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  • richardmitnick 12:51 pm on February 19, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Going where the diversity is", , Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, Creating a baseline is vital because it will help determine which areas are of high priority for conserving certain species and which species might already be threatened., , Harvard Gazette, New England has twice the land area of Panama but half the number of bird species and 10 times fewer reptiles and amphibians., Panamanian field expeditions examine how species persevere in face of climate change.   

    From Harvard Gazette: “Going where the diversity is” 

    Harvard University

    From Harvard Gazette

    February 12, 2020
    Deborah Blackwell
    Photos by Ben Goulet-Scott/Harvard University Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology

    Panamanian field expeditions examine how species persevere in face of climate change.

    1
    Student researchers Ben Goulet-Scott (left), Sylvia Kinosian, and Jacob Suissa, reach the crest of a hill overlooking the Mamoní Valley Preserve while carrying 90 species of ferns on their backs.

    Last month, two graduate students from the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University traveled to one of the most species-rich landscapes in the world: a remote strip of tropical rainforest at the narrowest point in the Central American country of Panama.

    Ben Goulet-Scott, a Ph.D. candidate in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology (OEB) and a fellow in the Arboretum’s Hopkins Lab, and Jacob Suissa, OEB Ph.D. candidate in the Friedman Lab at the Arboretum, hope their research in the Mamoní Valley Preserve in Panama will increase our understanding of how biodiversity can persevere in the face of climate change, deforestation, and human disturbance.

    The 20-square-mile land conservancy on the isthmus separating Central and South America teems with life, making the condensed rainforest habitat a perfect location for their research project because of the vast number of known and potentially undiscovered species living there, Goulet-Scott said.

    3
    Student members of the Mamoní Valley Preserve Natural History Project, Jacob Suissa (left), Sylvia Kinosian, Brian Vergara, Jose Palacios, and Christian López examine the rhizome vasculature of a fern species during their first collection trip in the rainforest.

    “New England has twice the land area of Panama, but half the number of bird species, and 10 times fewer reptiles and amphibians,” he said. “This particular location contains species that migrate or move from north to south and get funneled into this very narrow area, concentrating an incredible amount of biodiversity.”

    The Mamoní Valley Preserve (MVP) Natural History Project is an ongoing series of student-led field expeditions, organized by Goulet-Scott in 2017. The project is designed to establish a baseline understanding of how the different land-use conditions within the preserve — from fully deforested cattle pasture to recovering secondary forest and intact primary forest — affect patterns of diversity.

    By bringing early career biologists like himself to the site for fieldwork, Goulet-Scott is building a list of species and observations to eventually make available in a central repository for scientists and researchers focused on conservation.

    4
    5
    Ferns stems are collected. University of Panama student Brian Vergara examines a species of Selaginella through a magnifying glass.

    6
    Gabriel Salazar, a Mamoní Valley Preserve guide (left), and student members of the expedition Jose Palacios, Ben Goulet-Scott, and Jacob Suissa stop to rest after a long day of hiking through the Mamoní Valley Preserve.

    “Identifying every species there is actually probably not possible, but that’s how we think about the mission of these trips,” he said. “By bringing groups of students who have expertise in identifying different types of organisms, we work to document all the different species we see in each type of habitat.”

    Creating a baseline is vital because it will help determine which areas are of high priority for conserving certain species, and which species might already be threatened.

    “It’s an interesting exploration,” Goulet-Scott said. “The more frequently we do biodiversity studies, the better we are able to track how conservation is going in this area.”

    The MVP Natural History Project intrigued Robert Brooker ’89, M.B.A. ’97, who learned about Goulet-Scott’s research and funded this expedition.

    “I met Ben on a trip there a year ago and was excited about what he was doing and wanted to support it,” said Brooker, the chairman of WIN-911 Software in Austin, Texas. “Ben and his colleagues are very interested in this work and I want to help a group of creative and intelligent students to accomplish whatever they want to accomplish to make the world a better place.”

    The trip in January was Goulet-Scott’s third expedition for the project. The first, in 2017, included four doctoral students from Harvard, with a taxonomic focus on reptiles and amphibians. During the second trip in 2018, seven Harvard Ph.D. students and one from the University of Texas collected data on insects, specifically butterflies and moths.

    7
    “Identifying every species there is actually probably not possible, but that’s how we think about the mission of these trips,” said Ben Goulet-Scott.

    This year’s team — two Harvard Ph.D. students, one Harvard undergraduate, a Ph.D. student from the University of Utah, and three undergraduates from the University of Panama — investigated ferns, the second-most-diverse lineage of vascular plants behind flowering plants. Ferns are a focal point for Suissa, who investigated an ancient lineage of fern relatives as a research technician at the Smithsonian Institution Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. At Harvard he studies the evolution of the water transport system in ferns, which is a building block for the downstream analysis of climate change.

    “Studying ferns in locations like the preserve furthers our understanding of global patterns of biodiversity and can help inform conservation practices in the future,” he said. “We need to know what is where in order to protect it.”

    Suissa has done fieldwork in Costa Rica four times, but this was his first time in Panama, where there may be as many as 700 different species of plant in a 100 square kilometer region. He said this intense diversity in such a small space is an important educational opportunity for students studying tropical biology. Survey findings from each MVP expedition are also used to create educational materials such as field guides and brochures for the preserve, as well as for youth environmental education.

    Christian Lopez, a graduate student in botany from the University of Panama, said he appreciated being part of this MVP Natural History Project expedition, on which he was able to find species he had never previously seen in the wild.


    Arboretum Arboretum Fellows explore biodiversity in Panama. Video produced by Ben Goulet-Scott.

    “This collaboration with Harvard University and its doctoral students has been a great learning opportunity for me, and the exchange of knowledge went both ways,” he said.

    Other team members included Jon Hamilton ’20, environmental science and public policy; Sylvia Kinosian, Ph.D. candidate in biology, Utah State University; and Jose Palacios and Brian Vergara, undergraduate students studying biology at the Universidad de Panama. Goulet-Scott said one of the most exciting things about the MVP Natural History Project is that it is student-run.

    “There’s no one more experienced than a grad student involved, so it’s all about being self-organized,” he said. “We are in charge of figuring out all the logistics and planning how we’re going to spend our day, what the goals of the trip are, and what equipment we need to bring.”

    8
    9
    Student researchers Jose Palacios (back), Jacob Suissa, and Sylvia Kinosian, hike through the rainforest carrying bags of ferns collected in Cerro Brewster (Dianmayala) in the Mamoní Valley Preserve. The team traveled over unpaved, bumpy roads and through 15 river crossings.

    Conducting field work in the rainforest is not for the weak of body or spirit. Sweltering heat and humidity, unpredictable weather, potential for infection, deadly snakes and spiders, and even the chiggers that burrow into waistbands and armpits can impact the best-prepared researcher. The team traveled in the beds of pickup trucks over unpaved, bumpy roads and through 15 river crossings. One of their trucks slid off of a riverbank and got stuck, partially submerged. Once a fallen tree blocked their passage until they helped local farmers chop it up with machetes.

    The weeklong expedition included challenging hikes in pouring rain while carrying heavy packs full of equipment and trash bags full of plant specimens. The students hiked up a 900-meter mountain, felt their way through the wet cloud mist of an elfin forest, and bathed in a pristine waterfall. Suissa avoided stepping on a deadly fer-de-lance viper thanks only to one of the local guides. But his first trip to the neotropics as an undergraduate was enough to change the trajectory of his career.

    10
    Guide Gabriel Salazar takes a moment of rest overlooking the top of Cerro Brewster (Dianmayala) after a three-hour intense uphill hike.

    On this expedition, Suissa collected more than 100 fern stems, spanning their evolutionary tree. The group’s efforts yielded 170 specimens and an estimated 160 species, including rare and hybrid ferns and lycophytes — unexpected and exciting findings for the researchers, Goulet-Scott said.

    Lider Sucre, M.B.A. ’97, CEO of Mamoní 100 (one of the three organizations involved in protecting the Mamoní Valley), said the MVP History Project is a catalyst to bigger and deeper opportunities for the future of global science.

    “For three years now we’ve been seeing that the Mamoní Valley Natural History Project that Harvard University students have led and been engaged with is an incredibly important part of how we give greater substance to the biodiversity that lives here,” he said. “It is a unique keystone location matched by nothing else, a crossroads to so many lifeforms, and they have been incredibly lucky with their exceptionally rare finds with wildlife that is not usually seen.”

