html

    Libyan Desert Glass: An extraordinary highly translucent 239.1-gram Libyan Desert Glass individual covered in pseudo regmaglypts, which are strikingly similar in appearance to the thumbprints found on certain meteorites. Some impact specialists have theorized that at the time of impact, molten jelly-like blobs of desert glass were thrown far up into the air, and then fell back to earth acquiring regmaglypts in the process. A more widely accepted view is that pseudo regmaglypts are the result of long term desert erosion by wind and sand. However they are formed, their resemblance to meteoritic regmaglypts is remarkable. Photograph by Leigh Anne DelRay, copyright Aerolite Meteorites.

    From moon rocks to meteorites, and from space dust to a dinosaur-destroying impact, the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has a well-storied expertise in exploring samples of extraterrestrial origin.

    This research – which has helped us to understand the makeup and origins of objects within and beyond our solar system – stems from the Lab’s long-standing core capabilities and credentials in structural and chemical analyses and measurement at the microscale and nanoscale.

    Berkeley Lab’s participation in a new study, detailed June 11 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (see related news release), focused on the chemical composition of tiny glassy grains of interplanetary particles – likely deposited in Earth’s upper atmosphere by comets – that contain dust leftover from the formative period of our solar system.

    Petrographic relationship between organic carbon and amorphous silicates in cometary IDPs. (A) High-angle annular darkfield (HAADF) image of a section through the middle of a single GEMS grain in U217B19 and (B) corresponding carbon element map showing organic rims on subgrains within the GEMS grain. (C) HAADF image of a section through the middle of a GEMS grain in LT39 and (D) corresponding carbon element map showing a higher brightness organic carbon rim mantling the GEMS exterior surface. The higher brightness rim corresponds to higher-density organic carbon with higher C/O ratio (SI Appendix). (E) HAADF image of PAH-rich nanoglobules (ng) comprised of higher-density organic carbon and (F) element map. Red, C; blue, Mg; green, Fe; and yellow, S. One nanoglobule has a partial GEMS mantle shown in Inset. (G) HAADF image of a nanoglobule heavily decorated with GEMS. (H) Brightfield image of two carbon-rich GEMS, with one on right a torus with an organic carbon interior and inorganic exterior. [From above cited science paper.]

    That study involved experiments at the Lab’s Molecular Foundry, a nanoscale research facility, and the Advanced Light Source (ALS), which supplies different types of light, from infrared light to X-rays, for dozens of simultaneous experiments.

    More than a decade ago, NASA’s Stardust spacecraft mission, which had a rendezvous with comet 81P/Wild 2, returned samples of cometary and interstellar dust to Earth. Ever since, researchers have been working to study this material in detail.

    In one study, published in 2014 [Science], scientists used X-rays and infrared light to study particles from this mission. In another study [Wiley], published in 2015, researchers studied two comet particles using several high-resolution electron microscopes and a focused ion beam at Berkeley Lab’s National Center for Electron Microscopy (NCEM), which is now part of the Molecular Foundry.

    LBNL National Center for Electron Microscopy (NCEM)

    LBNL Molecular Foundry – No image credits found

    They found that the microscopic rocks, named Iris and Callie, had formed from molten droplets that crystallized rapidly in outer space.

    Interplanetary dust particles were also the focus of a 2014 study that involved NCEM and the ALS. That study [PNAS]explored pockets of water that were directly formed on the dust particles via irradiation by the solar wind, and their findings suggest that this mechanism could be responsible for transporting water throughout the solar system.

    In other studies, the ALS has been used to reveal liquid water and complex organic compounds like hydrocarbons and amino acids in meteorites – one of which may have traveled here from a dwarf planet – and ALS scientists have been working with NASA to study the microscopic makeup of asteroids to better understand how meteoroids break apart in Earth’s atmosphere.

    The Lab also had a role in analyzing dust from moon rocks collected in the Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 moon missions – the late Melvin Calvin, who was a former associate director at the Lab, participated in a study of carbon compounds in lunar samples that was published [<em>PSLSC] in 1971.

    And in the 1970s, Berkeley Lab Nobel laureate Luis Alvarez teamed with his son, Walter Alvarez, then an associate professor of geology at UC Berkeley, to unravel the mystery of the dinosaur die-off some 65 million years ago. The Alvarezes, working with Lab nuclear chemists Frank Asaro and Helen Michel, used a technique known as neutron activation analysis to precisely measure an unusual abundance in the element iridium in sedimentary deposits that dated back to the time of the dinosaurs’ disappearance and the mass extinction of many other species. [LBL Science Beat]

    Iridium, which is rare on Earth, was known to be associated with extraterrestrial objects such as asteroids, and later studies [Science] would confirm that a massive meteorite impact is the most likely cause of that ancient extinction event.