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Harvard University campus
    Harvard University is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, established in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was named after the College’s first benefactor, the young minister John Harvard of Charlestown, who upon his death in 1638 left his library and half his estate to the institution. A statue of John Harvard stands today in front of University Hall in Harvard Yard, and is perhaps the University’s best known landmark.

    Harvard University has 12 degree-granting Schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The University has grown from nine students with a single master to an enrollment of more than 20,000 degree candidates including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. There are more than 360,000 living alumni in the U.S. and over 190 other countries.

     
  • richardmitnick 9:54 am on January 29, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Translating black holes to the public — in 25 languages", , , , , Harvard Gazette, TED videos   

    From Harvard Gazette: “Translating black holes to the public — in 25 languages” 

    Harvard University

    From Harvard Gazette

    Astrophysicist postdoc works to make arcane science understandable.

    1
    The first-ever image of a black hole. Credit: EHT collaboration

    EHT map

    Now iconic image of Katie Bouman-Harvard Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory after the image of Messier 87 was achieved. Headed from Harvard to Caltech as an Assistant Professor. On the committee for the next iteration of the EHT .

    Can the Earth be swallowed by a black hole? And can black holes — with their immense destructive power — themselves be destroyed?

    Millions apparently want to know, and a Harvard postdoctoral fellow and black-hole expert is providing the answers in educational videos that have been translated into more than two dozen languages and viewed more than 4 million times.

    The fellow is Fabio Pacucci, a theoretical astrophysicist studying the universe’s very earliest black holes. Pacucci, whose appointment is held jointly with Harvard’s Black Hole Initiative and the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian, is developing theories to explain observations of distant, ultra-bright quasars — powered by the supermassive black holes that occupy the center of galaxies — that arose a few hundred million years after the Big Bang, some 13 billion years ago.

    “It seems they formed too quickly, too rapidly, to be explained by our current idea of the universe,” Pacucci said.

    In addition to figuring out astronomical mysteries, however, Pacucci has a strong interest in science education.

    “I believe it’s a very important part of the job of a scientist,” Pacucci said. “It’s part of being curious. If you want future scientists … you need people able to explain things that may be difficult.”


    Black holes are among the most destructive objects in the universe. Anything that gets too close to a black hole, be it an asteroid, planet, or star, risks being torn apart by its extreme gravitational field. By some accounts, the universe may eventually consist entirely of black holes. But is there any way to destroy a black hole? Fabio Pacucci digs into the possibility. Directed by Provincia Studio, narrated by Addison Anderson, music by Stephen LaRosa.

    Pacucci began doing public outreach while studying for his Ph.D. at the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa three years ago and continued while conducting research at Yale University before coming to Harvard. He said having to break down difficult concepts to their basic elements in order to explain them helps his own understanding as well.

    “By explaining, I understand better,” Pacucci said. “Sometimes simple ideas are not so simple, and they spark new solutions for old problems.”

    Over the last two years, Pacucci has worked with TEDEd, the educational arm of the nonprofit idea platform TED, to develop and disseminate videos about black-hole science. Pacucci’s work with TEDEd began when a friend sent him a TEDEd video. He’d never heard of the group, and explored further, finding out that they work with educators to produce scripts on particular topics, then send the result to animators and voice-over artists who pull the video together. Pacucci sent them an email suggesting he produce something about black holes, leading with questions designed to engage the audience so they can learn.

    “I gave a different perspective. Instead of talking about black holes in general, asking the question ‘Could Earth be swallowed by a black hole?’ is a way to make people curious about where they [the black holes] are, how big they are,” Pacucci said. “The risks for our planet are negligible, but they learn a lot.”


    Today, one of the biggest paradoxes in the universe threatens to unravel modern science: the black hole information paradox. Every object in the universe is composed of particles with unique quantum properties and even if an object is destroyed, its quantum information is never permanently deleted. But what happens to that information when an object enters a black hole? Fabio Pacucci investigates. Directed by Artrake Studio, narrated by Addison Anderson, music by WORKPLAYWORK / Cem Misirlioglu.

    That first video, “Could the Earth be Swallowed by a Black Hole?,” was released in September 2018, took six months to produce, and runs just under five minutes. It’s been translated into 25 languages and drawn 1.4 million views. The most popular of the three produced so far — and three more are in the works — is “Can a Black Hole Be Destroyed?,” which has received 1.6 million views, collected 26,000 likes, and generated more than 1,000 comments. The third and most recent, “Hawking’s Black Hole Paradox Explained,” came out in October and deals with the late black-hole expert Stephen Hawking’s theory that black holes, which swallow everything in their path, slowly evaporate over time. This means that the quantum information (the spin, position, velocity that defines each particle in the universe) of anything that fell into them may be lost forever, something that was thought to be impossible.

    “I think black holes have always fascinated the imagination,” said Alex Rosenthal, editorial director for TEDEd Animation. “Because of that fascination, they’re a good entry point for people to get interested in astrophysics.”

    Rosenthal works with educators like Pacucci to develop a script, and then hands the project to an array of animators around the globe. Those artists, he said, are given pretty wide leeway to bring the script to life, which gives the TEDEd videos a varied feel — and educators like Pacucci the benefit of their expertise.

    “Animators know nothing about astronomy, and I know nothing about animation,” Pacucci said.


    From asteroids capable of destroying entire species to supernovae that could exterminate life on Earth, outer space has no shortage of forces that could wreak havoc on our planet. But there’s something in space that is even more terrifying than any of these — something that wipes out everything it comes near. Fabio Pacucci examines the probability of Earth being gobbled up by a black hole. Credit: TED-Ed Animation by Astroplastique.

    TEDEd publishes about 150 videos a year, on a wide array of subjects, from math to science to history to language, Rosenthal said. For each video, TEDEd offers suggested course material to help teachers use it in the classroom.

    “We’re trying to celebrate knowledge and learning and plant the seeds of curiosity,” Rosenthal said.

    The videos are viewed widely. Pacucci said he’d recently heard from a student in Nepal whose teacher used a video in class. The lesson inspired the 14-year-old — who said he wants to be an astronomer — to email Pacucci, and they subsequently talked via Skype.

    “I think it’s a nice way to see your work being used in a positive way around the world,” Pacucci said.

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Harvard University campus
    Harvard University is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, established in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was named after the College’s first benefactor, the young minister John Harvard of Charlestown, who upon his death in 1638 left his library and half his estate to the institution. A statue of John Harvard stands today in front of University Hall in Harvard Yard, and is perhaps the University’s best known landmark.

    Harvard University has 12 degree-granting Schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The University has grown from nine students with a single master to an enrollment of more than 20,000 degree candidates including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. There are more than 360,000 living alumni in the U.S. and over 190 other countries.

     
  • richardmitnick 10:34 am on January 24, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: A nano-enabled platform developed at the center to create and deliver tiny aerosolized water nonodroplets containing non-toxic nature-inspired disinfectants wherever desired., , , , Diarrheal diseases are big killers of kids too., Harvard Chan Center for Nanotechnology and Nanotoxicology looks to improve on soap and water., Harvard Gazette, Infectious diseases are still emerging., , Microorganisms are smarter than we thought and evolving new strains.,   

    From Harvard Gazette: “Disinfecting your hands with ‘magic’” 

    Harvard University


    From Harvard Gazette

    January 23, 2020
    Alvin Powell
    Photos by Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

    1
    Nanostructures can provide an alternative for hand hygiene that is airless and waterless. “… this is like magic. You don’t see; you don’t feel; you don’t smell; but your hands are sanitized,” says Associate Professor of Aerosol Physics Philip Demokritou.

    Harvard Chan Center for Nanotechnology and Nanotoxicology looks to improve on soap and water.

    Nanosafety researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health have developed a new intervention to fight infectious disease by more effectively disinfecting the air around us, our food, our hands, and whatever else harbors the microbes that make us sick. The researchers, from the School’s Center for Nanotechnology and Nanotoxicology, were led by Associate Professor of Aerosol Physics Philip Demokritou, the center’s director, and first author Runze Huang, a postdoctoral fellow there. They used a nano-enabled platform developed at the center to create and deliver tiny, aerosolized water nonodroplets containing non-toxic, nature-inspired disinfectants wherever desired. Demokritou talked to the Gazette about the invention and its application on hand hygiene, which was described recently in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering.

    Q&A
    Philip Demokritou

    GAZETTE: Give us a quick overview of the problem you’re trying to solve.

    DEMOKRITOU: If you go back to the ’60s and the invention of many antibiotics, we thought that the chapter on infectious diseases would be closed. Of course, 60 years later, we now know that’s not true. Infectious diseases are still emerging. Microorganisms are smarter than we thought and evolving new strains. It’s a constant battle. And when I talk about infectious diseases, I’m mainly talking about airborne and foodborne diseases: For example, flu and tuberculosis are airborne diseases, respiratory diseases, which cause millions of deaths a year. Foodborne diseases also kill 500,000 people annually and cost our economy billions of dollars.