    Besides studying materials of extraterrestrial origin, Berkeley Lab researchers have also worked to synthesize and simulate the chemistry, materials, conditions, and effects found outside of Earth – from lab-treated materials that are analogous to exotic minerals that formed in space from the presence of corrosive gases in the early solar system to simulated mergers of neutron stars and black holes, and the creation of simulated Martian meteorites.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    A U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratory Operated by the University of California

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  • richardmitnick 5:31 pm on June 5, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Chemistry, ENIGMA-Evolution of Nanomachines in Geospheres and Microbial Ancestors, ,   

    From Rutgers: “NASA Funds Rutgers Scientists’ Pursuit of the Origins of Life” 

    Rutgers smaller
    Our Great Seal.

    From Rutgers University


    Jun 4, 2018

    Todd Bates

    Rutgers-led ENIGMA team examines whether “protein nanomachines” in our cells arose before life on Earth, other planets.

    What are the origins of life on Earth and possibly elsewhere? Did “protein nanomachines” evolve here before life began to catalyze and support the development of living things? Could the same thing have happened on Mars, the moons of Jupiter and Neptune, and elsewhere in the universe?

    A Rutgers University-led team of scientists called ENIGMA, for “Evolution of Nanomachines in Geospheres and Microbial Ancestors,” will try to answer those questions over the next five years, thanks to an approximately $6 million NASA grant and membership in the NASA Astrobiology Institute.

    Rutgers Today asked Paul G. Falkowski, ENIGMA principal investigator and a distinguished professor at Rutgers University–New Brunswick, about research on the origins of life.

    Iron- and sulfur-containing minerals found on the early Earth (greigite, left, is one example) share a remarkably similar molecular structure with metals found in modern proteins (ferredoxin, right, is one example). Did the first proteins at the dawn of life on Earth interact directly with rocks to promote catalysis of life?
    Image: Professor Vikas Nanda/Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine at Rutgers

    What is astrobiology?

    It is the study of the origins of life on Earth and potential life on planets – called extrasolar planets – and planetary bodies like moons in our solar system and other solar systems. More than 3,700 extrasolar planets have been confirmed in the last decade or so. Many of these are potentially rocky planets that are close enough to their star that they may have liquid water, and we want to try and understand if the gases on those planets are created by life, such as the oxygen on Earth.

    What is the ENIGMA project?

    All life on Earth depends on the movement of electrons; life literally is electric. We breathe in oxygen and breathe out water vapor and carbon dioxide, and in that process we transfer hydrogen atoms, which contain a proton and an electron, to oxygen to make water (H20). We move electrons from the food we eat to the oxygen in the air to derive energy. Every organism on Earth moves electrons to generate energy. ENIGMA is a team of primarily Rutgers researchers that is trying to understand the earliest evolution of these processes, and we think that hydrogen was probably one of the most abundant gases in the early Earth that supported life.

    What are the chances of life being found elsewhere in our solar system and the universe?

    We’ve been looking for evidence of life on Mars since the Viking mission, which landed in 1976. I think it will be very difficult to prove there is life on Mars today, but there may be signatures of life that existed on Mars in the distant past. Mars certainly had a lot of water on it and had an atmosphere, but that’s all largely gone now. A proposed mission to Europa – an ice-covered moon of Jupiter – is in the planning phase. NASA’s Cassini mission to investigate Titan, a moon of Neptune, revealed liquid methane over what we think is water – very cold, shallow oceans – so there may be life on Titan.

    What are protein nanomachines?

    They are enzymes that physically move. Each time we take a breath, an enzyme in every cell allows you to transfer electrons to oxygen. Enzymes, like all proteins, are made up of amino acids, of which there are 20 that are used in life. Early on, amino acids were delivered to Earth by meteorites, and we think some of these amino acids could have been coupled together and made nanomachines before life began. That’s what we’re looking to see if we can recreate, using the tens of thousands of protein structures in the Protein Data Bank at Rutgers together with our colleagues in the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine.

    What are the next steps?

    Organizing our research so it is coherent and relevant to the other collaborating teams in the NASA Astrobiology Institute. We want to develop an education and outreach program at Rutgers that leads to an astrobiology minor for undergraduate students and helps inform K-12 schoolchildren about the origins of life on Earth and what we know and don’t know about the potential for life on other planets. We also want to help make Rutgers a center of excellence in this field so future undergraduate and graduate students and faculty will gravitate towards this university to try to understand the evolution and origin of the molecules that derive energy for life.

    See the full article here .

    Follow Rutgers Research here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, is a leading national research university and the state’s preeminent, comprehensive public institution of higher education. Rutgers is dedicated to teaching that meets the highest standards of excellence; to conducting research that breaks new ground; and to providing services, solutions, and clinical care that help individuals and the local, national, and global communities where they live.

    Founded in 1766, Rutgers teaches across the full educational spectrum: preschool to precollege; undergraduate to graduate; postdoctoral fellowships to residencies; and continuing education for professional and personal advancement.