    GAZETTE: Diarrheal diseases are big killers of kids, too.

    DEMOKRITOU: It’s a big problem, especially in developing countries with fragmented health care systems.

    GAZETTE: What’s wrong with how we sanitize our hands?

    DEMOKRITOU: We hear all the time that you have to wash your hands. It’s a primary measure to reduce infectious diseases. More recently, we’re also using antiseptics. Alcohol is OK, but we are also using other chemicals like triclosan and chlorhexadine. There’s research linking these chemicals to the increase in antimicrobial resistance, among other drawbacks. In addition, some people are sensitive to frequent washes and rubbing with chemicals. That’s where new approaches come into play. So, within the last four or five years, we’ve been trying to develop nanotechnology-based interventions to fight infectious diseases.

    3
    Harvard Chan School’s Associate Professor Philip Demokritou (right) with research associate Nachiket Vaze (center) and postdoc fellow Runze Huang.

    GAZETTE: So the technology involved here — the engineered water nanostructures — is a couple of years old. What’s new is the application?

    DEMOKRITOU: We have the tools to make these engineered nanomaterials and, in this particular case, we can take water and turn it into an engineered water nanoparticle, which carries its deadly payload, primarily nontoxic, nature-inspired antimicrobials, and kills microorganisms on surfaces and in the air.

    It is fairly simple, you need 12 volts DC, and we combine that with electrospray and ionization to turn water into a nanoaerosol, in which these engineered nanostructures are suspended in the air. These water nanoparticles have unique properties because of their small size and also contain reactive oxygen species. These are hydroxyl radicals, peroxides, and are similar to what nature uses in cells to kill pathogens. These nanoparticles, by design, also carry an electric charge, which increases surface energy and reduces evaporation. That means these engineered nanostructures can remain suspended in air for hours. When the charge dissipates, they become water vapor and disappear.

    Very recently, we started using these structures as a carrier, and we can now incorporate nature-inspired antimicrobials into their chemical structure. These are not super toxic to humans. For instance, my grandmother in Greece used to disinfect her surfaces with lemon juice — citric acid. Or, in milk — and also found in tears — is another highly potent antimicrobial called lysozyme. Nisin is another nature-inspired antimicrobial that bacteria release when they’re competing with other bacteria. Nature provides us with a ton of nontoxic antimicrobials that, if we can find a way to deliver them in a targeted, precise manner, can do the job. No need to invent new and potentially toxic chemicals. Let’s go to nature’s pharmacy and shop.

    When we put these nature-inspired antimicrobials into the engineered water nanostructures, their antimicrobial potency increases dramatically. But we do that without using huge quantities of antimicrobials, about 1 percent or 2 percent by volume. Most of the engineered water nanostructure is still water.

    At this point, these engineered structures are carrying antimicrobials and are charged, and we can use the charge to direct them to surfaces by applying a weak electric field. You can also release them into the air — they’re highly mobile — and they can move around and inactivate flu virus, for example.

    GAZETTE: How would this work with food?

    DEMOKRITOU: This nano-enabled platform can be used as an intervention technology for food safety applications as well. When it comes to disinfecting our food, we’re still using archaic approaches developed in the ’50s. For instance, today we put our fresh produce into chlorine-based solutions, which leave residues that can compromise health. It leaves behind byproducts, which are toxic, and you have to find a way to deal with them as well.

    Instead, you can use the water nanoaerosols that contain nanogram levels of an active ingredient — nature-inspired and not toxic — and disinfect our food. Currently, this novel invention is being explored for use — from the farm to the fork — to enhance food safety and quality.

    3
    Source: “Inactivation of Hand Hygiene-Related Pathogens Using Engineered Water Nanostructures,” Runze Huang, Nachiket Vaze, Anand Soorneedi, Matthew D. Moore, Yalong Xue, Dhimiter Bello, Philip Demokritou

    GAZETTE: So when you use it on food, you would essentially spray the nanoparticles onto a head of lettuce, for example?

    DEMOKRITOU: It depends on the application. You can put this technology in your refrigerator, and it will kill microbes on food surfaces and in the air there and improve food safety. It will also increase shelf life, which is linked to spoilage microorganisms. You can also use this technology for air disinfection. The only thing you need is 12-volt DC, which you can power from your computer USB port. Imagine sitting on a train and you generate an invisible shield of these engineered water nanostructures that protects you and minimizes the risk of getting the flu.

    GAZETTE: If you’re on the train with a bunch of sick people?

    DEMOKRITOU: Exactly, or on an airplane, anywhere you have microorganisms. Most planes recirculate the air, and all it takes is one sick guy — he doesn’t have to be sitting next to you — to get sick. Unfortunately, that’s a big problem. The newer airplanes have filtration to remove some of these pathogens. But this is a very versatile technology that you can pretty much take with you.

    GAZETTE: Let’s talk about hand hygiene.

    DEMOKRITOU: We know hand hygiene is very important, but in addition to the drawbacks of washing with water or using chemicals, the air dryers commonly used in the bathroom environment can aerosolize microbes and put them back in the air and even back on your hands. So there is room to utilize these engineered water nanostructures and develop an alternative that is airless and waterless — because it uses picogram levels of water, your hands will never get wet.

    GAZETTE: So you’re washing your hands, using water. But they don’t get wet?

    DEMOKRITOU: Exactly. And it disinfects hands in a matter of 15–20 seconds, as indicated in our recently published study.

    GAZETTE: As far as an application goes, do you see something similar to the hand driers we all use at highway rest stops? Only, when you stick your hands in, it doesn’t blow? Do you feel anything at all?

    DEMOKRITOU: You don’t feel anything. That’s the problem; this is like magic. You don’t see; you don’t feel; you don’t smell; but your hands are sanitized.

    GAZETTE: So how do people know anything’s happened? As humans we want some sort of stimulation.

    DEMOKRITOU: We could put a light and music to entertain people, but nobody can see a 25-nanometer particle. We are excited to see that there is interest from industry to pursue commercialization of this technology for hand hygiene. We may soon have an airless, waterless apparatus that can be used across the board, though not necessarily in the bathroom environment. This can be a battery-operated device, it can be placed around airports and other spots where people don’t have time or access to water to wash their hands.

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Harvard University campus
    Harvard University is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, established in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was named after the College’s first benefactor, the young minister John Harvard of Charlestown, who upon his death in 1638 left his library and half his estate to the institution. A statue of John Harvard stands today in front of University Hall in Harvard Yard, and is perhaps the University’s best known landmark.

    Harvard University has 12 degree-granting Schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The University has grown from nine students with a single master to an enrollment of more than 20,000 degree candidates including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. There are more than 360,000 living alumni in the U.S. and over 190 other countries.

     
  • richardmitnick 8:24 pm on January 7, 2020 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "The giant in our stars", A long thin structure about 9000 light-years long and 400 light-years wide with a wave-like shape cresting 500 light-years above and below the mid-plane of our galaxy’s disk, A monolithic wave-shaped gaseous structure — the largest ever seen in our galaxy — made up of interconnected stellar nurseries., , , , , , Gould’s Belt, Harvard Gazette, Interconnected stellar nurseries, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, The “Radcliffe Wave”, The WorldWide Telescope   

    From Harvard Gazette: “The giant in our stars” 

    Harvard University


    From Harvard Gazette

    January 7, 2020
    Mary Todd Bergman

    1
    In this illustration, the “Radcliffe Wave” data is overlaid on an image of the Milky Way galaxy. Image from the WorldWide Telescope, courtesy of Alyssa Goodman

    Interconnected stellar nurseries form the largest gaseous structure ever observed in the Milky Way galaxy.

    Astronomers at Harvard University have discovered a monolithic, wave-shaped gaseous structure — the largest ever seen in our galaxy — made up of interconnected stellar nurseries. Dubbed the “Radcliffe Wave” in honor of the collaboration’s home base, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the discovery transforms a 150-year-old vision of nearby stellar nurseries as an expanding ring into one featuring an undulating, star-forming filament that reaches trillions of miles above and below the galactic disk.

    The work, published in Nature, was enabled by a new analysis of data from the European Space Agency’s Gaia spacecraft, launched in 2013 with the mission of precisely measuring the position, distance, and motion of the stars.