    As a ’67 graduate of University college, second in my class, I am proud to be a member of

    Alpha Sigma Lamda, National Honor Society of non-tradional students.

    • stewarthoughblog 1:20 am on June 6, 2018 Permalink | Reply

      I suppose it is inevitable for naturalists to revisit the myths of chemical evolution, Darwin’s “warm little ponds,” OparinHaldane prebiotic soup, Miller-Urey test tube goo, FeS minerals, etc. This may get funding, have some interesting science, but otherwise will offer nothing to the present chaotic mess of naturalist origin of life, OoL, research.
      If they really want to address OoL, then they need to explain the creation of DNA and the homochiral amino acids and pentose sugars required. The 20 amino acids mentioned are exclusively produced through cellular, aka living, functions, never naturalistically. There is no naturalistic process capable of producing all amino acids.
      The propositions in this article are intellectually insulting and scientifically nonsensical.


      • richardmitnick 12:59 pm on June 6, 2018 Permalink | Reply

        While I respect your opinions, the main reason I posted this was that anything good that happens at Rutgers, my alma mater, I need to jump on. Rutgers is a great research university with a penchant for very poor representation in social media.


        • stewarthoughblog 11:32 pm on June 6, 2018 Permalink

          Richard, no slight intended against your alma mater, but it is the substance of the article that prompted my comment, which I can only propose was written by someone very uninformed about the pertinent science, or by a fully impregnated naturalistic ideologue, if you know what I mean.. Regards.


        • richardmitnick 3:13 pm on June 7, 2018 Permalink

          No harm, no foul. I appreciate your continued interest in the blog. I am in a personal war with Rutgers to wake them up to their web compeition like all of the University of California schools, UBC, U Toronto, U Arizona, a bunch of “state” schools in Australia, and the like, all state schools. I am not asking them to to be Harvard, MIT, Caltech, Oxford or Cambridge. I want what I want.


  • richardmitnick 12:35 pm on May 28, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Chemistry, Graphene Layered with Magnetic Materials Could Drive Ultrathin Spintronics, , , ,   

    From Lawrence Berkeley National Lab: “Graphene Layered with Magnetic Materials Could Drive Ultrathin Spintronics” 

    Berkeley Logo

    From Lawrence Berkeley National Lab

    May 28, 2018
    Glenn Roberts Jr.
    (510) 486-5582

    Measurements at Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry reveal exotic spin properties that could lead to new form of data storage.

    Andreas Schmid, left, and Gong Chen are pictured here with the spin-polarized low-energy electron microscopy (SPLEEM) instrument at Berkeley Lab. The insturment was integral to measurements of ultrathin samples that included graphene and magnetic materials. (Credit: Roy Kaltschmidt/Berkeley Lab)

    Researchers working at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) coupled graphene, a monolayer form of carbon, with thin layers of magnetic materials like cobalt and nickel to produce exotic behavior in electrons that could be useful for next-generation computing applications.

    The work was performed in collaboration with French scientists including Nobel Laureate Albert Fert, an emeritus professor at Paris-Sud University and scientific director for a research laboratory in France. The team performed key measurements at Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry, a DOE Office of Science User Facility focused on nanoscience research.

    LBNL Molecular Foundry – No image credits found

    Fert shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2007 for his work in understanding a magnetic effect in multilayer materials that led to new technology for reading data in hard drives, for example, and gave rise to a new field studying how to exploit and control a fundamental property known as “spin” in electrons to drive a new type of low-energy, high-speed computer memory and logic technology known as spintronics.

    A view from above (top) and the side (bottom) of materials composed of a layer of graphene (top) with cobalt (bottom left) and with nickel (bottom right). The spin configurations are represented by arrows. (Credit: Nature Materials, May 28, 2018; DOI: 10.1038/s41563-018-0079-4)

    In this latest work, published online May 28 in the journal Nature Materials, the research team showed how that spin property – analogous to a compass needle that can be tuned to face either north or south – is affected by the interaction of graphene with the magnetic layers.

    The researchers found that the material’s electronic and magnetic properties create tiny swirling patterns where the layers meet, and this effect gives scientists hope for controlling the direction of these swirls and tapping this effect for a form of spintronics applications known as “spin-orbitronics” in ultrathin materials. The ultimate goal is to quickly and efficiently store and manipulate data at very small scales, and without the heat buildup that is a common hiccup for miniaturizing computing devices.

    Typically, researchers working to produce this behavior for electrons in materials have coupled heavy and expensive metals like platinum and tantalum with magnetic materials to achieve such effects, but graphene offers a potentially revolutionary alternative since it is ultrathin, lightweight, has very high electrical conductivity, and can also serve as a protective layer for corrosion-prone magnetic materials.