    ESA/GAIA satellite

    The research team’s innovative approach combined the super-accurate data from Gaia with other measurements to construct a detailed, 3D map of interstellar matter in the Milky Way, and noticed an unexpected pattern in the spiral arm closest to Earth.

    The researchers discovered a long, thin structure, about 9,000 light-years long and 400 light-years wide, with a wave-like shape, cresting 500 light-years above and below the mid-plane of our galaxy’s disk. The Wave includes many of the stellar nurseries that were thought to form part of “Gould’s Belt,” a band of star-forming regions believed to be oriented in a ring around the sun.

    “No astronomer expected that we live next to a giant, wave-like collection of gas — or that it forms the local arm of the Milky Way,” said Alyssa Goodman, the Robert Wheeler Willson Professor of Applied Astronomy, research associate at the Smithsonian Institution, and co-director of the Science Program at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. “We were completely shocked when we first realized how long and straight the Radcliffe Wave is, looking down on it from above in 3D — but how sinusoidal it is when viewed from Earth. The Wave’s very existence is forcing us to rethink our understanding of the Milky Way’s 3D structure.”

    “Gould and Herschel both observed bright stars forming in an arc projected on the sky, so for a long time, people have been trying to figure out if these molecular clouds actually form a ring in 3D,” said João Alves, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Vienna and 2018‒2019 Radcliffe Fellow. “Instead, what we’ve observed is the largest coherent gas structure we know of in the galaxy, organized not in a ring but in a massive, undulating filament. The sun lies only 500 light-years from the Wave at its closest point. It’s been right in front of our eyes all the time, but we couldn’t see it until now.”

    2
    “No astronomer expected that we live next to a giant, wave-like collection of gas — or that it forms the local arm of the Milky Way,” said Harvard Professor Alyssa Goodman (left), standing with graduate student Catherine Zucker, a key member of the team. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

    The new, 3D map shows our galactic neighborhood in a new light, giving researchers a revised view of the Milky Way and opening the door to other major discoveries.

    “We don’t know what causes this shape, but it could be like a ripple in a pond, as if something extraordinarily massive landed in our galaxy,” said Alves. “What we do know is that our sun interacts with this structure. It passed by a festival of supernovae as it crossed Orion 13 million years ago, and in another 13 million years it will cross the structure again, sort of like we are ‘surfing the wave.’”

    Disentangling structures in the “dusty” galactic neighborhood within which we sit is a longstanding challenge in astronomy. In earlier studies, the research group of Douglas Finkbeiner, professor of astronomy and physics at Harvard, pioneered advanced statistical techniques to map the 3D distribution of dust using vast surveys of stars’ colors. Armed with new data from Gaia, Harvard graduate students Catherine Zucker and Joshua Speagle recently augmented these techniques, dramatically improving astronomers’ ability to measure distances to star-forming regions. That work, led by Zucker, is published in The Astrophysical Journal.

    “We suspected there might be larger structures that we just couldn’t put in context. So, to create an accurate map of our solar neighborhood, we combined observations from space telescopes like Gaia with astrostatistics, data visualization, and numerical simulations,” explained Zucker, a National Science Foundation graduate fellow and a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Astronomy at Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

    ____________________________________________

    “The sun lies only 500 light-years from the Wave at its closest point. It’s been right in front of our eyes all the time, but we couldn’t see it until now.”
    — João Alves, Radcliffe Fellow 2018-19
    ____________________________________________

    Zucker played a key role in compiling the largest-ever catalog of accurate distances to local stellar nurseries — the basis for the 3D map used in the study. She has set herself the goal of painting a new picture of the Milky Way, near and far.

    “We pulled this team together so we could go beyond processing and tabulating the data to actively visualizing it — not just for ourselves but for everyone. Now, we can literally see the Milky Way with new eyes,” she said.

    “Studying stellar births is complicated by imperfect data. We risk getting the details wrong, because if you’re confused about distance, you’re confused about size,” said Finkbeiner.

    Goodman agreed, “All of the stars in the universe, including our sun, are formed in dynamic, collapsing, clouds of gas and dust. But determining how much mass the clouds have, how large they are, has been difficult, because these properties depend on how far away the cloud is.”

    According to Goodman, scientists have been studying dense clouds of gas and dust between the stars for more than 100 years, zooming in on these regions with ever-higher resolution. Before Gaia, there was no data set expansive enough to reveal the galaxy’s structure on large scales. Since its launch in 2013, the space observatory has enabled measurements of the distances to one billion stars in the Milky Way.


    The Rise of the Milky Way | João Alves || Radcliffe Institute

    The flood of data from Gaia served as the perfect testbed for innovative, new statistical methods that reveal the shape of local stellar nurseries and their connection to the Milky Way’s galactic structure. Alves came to Radcliffe to work with Zucker and Goodman, as they anticipated the flood of data from Gaia would enhance the Finkbeiner group’s “3D Dust Mapping” technology enough to reveal the distances of local stellar nurseries. But they had no idea they would find the Radcliffe Wave.

    The Finkbeiner, Alves, and Goodman groups collaborated closely on this data-science effort. The Finkbeiner group developed the statistical framework needed to infer the 3D distribution of the dust clouds; the Alves group contributed deep expertise on stars, star formation, and Gaia; and the Goodman group developed the 3D visualizations and analytic framework, called “glue,” that allowed the Radcliffe Wave to be seen, explored, and quantitatively described.

    The articles, analyzed data (on the Harvard Dataverse), statistical code, interactive figures, videos, and WorldWide Telescope tour are all freely available to everyone through a dedicated website.

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Harvard University campus
    Harvard is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, established in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was named after the College’s first benefactor, the young minister John Harvard of Charlestown, who upon his death in 1638 left his library and half his estate to the institution. A statue of John Harvard stands today in front of University Hall in Harvard Yard, and is perhaps the University’s best known landmark.

    Harvard University has 12 degree-granting Schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The University has grown from nine students with a single master to an enrollment of more than 20,000 degree candidates including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. There are more than 360,000 living alumni in the U.S. and over 190 other countries.

     
  • richardmitnick 6:42 am on December 23, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Harvard Gazette, The lowest temperature chemical reactions of any currently available technology.   

    From Harvard Gazette: “Catching lightning in a bottle” 

    Harvard University


    From Harvard Gazette

    December 20, 2019
    Caitlin McDermott-Murphy

    Researchers in an ultracold environment get a first look at exactly what happens during a chemical reaction.

    1
    Assistant Professor Kang-Kuen Ni and Ming-Guang Hu (not pictured), a postdoctoral scholar in the Ni lab, performed the coldest reaction in the known universe. Photos by Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

    Call it a serendipity dividend. A big one.

    Kang-Kuen Ni set out to do something that had never been done before. The Morris Kahn Associate Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology and of Physics and a pioneer of ultracold chemistry had built a new apparatus that could achieve the lowest temperature chemical reactions of any currently available technology. Then she and her team successfully forced two ultracold molecules to meet and react, breaking and forming the coldest bonds in the history of molecular couplings.

    While they were doing that, something totally unanticipated and important also happened.

    In such intense cold — 500 nanokelvin, or just a few millionths of a degree above absolute zero — the molecules slowed to such sluggish speeds that Ni and her team saw something no one has ever seen before: the moment when two molecules meet to form two new molecules. In essence, they captured a chemical reaction in its most critical and elusive act.

    “Because [the molecules] are so cold,” Ni said, “now we kind of have a bottleneck effect.”

    Chemical reactions are responsible for literally everything: from making soap, pharmaceuticals, and energy to cooking, digesting, and breathing. Understanding how they work at a fundamental level could help researchers design reactions the world has never seen. Maybe, for example, novel molecular couplings could enable more-efficient energy production, new materials like mold-proof walls, or even better building blocks for quantum computers. The world offers an almost infinite number of potential combinations to test.

    And Ni’s lab appears to have a head start on the enabling technology.

    “Probably in the next couple of years, we are the only lab that can do this,” said Ming-Guang Hu, a postdoctoral scholar in the Ni lab and first author on their paper published this month in Science.

    2
    It took the team five years to construct the apparatus capable of achieving this feat.

    It all began five years ago when Ni set out to build her new apparatus. She wasn’t sure what it would yield, but thought it might tell them something new about atoms, molecules, and chemical reactions. And that wasn’t the only uncertainty:She couldn’t be sure her intricate engineering with what superficially appears to be a chaotic mass of lasers would work.

    In her previous work, Ni used colder and colder temperatures to forge molecules from atoms that would otherwise never react. Cooled to such extremes, atoms and molecules slow to a quantum crawl, their lowest possible energy state. There, Ni can manipulate molecular interactions with utmost precision. But even she could only see the start of her reactions: Two molecules go in, but then what? What happened in the middle and the end was a black hole only theories could try to explain.