    “You could think about replacing computer hard disks with all solid state devices – no moving parts – using electrical signals alone,” said Andreas Schmid, a staff scientist at the Molecular Foundry who participated in the research. “Part of the goal is to get lower power-consumption and non-volatile data storage.”

    The latest research represents an early step toward this goal, Schmid noted, and a next step is to control nanoscale magnetic features, called skyrmions, which can exhibit a property known as chirality that makes them swirl in either a clockwise or counterclockwise direction.

    In more conventional layered materials, electrons traveling through the materials can act like an “electron wind” that changes magnetic structures like a pile of leaves blown by a strong wind, Schmid said.

    But with the new graphene-layered material, its strong electron spin effects can drive magnetic textures of opposite chirality in different directions as a result of the “spin Hall effect,” which explains how electrical currents can affect spin and vice versa. If that chirality can be universally aligned across a material and flipped in a controlled way, researchers could use it to process data.

    “Calculations by other team members show that if you take different magnetic materials and graphene and build a multilayer stack of many repeating structures, then this phenomenon and effect could possibly be very powerfully amplified,” Schmid said.

    In these images developed using the SPLEEM instrument at Berkeley Lab, the orientation of magnetization in samples containing cobalt (Co) and ruthenium (Ru) is represented with white arrows. The image at left shows how the orientation is altered when a layer of graphene (“Gr”) is added. The scale bar at the lower right of both images is 1 micron, or 1 millionths of a meter. (Credit: Berkeley Lab)

    To measure the layered material, scientists applied spin-polarized low-energy electron microscopy (SPLEEM) using an instrument at the Molecular Foundry’s National Center for Electron Microscopy. It is one of just a handful of specialized devices around the world that allow scientists to combine different images to essentially map the orientations of a sample’s 3-D magnetization profile (or vector), revealing a its “spin textures.”

    The research team also created the samples using the same SPLEEM instrument through a precise process known as molecular beam epitaxy, and separately studied the samples using other forms of electron-beam probing techniques.

    Gong Chen, a co-lead author who participated in the study as a postdoctoral researcher at the Molecular Foundry and is now an assistant project scientist in the UC Davis Physics Department, said the collaboration sprang out of a discussion with French scientists at a conference in 2016 – both groups had independently been working on similar research and realized the synergy of working together.

    While the effects that researchers have now observed in the latest experiments had been discussed decades ago in previous journal articles, Chen noted that the concept of using an atomically thin material like graphene in place of heavy elements to generate those effects was a new concept.

    “It has only recently become a hot topic,” Chen said. “This effect in thin films had been ignored for a long time. This type of multilayer stacking is really stable and robust.”

    Using skyrmions could be revolutionary for data processing, he said, because information can potentially be stored at much higher densities than is possible with conventional technologies, and with much lower power usage.

    Molecular Foundry researchers are now working to form the graphene-magnetic multilayer material on an insulator or semiconductor to bring it closer to potential applications, Schmid said.

    Researchers from Grenoble Alps University; Paris-Sud University; a joint center that includes the French National Center for Scientific Research, Thales Physics Lab, Paris-Sud University, and Paris-Saclay University in France; University of California, Davis; the Chinese Academy of Sciences; Nuclear Technology Development Center (CDTN), Federal University of Minas Gerais, and Federal University de Lavras in Brazil participated in the study.

    The work was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science; the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Program; the U.S. National Science Foundation; the University of California Office of the President Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives; Brazil’s CAPES, CNPq and FAPEMIG programs; and the 1000 Talents Program for Young Scientists of China and Ningbo Program.

    See the full article here .



    Stem Education Coalition

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  • richardmitnick 2:57 pm on May 8, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Chemistry, , , ,   

    From Symmetry: “Leveling the playing field” 

    Symmetry Mag
    From Symmetry

    Photo by Eleanor Starkman

    Ali Sundermier

    [When I read this article, my first reaction was that this is all worthless. I have been running a series in this blog which highlights “Women in STEM” in all of the phases that the expression implies. The simple fact is that there is and continues to be and will continue to be gender bias in the physical sciences (and probably elsewhere, but this is my area of choice). This is certainly unfair to women, but it is also unfair to all of mankind. We are losing a lot of great and powerful minds and voices as we try to push the future of knowledge and quality of life for all. So I am doing the post. But in all fields men need to call on and respect women if things are to improve. I personally see no evidence of this. As long as women only get to talk to women there will be no progress.]

    Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics aims to encourage more women and gender minorities to pursue careers in physics and improve diversity in the field.

    Nicole Pfiester, an engineering grad student at Tufts University, says she has been interested in physics since she was a child. She says she loves learning how things work, and physics provides a foundation for doing just that.

    But when Pfiester began pursuing a degree in physics as an undergraduate at Purdue University in 2006, she had a hard time feeling like she belonged in the male-dominated field.

    “In a class of about 30 physics students,” she says, “I think two of us were women. I just always stood out. I was kind of shy back then and much more inclined to open up to other women than I was to men, especially in study groups. Not being around people I could relate to, while it didn’t make things impossible, definitely made things more difficult.”

    In 2008, two years into her undergraduate career, Pfiester attended a conference at the University of Michigan that was designed to address this very issue. The meeting was part of the Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics, or CUWiP, a collection of annual three-day regional conferences to give undergraduate women a sense of belonging and motivate them to continue in the field.

    Pfiester says it was amazing to see so many female physicists in the same room and to learn that they had all gone through similar experiences. It inspired her and the other students she was with to start their own Women in Physics chapter at Purdue. Since then, the school has hosted two separate CUWiP events, in 2011 and 2015.

    “Just seeing that there are other people like you doing what it is you want to do is really powerful,” Pfiester says. “It can really help you get through some difficult moments where it’s really easy, especially in college, to feel like you don’t belong. When you see other people experiencing the same struggles and, even more importantly, you see role models who look and talk like you, you realize that this is something you can do, too. I always left those conferences really energized and ready to get back into it.”

    CUWiP was founded in 2006 when two graduate students at the University of Southern California realized that only 21 percent of US undergraduates in physics were women, a percentage that dropped even further in physics with career progression. In the 12 years since then, the percentage of undergraduate physics degrees going to women in the US has not grown, but CUWiP has. What began as one conference with 27 attendees has developed into a string of conferences held at sites across the country, as well as in Canada and the UK, with more than 1500 attendees per year. Since the American Physical Society took the conference under its umbrella in 2012, the number of participants has continued to grow every year.

    The conferences are supported by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and the host institutions. Most student transportation to the conferences is almost covered by the students’ home institutions, and APS provides extensive administrative support. In addition, local organizing committees contribute a significant volunteer effort.

    “We want to provide women, gender minorities and anyone who attends the conference access to information and resources that are going to help them continue in science careers,” says Pearl Sandick, a dark-matter physicist at the University of Utah and chair of the National Organizing Committee for CUWiP.

    Some of the goals of the conference, Sandick says, are to make sure people leave with a greater sense of community, identify themselves more as physicists, become more aware of gender issues in physics, and feel valued and respected in their field. They accomplish this through workshops and panels featuring accomplished female physicists in a broad range of professions.

    Before the beginning of the shared video keynote talk, attendees at each CUWiP site cheer and wave on video. This gives a sense of the national scale of the conference and the huge number of people involved.
    Courtesy of Columbia University

    “Often students come to the conference and are very discouraged,” says past chair Daniela Bortoletto, a high-energy physicist at the University of Oxford who organizes CUWiP in the UK. “But then they meet these extremely accomplished scientists who tell the stories of their lives, and they learn that everybody struggles at different steps, everybody gets discouraged at some point, and there are ups and downs in everyone’s careers. I think it’s valuable to see that. The students walk out of the conference with a lot more confidence.”

    Through CUWiP, the organizers hope to equip students to make informed decisions about their education and expose them to the kinds of career opportunities that are open to them as physics majors, whether it means going to grad school or going into industry or science policy.

    “Not every student in physics is aware that physicists do all kinds of things,” says Kate Scholberg, a neutrino physicist at Duke and past chair. “Everybody who has been a physics undergrad gets the question, ‘What are you going to do with that?’ We want to show students there’s a lot more out there than grad school and help them expand their professional networks.”

    They also reach back to try to make conditions better for the next generations of physicists.

    At the 2018 conference, Hope Marks, now a senior at Utah State University majoring in physics, participated in a workshop in which she wrote a letter to her high school physics teacher, who she says really sparked her interest in the field.

    “I really liked the experiments we did and talking about some of the modern discoveries of physics,” she says. “I loved how physics allows us to explore the world from particles even smaller than atoms to literally the entire universe.”

    The workshop was meant to encourage high school science and math teachers to support women in their classes.

    One of the challenges to organizing the conferences, says Pat Burchat, an observational cosmologist at Stanford University and past chair, is to build experiences that are engaging and accessible for undergraduate women.

    “The tendency of organizers is naturally to think about the kinds of conferences they go to,” says Burchat says, “which usually consist of a bunch of research talks, often full of people sitting passively listening to someone talk. We want to make sure CUWiP consists of a lot of interactive sessions and workshops to keep the students engaged.”

    Candace Bryan, a physics major at the University of Utah who has wanted to be an astronomer since elementary school, says one of the most encouraging parts of the conference was learning about imposter syndrome, which occurs when someone believes that they have made it to where they are only by chance and don’t feel deserving of their achievements.

    “Science can be such an intimidating field,” she says. “It was the first time I’d ever heard that phrase, and it was really freeing to hear about it and know that so many others felt the same way. Every single person in that room raised their hand when they asked, ‘Who here has experienced imposter syndrome?’ That was really powerful. It helped me to try to move past that and improve awareness.”