    Chemical reactions occur in just a thousandth of a billionth of a second, better known in the scientific world as a picosecond. In the last 20 years, scientists have used ultra-fast lasers like fast-action cameras, snapping rapid images of reactions as they occur. But they can’t capture the whole picture. “Most of the time,” Ni said, “you just see that the reactants disappear and the products appear in a time that you can measure. There was no direct measurement of what actually happened in the middle.” Until now.

    Ni’s ultracold temperatures force reactions to a comparatively numbed speed. When she and her team reacted two potassium rubidium molecules — chosen for their pliability —the ultracold temperatures forced the molecules to linger in the intermediate stage for mere millionths of a second. So-called microseconds may seem short, but that’s millions of times longer than ever achieved, and enough time for Ni and her team to investigate the phase when bonds break and form — in essence, how one molecule turns into another.

    With this intimate vision, Ni said she and her team can test theories that predict what happens in a reaction’s black hole and confirm if they got it right. Then, she can craft new theories, using actual data to more precisely predict what happens during other chemical reactions, even those that take place in the mysterious quantum realm.

    Already, the team is exploring what else they can learn in their ultracold test bed. Next, for example, they could manipulate the reactants, exciting them before they react to see how their heightened energy impacts the outcome. Or they could even influence the reaction as it occurs, nudging one molecule or the other. “With our controllability, this time window is long enough, we can probe,” Hu said. “Now, with this apparatus, we can think about this. Without this technique, without this paper, we cannot even think about this.”

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Harvard University campus
    Harvard University is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, established in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was named after the College’s first benefactor, the young minister John Harvard of Charlestown, who upon his death in 1638 left his library and half his estate to the institution. A statue of John Harvard stands today in front of University Hall in Harvard Yard, and is perhaps the University’s best known landmark.

    Harvard University has 12 degree-granting Schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The University has grown from nine students with a single master to an enrollment of more than 20,000 degree candidates including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. There are more than 360,000 living alumni in the U.S. and over 190 other countries.

     
  • richardmitnick 1:10 pm on December 6, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "A platform for stable quantum computing, a playground for exotic physics", , , Harvard Gazette, , , Topological insulators are materials that can conduct electricity on their surface or edge but not in the middle.   

    From Harvard Gazette: “A platform for stable quantum computing, a playground for exotic physics” 

    Harvard University


    From Harvard Gazette

    December 5, 2019
    Leah Burrows

    1
    A close-up view of a quantum computer. Courtesy of Harvard SEAS

    Recent research settles a long-standing debate.

    Move over Godzilla vs. King Kong. This is the crossover event you’ve been waiting for — at least if you’re a condensed-matter physicist. Harvard University researchers have demonstrated the first material that can have both strongly correlated electron interactions and topological properties.

    Not sure what that means? Don’t worry, we’ll walk you through it. But the important thing to know is that this discovery not only paves the way for more stable quantum computing, but also creates an entirely new platform to explore the wild world of exotic physics.

    The research was published in Nature Physics.

    Let’s start with the basics. Topological insulators are materials that can conduct electricity on their surface or edge, but not in the middle. The strange thing about these materials is that no matter how you cut them, the surface will always be conducting and the middle always insulating. These materials offer a playground for fundamental physics, and are also promising for a number of applications in special types of electronics and quantum computing.

    Since the discovery of topological insulators, researchers around the world have been working to identify materials with these powerful properties.

    “A recent boom in condensed-matter physics has come from discovering materials with topologically protected properties,” said Harris Pirie, a graduate student in the Department of Physics and first author of the paper.

    One potential material, samarium hexaboride, has been at the center of a fierce debate among condensed-matter physicists for more than a decade. At issue: Is it or isn’t it a topological insulator?

    “Over the last 10 years, a bunch of papers have come out saying yes and a bunch of papers have come out saying no,” said Pirie. “The crux of the issue is that most topological materials don’t have strongly interacting electrons, meaning the electrons move too quickly to feel each other. But samarium hexaboride does, meaning that electrons inside this material slow down enough to interact strongly. In this realm, the theory gets fairly speculative and it’s been unclear whether or not it’s possible for materials with strongly interacting properties to also be topological. As experimentalists, we’ve been largely operating blind with materials like this.”

    In order to settle the debate and figure out, once and for all, whether it’s possible to have both strongly interacting and topological properties, the researchers first needed to find a well-ordered patch of samarium hexaboride surface on which to perform the experiment.

    2
    A simulation of electrons scattering off atomic defects in samarium hexaboride. By observing the waves, the researchers could figure out the momentum of the electrons in relation to their energy. Video courtesy of Harris Pirie/Harvard University

    It was no easy task, considering the majority of the material surface is a craggy, disordered mess. The researchers used ultrahigh precision measurement tools developed in the lab of Jenny Hoffman, the Clowes Professor of Science and senior author of the paper, to find a suitable, atomic-scale patch of samarium hexaboride.

    Next, the team set out to determine if the material was topologically insulating by sending waves of electrons through the material and scattering them off of atomic defects — like dropping a pebble into a pond. By observing the waves, the researchers could figure out the momentum of the electrons in relation to their energy.

    “We found that the momentum of the electrons is directly proportional to their energy, which is the smoking gun of a topological insulator,” said Pirie. “It’s really exciting to be finally moving into this intersection of interacting physics and topological physics. We don’t know what we’ll find here.”

    As it relates to quantum computing, strongly interacting topological materials may be able to protect qubits from forgetting their quantum state, a process called decoherence.

    “If we could encode the quantum information in a topologically protected state, it is less susceptible to external noise that can accidentally switch the qubit,” said Hoffman. “Microsoft already has a large team pursuing topological quantum computation in composite materials and nanostructures. Our work demonstrates a first in a single topological material that harnesses strong electron interactions that might eventually be used for topological quantum computing.”

    “The next step will be to use the combination of topologically protected quantum states and strong interactions to engineer novel quantum states of matter, such as topological superconductors,” said Dirk Morr, professor of physics at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and the senior theorist on the paper. “Their extraordinary properties could open unprecedented possibilities for the implementation of topological quantum bits.”

    This research was co-authored by Yu Liu, Anjan Soumyanarayanan, Pengcheng Chen, Yang He, M.M. Yee, P.F.S. Rosa, J.D. Thompson, Dae-Jeong Kim, Z. Fisk, Xiangfeng Wang, Johnpierre Paglione, and M.H. Hamidian.

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Harvard University campus
    Harvard University is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, established in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was named after the College’s first benefactor, the young minister John Harvard of Charlestown, who upon his death in 1638 left his library and half his estate to the institution. A statue of John Harvard stands today in front of University Hall in Harvard Yard, and is perhaps the University’s best known landmark.

    Harvard University has 12 degree-granting Schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The University has grown from nine students with a single master to an enrollment of more than 20,000 degree candidates including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. There are more than 360,000 living alumni in the U.S. and over 190 other countries.

     
  • richardmitnick 10:54 am on November 6, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Why some people are resistant to Alzheimer’s", , , Harvard Gazette, , Researchers find gene variants that may protect against the disease., The E280A mutation in a gene called Presenilin 1 (PSEN1), The investigators suspect that carrying two copies of the APOE3ch variant may postpone the clinical onset of Alzheimer’s disease by limiting tau pathology and neurodegeneration.   

    From Harvard Gazette: “Why some people are resistant to Alzheimer’s” 

    Harvard University


    From Harvard Gazette

    November 4, 2019
    MGH News and Public Affairs

    Researchers find gene variants that may protect against the disease.

    1

    New study provides insights on why some people may be more resistant to Alzheimer’s disease than others. The findings may lead to strategies to delay or prevent the condition.

    The study was led by investigators at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), in collaboration with the University of Antioquia, Schepens Eye Research Institute of Massachusetts Eye and Ear, and Banner Alzheimer’s Institute.

    According to researchers, some people who carry mutations in genes known to cause early onset Alzheimer’s disease do not show signs of the condition until a very old age — much later than expected. Studying these individuals may reveal insights on gene variants that reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

    In their Nature Medicine study, Yakeel T. Quiroz, a clinical neuropsychologist and neuroimaging researcher at MGH, and her colleagues describe one such patient, from a large extended family with more than 6,000 living members from Colombia, who did not develop mild cognitive impairment until her 70s, nearly three decades after the typical age of onset.