    Women feeling imposter syndrome sometimes interpret their struggles as a sign that they don’t belong in physics, Bryan says.

    “It’s important to support women in physics and make sure they know there are other women out there who are struggling with the same things,” she says.

    “It was really inspirational for everyone to see how far they had come and receive encouragement to keep going. It was really nice to have that feeling after conference of ‘I can go to that class and kill it,’ or ‘I can take that test and not feel like I’m going to fail.’ And if you do fail, it’s OK, because everyone else has at some point. The important thing is to keep going.”

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Stem Education Coalition

    Symmetry is a joint Fermilab/SLAC publication.

  • richardmitnick 1:27 pm on May 7, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Chemistry, Elysia chlorotica,   

    From Rutgers University: “Solar-Powered Sea Slugs Shed Light on Search for Perpetual Green Energy” 

    Rutgers smaller
    Our Great Seal.

    From Rutgers University

    May 2, 2018

    Todd Bates


    The sea slug Elysia chlorotica steals millions of green-colored plastids, which are like tiny solar panels, from algae.
    Photo: Karen N. Pelletreau/University of Maine

    Near-shore animal becomes plantlike after pilfering tiny solar panels and storing them in its gut.

    In an amazing achievement akin to adding solar panels to your body, a northeast sea slug sucks raw materials from algae to provide its lifetime supply of solar-powered energy, according to a study by Rutgers University–New Brunswick and other scientists.

    “It’s a remarkable feat because it’s highly unusual for an animal to behave like a plant and survive solely on photosynthesis,” said Debashish Bhattacharya, senior author of the study and distinguished professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology at Rutgers–New Brunswick. “The broader implication is in the field of artificial photosynthesis. That is, if we can figure out how the slug maintains stolen, isolated plastids to fix carbon without the plant nucleus, then maybe we can also harness isolated plastids for eternity as green machines to create bioproducts or energy. The existing paradigm is that to make green energy, we need the plant or alga to run the photosynthetic organelle, but the slug shows us that this does not have to be the case.”

    The sea slug Elysia chlorotica, a mollusk that can grow to more than two inches long, has been found in the intertidal zone between Nova Scotia, Canada, and Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, as well as in Florida. Juvenile sea slugs eat the nontoxic brown alga Vaucheria litorea and become photosynthetic – or solar-powered – after stealing millions of algal plastids, which are like tiny solar panels, and storing them in their gut lining, according to the study published online in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.

    Photosynthesis is when algae and plants use sunlight to create chemical energy (sugars) from carbon dioxide and water. The brown alga’s plastids are photosynthetic organelles (like the organs in animals and people) with chlorophyll, a green pigment that absorbs light.

    YouTube video of the sea slug Elysia chlorotica by Mary S. Tyler and Mary E. Rumpho

    This particular alga is an ideal food source because it does not have walls between adjoining cells in its body and is essentially a long tube loaded with nuclei and plastids, Bhattacharya said. “When the sea slug makes a hole in the outer cell wall, it can suck out the cell contents and gather all of the algal plastids at once,” he said.

    Based on studies of other sea slugs, some scientists have argued that they steal and store plastids as food to be digested during hard times, like camels that store fat in their humps, Bhattacharya said. This study showed that’s not the case for solar-powered Elysia chlorotica.

    This microscopic image shows stolen algal plastids (in green) and lipids from algae (in yellow) inside the sea slug’s digestive system.
    Photo: Karen N. Pelletreau/University of Maine

    “It has this remarkable ability to steal these algal plastids, stop feeding and survive off the photosynthesis from the algae for the next six to eight months,” he said.

    The team of Rutgers and other scientists used RNA sequencing (gene expression) to test their solar energy supply hypothesis. The data show that the slug responds actively to the stolen plastids by protecting them from digestion and turning on animal genes to utilize the algal photosynthetic products. Their findings mirror those found in corals that maintain dinoflagellates (also algae) – as intact cells and not stolen plastids – in symbiotic relationships.

    Whereas Elysia chlorotica stores plastids, the algal nuclei that are also sucked in don’t survive, and scientists still don’t know how the sea slug maintains the plastids and photosynthesis for months without the nuclei that are normally needed to control their function, Bhattacharya said.

    The study’s coauthors include Pavel Vaysberg, a former undergrad in biotechnology in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences; Dana C. Price, associate research professor in the Department of Plant Biology; and researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia, University of Maine and University of Connecticut.

    See the full article here .

    Follow Rutgers Research here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, is a leading national research university and the state’s preeminent, comprehensive public institution of higher education. Rutgers is dedicated to teaching that meets the highest standards of excellence; to conducting research that breaks new ground; and to providing services, solutions, and clinical care that help individuals and the local, national, and global communities where they live.

    Founded in 1766, Rutgers teaches across the full educational spectrum: preschool to precollege; undergraduate to graduate; postdoctoral fellowships to residencies; and continuing education for professional and personal advancement.

    As a ’67 graduate of University college, second in my class, I am proud to be a member of

    Alpha Sigma Lamda, National Honor Society of non-tradional students.

  • richardmitnick 10:25 am on May 3, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: A Series of New Videos for Users, , , Chemistry,   

    From EMSL: “A Series of New Videos for Users” 



    at PNNL

    EMSL recently posted a collection of eight new videos on its YouTube channel and website to help users improve their research.

    The short videos – around two minutes each – feature EMSL scientists describing how certain capabilities can advance users’ projects, particularly those relevant to DOE Office of Biological and Environmental Research.

    Featured scientists and capabilities include:

    Amir Ahkami and Kim Hixson – Plant Sciences Laboratory
    Mark Engelhard – X-ray Photoelectron Spectrometer
    Libor Kovarik – Environmental Transmission Electron Microscope
    Scott Lea – Helium Ion Microscope
    Malak Tfaily – 21 Tesla FTICR Mass Spectrometer
    Tamas Varga – X-ray Computed Tomography
    Zheming Wang – Sum-frequency Generation Vibrational Spectroscopy
    Zihua Zhu – Time of Flight Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry

    Or check out all the videos under EMSL’s “Accelerate Your Research” YouTube playlist.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    EMSL campus

    Welcome to EMSL. EMSL is a national scientific user facility that is funded and sponsored by DOE’s Office of Biological & Environmental Research. As a user facility, our scientific capabilities – people, instruments and facilities – are available for use by the global research community. We support BER’s mission to provide innovative solutions to the nation’s environmental and energy production challenges in areas such as atmospheric aerosols, feedstocks, global carbon cycling, biogeochemistry, subsurface science and energy materials.

    A deep understanding of molecular-level processes is critical to gaining a predictive, systems-level understanding of the impacts of aerosols and terrestrial systems on climate change; making clean, affordable, abundant energy; and cleaning up our legacy wastes. Visit our Science page to learn how EMSL leads in these areas, through our Science Themes.

    Team’s in Our DNA. We approach science differently than many institutions. We believe in – and have proven – the value of drawing together members of the scientific community and assembling the people, resources and facilities to solve problems. It’s in our DNA, since our founder Dr. Wiley’s initial call to create a user facility that would facilitate “synergism between the physical, mathematical, and life sciences.” We integrate experts across disciplines; experiment with theory; and our user program proposal calls with other user facilities.

    We proudly provide an enriched, customized experience that allows users to connect with our people and capabilities in an environment where we focus on solving problems. We collaborate with researchers from academia, government labs and industry, and from nearly all 50 states and from other countries.

  • richardmitnick 9:52 pm on April 29, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Chemistry, , , , , , ,   

    From Symmetry : “Putting the puzzle together” 

    Symmetry Mag

    [While this article was written for a journal specializing in Physics, everything in it is true for all Basic and Applied Science. Soemwhere in my archives is an article from Natural History Magazine by Stephen Jay Gould in which he states that many new scientific ideas arise out of the existence of the devices built by technicians for the last experimental project. So it will be with the HL-LHC and the ILC.]

    11/21/17 [in social media today]
    Ali Sundermier

    Photos by Fermilab and CERN

    Successful physics collaborations rely on cooperation between people from many different disciplines.

    So, you want to start a physics experiment. Maybe you want to follow hints of an as yet unseen particle. Or maybe you want to learn something new about a mysterious process in the universe. Either way, your next step is to find people who can help you.

    In large science collaborations, such as the ATLAS and CMS experiments at the Large Hadron Collider; the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE); and Fermilab’s NOvA, hundreds to thousands of people spread out across many institutions and countries keep things operating smoothly. Whether they’re senior scientists, engineers, technicians or administrators, each of them has an important role to play.

    CERN/ATLAS detector

    CERN CMS detector


    CERN/LHC Map

    FNAL LBNF/DUNE from FNAL to SURF, Lead, South Dakota, USA

    FNAL DUNE Argon tank at SURF

    Surf-Dune/LBNF Caverns at Sanford

    SURF building in Lead SD USA

    CERN LHC Tunnel

    CERN LHC particles

    FNAL NOvA Near Detector

    FNAL/NOvA experiment map

    Think of it like a jigsaw puzzle: This list will give you an idea about how their work fits together to create the big picture.

    Dreaming up the experiment

    Many particle physics experiments begin with a fundamental question. Why do objects have mass? Or, why is the universe made of matter?

    When scientists encounter these big, seemingly inscrutable questions, part of their job is to identify possible ways to answer them. A large part of this is breaking down the big questions into a program of smaller, answerable questions.

    In the case of the LHC, scientists who wondered about things such as undiscovered particles and the origin of mass designed a 27-kilometer particle collider and four giant detectors to learn more.