    Like her relatives who showed signs of dementia in their 40s, the patient carried the E280A mutation in a gene called Presenilin 1 (PSEN1), which has been shown to cause early onset Alzheimer’s disease. She also had two copies of a gene variation called ChristChurch, named after the New Zealand city where it was first found in the APOE3 gene (APOE3ch). The team was unable to identify any additional family members who had two copies of this variation who also carried the PSEN1 E280A mutation. In an analysis of 117 kindred members, 6 percent had one copy of the APOE3ch mutation, including four PSEN1 E280A mutation carriers who showed signs of mild cognitive impairment at the average age of 45 years.

    Imaging tests revealed only minor neurodegeneration in the patient’s brain. Surprisingly, the patient had unusually high brain levels of amyloid beta deposits, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease; however, the amount of tau tangles — another hallmark of the disease — was relatively limited.

    The investigators suspect that carrying two copies of the APOE3ch variant may postpone the clinical onset of Alzheimer’s disease by limiting tau pathology and neurodegeneration.

    “This single case opens a new door for treatments of Alzheimer’s disease, based more on the resistance to Alzheimer’s pathology rather than on the cause of the disease. In other words, not necessarily focusing on reduction of pathology, as it has been done traditionally in the field, but instead promoting resistance even in the face of significant brain pathology,” said Quiroz.

    APOE3 is one form of the APOE gene, the major susceptibility gene for late-onset Alzheimer’s. The APOE gene provides instructions for making a protein called apolipoprotein E, which is involved in the metabolism of fats in the body. Experiments revealed that the APOE3ch variant may reduce the ability of apolipoprotein E to bind to certain sugars called heparan sulphate proteoglycans (HSPG), which have been implicated in processes involving amyloid beta and tau proteins.

    “This finding suggests that artificially modulating the binding of APOE to HSPG could have potential benefits for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, even in the context of high levels of amyloid pathology,” said co–lead author Joseph F. Arboleda-Velasquez of the Schepens Eye Research Institute.

    The investigators suspect that carrying two copies of the APOE3ch variant may postpone the clinical onset of Alzheimer’s disease by limiting tau pathology and neurodegeneration.

    “This single case opens a new door for treatments of Alzheimer’s disease, based more on the resistance to Alzheimer’s pathology rather than on the cause of the disease. In other words, not necessarily focusing on reduction of pathology, as it has been done traditionally in the field, but instead promoting resistance even in the face of significant brain pathology,” said Quiroz.

    APOE3 is one form of the APOE gene, the major susceptibility gene for late-onset Alzheimer’s. The APOE gene provides instructions for making a protein called apolipoprotein E, which is involved in the metabolism of fats in the body. Experiments revealed that the APOE3ch variant may reduce the ability of apolipoprotein E to bind to certain sugars called heparan sulphate proteoglycans (HSPG), which have been implicated in processes involving amyloid beta and tau proteins.

    “This finding suggests that artificially modulating the binding of APOE to HSPG could have potential benefits for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, even in the context of high levels of amyloid pathology,” said co–lead author Joseph F. Arboleda-Velasquez of the Schepens Eye Research Institute.

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Harvard University campus
    Harvard University is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, established in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was named after the College’s first benefactor, the young minister John Harvard of Charlestown, who upon his death in 1638 left his library and half his estate to the institution. A statue of John Harvard stands today in front of University Hall in Harvard Yard, and is perhaps the University’s best known landmark.

    Harvard University has 12 degree-granting Schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The University has grown from nine students with a single master to an enrollment of more than 20,000 degree candidates including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. There are more than 360,000 living alumni in the U.S. and over 190 other countries.

     
  • richardmitnick 12:14 pm on October 30, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Riding the quantum computing ‘wave’", , Google and "quantum supremacy", Harvard and MIT already built a quantum machine of similar power to Google’s and used it to solve scientific problems., Harvard Gazette, Harvard Quantum Initiative, , Professor of Physics Mikhail Lukin   

    From Harvard Gazette: “Riding the quantum computing ‘wave’” 

    Harvard University


    From Harvard Gazette

    October 29, 2019
    Alvin Powell

    1
    An artist’s drawing of Google’s quantum computer chip, called Sycamore, and its surrounding hardware. Forest Stearns/Google AI Quantum Artist in Residence.

    Harvard Quantum Initiative Co-Director Lukin on ‘quantum supremacy’ and Google’s announcement of its achievement.

    The computing world was abuzz last week after Google scientists announced they’d passed a key threshold in which an experimental quantum computer solved a problem in just minutes that a classical computer would take years —10,000 by Google’s count — to solve. The pronouncement, later disputed by scientists at rival IBM, was widely hailed as proof that quantum computers, which use the mysterious properties of matter at extremely small scales to greatly advance processing power, can — as theorized — exhibit “quantum supremacy” and vastly outperform even the world’s most powerful classical computers.

    At Harvard, George Vasmer Leverett Professor of Physics Mikhail Lukin watched the announcement with interest, in part because he — together with collaborators from Harvard and MIT — already built a quantum machine of similar power to Google’s and used it to solve scientific problems. Lukin, who co-directs the Harvard Quantum Initiative, spoke with the Gazette about the week’s quantum computing news.

    Q&A
    Mikhail Lukin

    GAZETTE: What is “quantum supremacy” and why is it important in talking about quantum computing?

    LUKIN: Let me first describe quantum computers. They constitute a new approach to processing information, one that makes use of the laws of quantum mechanics, the discipline of physics that describes the behavior of particles at a microscopic level, of atoms, of nuclei.

    GAZETTE: Does it take advantage of differences in behavior at those very tiny scales from what we might expect in the macro world?

    LUKIN: It takes advantage of differences in behavior and in particular one very strange feature of the quantum world. That is that objects can be in several different states — in several different places — at once. That sounds very bizarre, but in the quantum world, an object can be in your office and in my office at the same time. Even though it sounds strange, this idea of quantum “superposition” has been confirmed and it’s been routinely studied in experiments involving microscopic objects like single atoms, for example, over the past century.

    GAZETTE: Now, this is not a new idea, or even — at this point — a revolutionary idea because it’s actually used in certain applications that people see every day, right?

    LUKIN: Yes. Even certain technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are based on this idea of superposition. So when you get an MRI in the hospital, superposition is being used. Superposition seems bizarre because these effects do not occur in the macroscopic world. Quantum superpositions of microscopic objects are extremely fragile and susceptible to any kind of environmental perturbation. A single photon hitting quantum superposition can cause it to collapse. That means when you look at it, you will always find an object in one place or another. The idea of quantum computing is to make use of these superpositions for massively parallel processing of information. If you were to use a classical computer, you’d code your information in a string of zeroes and ones. In a quantum computer, you can prepare a state that has all sorts of combinations of zeros and ones, it can be in one state, and in another state, and in yet another state all at once. Then, as long as it’s quantum mechanical, as long as it can preserve this superposition, it can process all of these inputs simultaneously. And that massive parallelism gives rise to a very powerful computer.

    GAZETTE: What is the threshold of “quantum supremacy” that Google said it passed last week?

    LUKIN: This massive parallelism enables one to exponentially speed up quantum computation over classical computers. Quantum bits are the analog of bits in a classical computer, and are used to store a superposition state. So, even if a quantum computer has just 50 quantum bits, which seems very small, it is very challenging for a classical machine to simulate it. And the reason is that even 50 qubits in a superposition state can store and process exponentially many more combinations at once. If you had a system of 300 qubits, you could store and process more bits of information than the number of particles in the universe. So this idea of supremacy is that you build a system large enough, quantum enough, and programmable enough that you can execute operations that the best possible classical computer just cannot simulate in any kind of reasonable time.

    GAZETTE: In this specific case we’re talking about a quantum computer with 53 qubits. How big is it physically? How would it compare to, say, a supercomputer?

    LUKIN: In terms of physical size? It is a room full of equipment. Something like the Summit supercomputer in Oak Ridge National Lab. It’s probably comparable.

    GAZETTE: But it has exponentially more computing power?

    LUKIN: That’s the hope. If you have a 50-qubit system and run it long enough to execute a general enough algorithm, it will be very, very challenging for the best classical computers to catch up. And if they can catch up, you could just add a few more qubits — above 60, 70, or 100 — and it’s very clear that it will be completely impossible for a classical computer to catch up.

    GAZETTE: IBM, which is a competitor, cast doubt on Google’s achievement. Do you have a sense as to who’s right or who’s wrong here?