    Each scientist in a collaboration brings their own unique perspective and skill set to the table, whether it’s providing an understanding of the physics or offering expertise in operations or detector design.

    CERN/ALICE Detector

    CERN/LHCb detector

    (ATLAS and CMS detectors are depicted above.]

    Perfecting the design

    Once scientists have an idea about the experiment they want to do and the approach they want to take, it’s the job of the engineers to turn the concepts into pieces of hardware that can be built, function and meet the experiment’s requirements.

    For example, engineers might have to figure out how the experiment should be supported mechanically or how to connect all the electrical systems and make signals available in a detector.

    In the case of NOvA [depicted above], which investigates neutrino oscillations, scientists needed a detector that was huge and free of dense materials, which made conventional construction techniques unworkable. They had to work with engineers who could understand plastic as a building material so they could be confident about using it to build a gigantic, free-standing structure that fit the requirements.

    Keeping things running

    Technicians come in when the experimental apparatus and instrumentation are being built and often have complementary knowledge about what they’re working on. They build the hardware and coordinate the integration of components. It’s their work that, in the end, pulls everything together so the experiment functions.

    Once the experiment is built, technicians are responsible for keeping everything humming along at top performance. When physicists notice things going wrong with the detectors, the technicians usually have first eyes on it. It’s a vital task, since every second counts when it comes to collecting data.

    Doing the heavy lifting

    When designing and constructing the experiment, the scientists also recruit postdocs and grad students, who do the bulk of the data analysis.

    Grad students, who are still working on their PhDs, have to balance their own coursework with the real-world experiment, learning their way around running simulations, analyzing data and developing algorithms. They also make sure that every part of the detector is working up to par. In addition, they may work in instrumentation, developing new instruments and electronics.

    Postdocs, on the other hand, have already worked on experiments and obtained their PhDs, so they typically assume more of a leadership role in these collaborations. Part of their role is to guide the grad students in a sort of apprenticeship.

    Postdocs are often in charge of certain types of analysis or detector operations. Because they’ve worked on previous experiments, they have a tool kit and experience to draw on to solve problems when they crop up.

    Postdocs and grad students often work with technicians and engineers to ensure everything is properly built.

    Making the data accessible

    The LHC produces about 25 petabytes of data every year, or 25 billion megabytes. If the average size of an MP3 is about one megabyte per minute, then it would take almost 50,000 years to play 25 petabytes of songs. In physics collaborations, computer scientists and engineers have to organize the computing networks to ensure against bottlenecks or traffic jams when this massive amount of data is shared.

    They also maintain the software framework, which takes care of data handling and archiving. Say a scientist wants to know what happened on Feb. 27, 2015, at 3 a.m. Computing experts have to be able to go into the data catalogue and find, among the petabytes of data, where that event is stored.

    Sorting out the logistics

    One often overlooked group is the administrators.

    It’s up to the administrators to sequence all the different projects so they get the funds they need to make progress. They sort the logistics to make sure the right people are in the right places working on the right things.

    Administrators manage a group of people who are constantly coming and going. Is someone traveling to a site from a different institution? The administrators make sure that people get connected, work out itineraries and schedule where visiting scientists will live and work.

    Administrators also organize collaboration meetings, transfer money, and procure and ship equipment.

    Translating discoveries to the public

    While every single person involved in an experiment has a responsibility to effectively communicate with others, it can be challenging to communicate about research in a way that’s relatable to people from different backgrounds. That’s where the professional communicators come in.

    Communicators can translate a paper full of jargon and complicated science into a fascinating story that the rest of the world can get excited about.

    In addition to doing outreach for the public and writing press releases and pitching stories for the media, communicators offer coaching to people in a scientific collaboration on how to relay the science to a general audience, which is important for generating public interest. [Everyone involved need to remember that all of this work is publicly funded with tax dollars, except in places like China where it is virtually the same thing.]

    [One of the main reasons I started this blog was that I found out that 30% of the scientists on the LHC are USA scientists and the US press does not write about science except the rare person like Dennis Overbye of the New York Times. I had seen the PBS video Creation of the Universe by Timothy Ferris (music by Brian Eno); The PBS video The Atom Smashers, centered on but not limited to the Tevatron at Fermilab and hints of what was to come in Europe in stead of Waxahachie, Texas; and The Big Bang Machine, with (Sir) Brian Cox, all about the LHC, with a nod back to the Tevatron. Someone at Quantum Diaries put me on to the Greybook which lists every institution in the world processing data from the LHC. I collected as much of their social media as I could and that was my start. Of course by now my source list has grown considerably and my subjects have also increased.]

    Fitting the pieces

    Now that you know many of the pieces that must fall into place for a large physics collaboration to be successful, also know that none of these roles is performed in a vacuum. For an experiment to work, there must be a synergy of tasks: Each relies on the success of the others. Now go start that experiment!

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Symmetry is a joint Fermilab/SLAC publication.

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