    IBM iconic image of Quantum computer

    LUKIN: Google’s achievement is quite impressive. But it points to one specific calculation and says, “We crossed the threshold.” I think, in practice, it’s not quite like that. There is no doubt that once quantum computers become large enough, classical computers cannot simulate them. That’s very clear. It is also clear that 50 qubits is a sort of threshold and the system that they built is very competitive with the best systems that exist around in the world, including one here at Harvard. What they’ve done is a great example of how to test for this so-called supremacy idea. However, 50 or so qubit systems already have been used in other labs, including ours, for the past two or so years. There have been a number of experiments done with systems of that scale which classical computers have a hard time catching up to. In this sense, I would describe what’s going on now as not a singular event but more like a wave that is coming. It might be that IBM folks found an algorithm to efficiently simulate on a classical computer what the Google quantum computer did. I’m not surprised by that, but at the same time, it’s very, very clear that we’re entering, as a community, a place where no one has ever been before, meaning we can do things much faster than the classical computers. It is actually happening.

    ___________________________________________

    “Even Google’s team will agree the real goal now is to show some examples where quantum computers can be useful either for scientific applications or for general purpose applications.”
    — Mikhail Lukin

    ___________________________________________

    GAZETTE: What was the problem that Google was trying to solve?

    LUKIN: The specific problem that Google is trying to solve is akin to generating random numbers in a quantum way. The algorithm they’re using is not designed to be practically useful. So in this practical sense, quantum supremacy by itself, to me, does not mean very much. But what will be really exciting — and this is a key goal in the field — is achieving that quantum advantage for things that are useful. You execute the algorithm and actually learn something. There are two types of useful quantum advantage, one for scientific applications and the other for general purpose applications. Google’s paper [Nature] is something in between.

    2
    “Google’s achievement is quite impressive. But it points to one specific calculation and says, ‘We crossed the threshold.’ I think, in practice, it’s not quite like that,” says Professor Mikhail Lukin, co-director of Harvard’s Quantum Initiative. Photo by Sophie Park

    GAZETTE: Purely for demonstration purposes?

    LUKIN: Yes, it is a demonstration experiment. However, in the domain of scientific applications, it is pretty clear that quantum computers will be very useful for simulating complex quantum systems. This is what we have focused on here at Harvard. In fact, using our system, I believe that we’ve already crossed into the domain where we have useful quantum advantage for scientific applications. Using our 51-qubit system, we have made one of the largest quantum superposition states, and we have already discovered new phenomena that have not been known previously, and that you would not be able to uncover using brute force classical simulations. In fact, here at Harvard, in different labs, we have at least two systems which have either entered or are entering this domain [of quantum supremacy] for scientific applications. And I think it’s very significant, because these experiments are already creating value for the scientific community.

    GAZETTE: So, if the definition of quantum supremacy is to do things much faster or that classical computers can’t do, you’re there already?

    LUKIN: That’s right. You could argue that these are not problems that people on the street will care about, and I’m sensitive to that. Another goal, which is exciting and I think we are now in a unique position to tackle, is to look for quantum advantage with practical relevance. That may be one of IBM’s points, and I agree with it. Even Google’s team will agree the real goal now is to show some examples where quantum computers can be useful either for scientific applications or for general purpose applications.

    GAZETTE: Do you see a future where quantum computers replace classical computers in everyday life, in smartphones and laptops? Or is it going to be the case where quantum computers will be very valuable for specific things and classical computers will continue to be valuable for other things?

    LUKIN: It’s very hard to predict the future. But my best guess would be that it’s the latter: that quantum computers would be used as accelerators for problems that are very hard for classical machines.

    GAZETTE: So, when you think about big problems that are really hard, are you thinking about things like modeling climate or fusion research, or are you talking about other things like what you use yours for: to understand something horribly complex like quantum mechanics itself?

    LUKIN: I’m tempted to answer “all of the above.” There are different classes of problems. For example, understanding complex materials and modeling chemical reactions are problems that are fundamentally quantum mechanical, which is why classical computers have such a hard time solving them. Understanding how complex quantum systems behave far away from the equilibrium and looking for new phases of matter, these are the kinds of problems for which we are already using a quantum advantage. This work has already stimulated many research directions. There are other problems that push the boundaries of what it is possible to do with conventional computers, like modeling the climate or complex optimization — finding optimal arrangements for networks, for signal routing, finance, logistics, artificial intelligence. It’s our hope that quantum computers will eventually accelerate calculations relevant to these problems. Another famous problem is factoring, related to encryption. When you encode your credit card numbers, you currently use so-called RSA encryption, which is based on the difficulty of problems like finding the factors of a large number. For problems like these there are quantum algorithms that can be exponentially faster than the best-known classical algorithms. At the same time, quantum computers can actually be used to improve security of communications channels — this is another example of a useful quantum advantage.

    GAZETTE: Can you talk about some of the challenges you see ahead?

    LUKIN: It is important to emphasize two points: We still do not know how to build truly large-scale quantum machines, containing many thousands of qubits. There are several approaches to this problem that have to be investigated seriously, but we do not know at the moment what a truly large-scale quantum computer will ultimately look like. The second issue, which we have already discussed, is that we still do not know for which applications quantum computers will be most useful. This field is at a unique point where a lot of basic research still has to be done, but some systems are ready to be engineered and deployed, though at a relatively small scale.

    GAZETTE: I want to touch on the community working in this area and the Harvard Quantum Initiative. How old is it now?

    LUKIN: It’s about a year old. We have, between Harvard and MIT, a very special community of researchers looking at various aspects of this frontier. There are around 40 research groups in an extremely collaborative community that really spans these two institutions and several startup companies. Many of these groups are already world leaders in their respective disciplines and when they work together, something very special can happen. This is also a unique opportunity for educating students, who will eventually become leaders at the forefront of this exciting interdisciplinary field. Enabling these collaborations and educating a new generation of quantum scientists and engineers are the key goals of Harvard’s Quantum Initiative. Our work on quantum computers is an example of such truly collaborative projects between theorists, experimentalists, engineers, and computer scientists from both of our institutions — this is our competitive advantage, our “secret sauce.”

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Harvard University campus
    Harvard University is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, established in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was named after the College’s first benefactor, the young minister John Harvard of Charlestown, who upon his death in 1638 left his library and half his estate to the institution. A statue of John Harvard stands today in front of University Hall in Harvard Yard, and is perhaps the University’s best known landmark.

    Harvard University has 12 degree-granting Schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The University has grown from nine students with a single master to an enrollment of more than 20,000 degree candidates including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. There are more than 360,000 living alumni in the U.S. and over 190 other countries.

     
  • richardmitnick 11:10 am on October 3, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Tiny tweezers", , , Harvard Gazette, , ,   

    From Harvard Gazette: “Tiny tweezers” 

    Harvard University


    From Harvard Gazette

    October 2, 2019
    Peter Reuell
    Photos by Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer

    1

    In a first, optical tweezers give Harvard scientists the control to capture ultracold molecules.

    For most people, tweezers are a thing you’d find in a medicine cabinet or beauty salon, useful for getting rid of ingrown hairs or sculpting eyebrows.

    Those designed by John Doyle and Kang-Kuen Ni have more exotic applications.

    Using precisely focused lasers that act as “optical tweezers,” the pair have been able to capture and control individual, ultracold molecules — the eventual building-blocks of a quantum computer — and study the collisions between molecules in more detail than ever before. The work is described in a paper published in Science on Sept. 13.

    “We’re interested in doing two things,” said Doyle, the Henry B. Silsbee Professor of Physics and co-director of the Quantum Science and Engineering Initiative. “One is building up complex quantum systems, which are interesting because it turns out that if you can put together certain kinds of quantum systems they can solve problems that can’t be solved using a classical computer, including understanding advanced materials and perhaps designing new materials, or even looking at problems we haven’t thought of yet, because we haven’t had the tools.

    “The other is to actually hold these molecules so we can study the molecules themselves to get insight into their structure and the interactions between molecules,” he continued. “We can also use them to look for new particles beyond the Standard Model, perhaps explaining key cosmological questions.”

    Ni, the Morris Kahn Associate Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, explained that the work began with a cloud of molecules — in this case calcium monofluoride molecules — trapped in a small chamber. Using lasers, the team cooled the molecules to just above absolute zero, then used optical tweezers to capture them.

    3
    Harvard’s Kang-Kuen Ni (left) and John Doyle use precisely focused lasers as optical tweezers.

    “Because the molecules are very cold, they have very low kinetic energy,” Ni said. “An optical tweezer is a very tightly focused laser beam, but the molecules see it as a well, and as they move into the tweezer, they continue to be cooled and lose energy to fall to the bottom of the tweezer trap.”

    Using five beams, Ni, Doyle, and colleagues were able to hold five separate molecules in the tweezers, and demonstrate exacting control over them.

    “The challenge for molecules, and the reason we haven’t done it before, is because they have a number of degrees of freedom — they have electronic and spin states, they have vibration, they have rotation, with each molecule having its own features,” she said. “In principle, one could choose the perfect molecule for a particular use — you can say I want to use this property for one thing, and another property for something else. But the molecules, whatever they are, have to be controlled in the first place. The novelty of this work is in being able to have that individual control.”

    While capturing individual molecules in optical tweezers is a key part of potentially building what Doyle called a “quantum simulator,” the work also allowed researchers to closely observe a process that has remained largely mysterious: the collision between molecules.

    “Simple physics questions deserve answers,” Doyle said. “And a simple physics question here is, what happens when two molecules hit each other? Do they form a reaction? Do they bounce off each other? In this ultracold, quantum region … we don’t know much.

    “There are a number of very good theorists who are working hard to understand if quantum mechanics can predict what we’re going to see,” he continued. “But, of course, nothing motivates new theory like new experiments, and now we have some very nice experimental data.”

    In subsequent experiments, Ni said the team is using the optical tweezers to “steer” molecules together and study the resulting collisions.

    In separate experiments, researchers from her lab explore reactions of ultracold molecules. “We are studying these reactions at ultracold temperatures, which haven’t been achieved previously,” she said. “And we’re seeing new things.”

    Ni was also the author of a 2018 study that theorized how captured molecules, if brought close enough together, might interact, potentially enabling researchers to use them to perform quantum calculations.

    “The idea of Kang-Kuen’s paper is that we can bring these single molecules together and couple them, which is equivalent to a quantum gate, and do some processing,” Doyle said. “So that coupling could be used to perform quantum processing.”

    The current study is also noteworthy for its collaborative nature, Doyle said.

    “We talk a lot about collaboration in the Harvard Quantum Initiative and the Center for Ultracold Atoms (CUA), and the bottom line is this collaboration was driven by scientific interest, and included Wolfgang Ketterle at MIT, one of our CUA colleagues” he said. “We all have strong scientific interest in molecules, and the fact that Kang-Kuen’s lab is in chemistry and my lab is here in physics has not been a significant barrier.

    “It has been absolutely fabulous working together to solve these problems. And one of the big reasons why is when you have two faculty members from two different departments, they’re not only bringing their personal scientific perspective, they’re bringing to some degree, all the knowledge from their groups together.”

    This research was supported with funding from the National Science Foundation.

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Harvard University campus
    Harvard University is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, established in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was named after the College’s first benefactor, the young minister John Harvard of Charlestown, who upon his death in 1638 left his library and half his estate to the institution. A statue of John Harvard stands today in front of University Hall in Harvard Yard, and is perhaps the University’s best known landmark.

    Harvard University has 12 degree-granting Schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The University has grown from nine students with a single master to an enrollment of more than 20,000 degree candidates including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. There are more than 360,000 living alumni in the U.S. and over 190 other countries.

     
  • richardmitnick 8:58 am on April 22, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Before the Big Bang", , , , , Cosmic microwave background [CMB] radiation, , Harvard Gazette, Universe map Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) 2dF Galaxy Redshift Survey   

    From Harvard Gazette: “Before the Big Bang” 


    Harvard University


    From Harvard Gazette

    April 18, 2019
    Peter Reuell

    Study outlines new proposal for probing the primordial universe.

    1
    NASA WMAP

    Most everybody is familiar with the Big Bang — the notion that an impossibly hot, dense universe exploded into the one we know today. But what do we know about what came before?

    In the quest to resolve several puzzles discovered in the initial condition of the Big Bang, scientists have developed a number of theories to describe the primordial universe, the most successful of which — known as cosmic inflation — describes how the universe dramatically expanded in size in a fleeting fraction of a second right before the Big Bang.

    Inflation

    4
    Alan Guth, from Highland Park High School and M.I.T., who first proposed cosmic inflation

    HPHS Owls

    Lambda-Cold Dark Matter, Accelerated Expansion of the Universe, Big Bang-Inflation (timeline of the universe) Date 2010 Credit: Alex MittelmannColdcreation

    Alan Guth’s notes:
    5

    But as successful as the inflationary theory has been, controversies have led to active debates over the years.

    Some researchers have developed very different theories to explain the same experimental results that have supported the inflationary theory so far. In some of these theories, the primordial universe was contracting instead of expanding, and the Big Bang was thus a part of a Big Bounce.

    Some researchers — including Avi Loeb, the Frank B. Baird, Jr. Professor of Science and chair of the Astronomy Department — have raised concerns about the theory, suggesting that its seemingly endless adaptability makes it all but impossible to test.

    “The current situation for inflation is that it’s such a flexible idea … it cannot be falsified experimentally,” Loeb said. “No matter what result of the observable people set out to measure would turn out to be, there are always some models of inflation that can explain it.” Therefore, experiments can only help to nail down some model details within the framework of the inflationary theory, but cannot test the validity of the framework itself. However, falsifiability should be a hallmark of any scientific theory.

    That’s where Xingang Chen comes in.

    1
    Xingang Chen is one of the authors of a new study that examines what the universe looked like before the Big Bang. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer.

    A senior lecturer in astronomy, Chen and his collaborators for many years have been developing the idea of using something he called a “primordial standard clock” as a probe of the primordial universe. Together with Loeb and Zhong-Zhi Xianyu, a postdoctoral researcher in the Physics Department, Chen applied this idea to the noninflationary theories after he learned about an intense debate in 2017 that questioned whether inflationary theories make any predictions at all. In a paper published as an Editor’s Suggestion in Physical Review Letters, the team laid out a method that may be used to falsify the inflationary theory experimentally.

    In an effort to find some characteristic that can separate inflation from other theories, the team began by identifying the defining property of the various theories — the evolutionary history of the size of the primordial universe. “For example, during inflation, by definition the size of the universe grows exponentially,” Xianyu said. “In some alternative theories, the size of the universe contracts — in some very slowly and in some very fast.

    “The conventional observables people have proposed so far have trouble distinguishing the different theories because these observables are not directly related to this property,” he continued. “So we wanted to find what the observables are that can be linked to that defining property.”

    The signals generated by the primordial standard clock can serve this purpose.

    That clock, Chen said, is any type of massively heavy elementary particle in the energetic primordial universe. Such particles should exist in any theory, and they oscillate at some regular frequency, much like the swaying of a clock’s pendulum.

    The primordial universe was not entirely uniform. Quantum fluctuations became the seeds of the large-scale structure of today’s universe and one key source of information physicists rely on to learn about what happened before the Big Bang. The theory outlined by Chen suggests that ticks of the standard clock generated signals that were imprinted into the structure of those fluctuations. And because standard clocks in different primordial universes would leave different patterns of signals, Chen said, they may be able to determine which theory of the primordial universe is most accurate.

    “If we imagine all the information we learned so far about what happened before the Big Bang is in a roll of film frames, then the standard clock tells us how these frames should be played,” Chen explained. “Without any clock information, we do not know if the film should be played forward or backward, fast or slow — just like we are not sure if the primordial universe was inflating or contracting, and how fast it did that. This is where the problem lies. The standard clock put time stamps on each of these frames when the film was shot before the Big Bang, and tells us what this film is about.”

    The team calculated how these standard clock signals should look in noninflationary theories, and suggested how to search for them in astrophysical observations. “If a pattern of signals representing a contracting universe were found,” Xianyu said, “it would falsify the entire inflationary theory, regardless of what detailed models one constructs.”

    The success of this idea lies in experimentation. “These signals will be very subtle to detect,” Chen said. “Our proposal is that there should be some kind of massive fields that have generated these imprints and we computed their patterns, but we don’t know how large the overall amplitude of these signals is. It may be that they are very faint and very hard to detect, so that means we will have to search in many different places.

    “The cosmic microwave background [CMB] radiation is one place,” he continued. “The distribution of galaxies is another. We have already started to search for these signals and there are some interesting candidates already, but we still need more data.”

    Cosmic Background Radiation per Planck

    Universe map Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) 2dF Galaxy Redshift Survey

    See the full article here .

    five-ways-keep-your-child-safe-school-shootings

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Harvard University campus
    Harvard University is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, established in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was named after the College’s first benefactor, the young minister John Harvard of Charlestown, who upon his death in 1638 left his library and half his estate to the institution. A statue of John Harvard stands today in front of University Hall in Harvard Yard, and is perhaps the University’s best known landmark.

    Harvard University has 12 degree-granting Schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The University has grown from nine students with a single master to an enrollment of more than 20,000 degree candidates including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. There are more than 360,000 living alumni in the U.S. and over 190 other countries.

     
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