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  • richardmitnick 10:53 am on October 1, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Kavli Institute   

    From Kavli: “The Kavli Foundation and University Partners Commit $100 Million to Brain Research” 


    The Kavli Foundation

    James Cohen
    Director of Communications
    The Kavli Foundation
    (805) 278-7495

    Funds to strengthen public/private BRAIN Initiative; establish new neuroscience institutes at Johns Hopkins University, The Rockefeller University and the University of California, San Francisco.

    The Kavli Foundation and its university partners announced today the commitment of more than $100 million in new funds to enable research aimed at deepening our understanding of the brain and brain-related disorders, such as traumatic brain injuries (TBI), Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

    “We are delighted to announce this major commitment to promoting a sustained interdisciplinary effort to solve the mysteries of the brain,” said Rockell N. Hankin, Chairman of the Board of Directors at The Kavli Foundation. “By transcending the traditional boundaries of research, the new neuroscience institutes will make breakthrough discoveries possible.”

    The majority of the funds will establish three new Kavli neuroscience institutes at the Johns Hopkins University (JHU), The Rockefeller University and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). These institutes will become part of an international network of seven Kavli Institutes carrying out fundamental research in neuroscience, and a broader network of 20 Kavli Institutes dedicated to astrophysics, nanoscience, neuroscience and theoretical physics.

    The new funding will support research that moves forward the national Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, a public and private collaboration launched by President Obama in April 2013. At the time of the President’s announcement, The Kavli Foundation publicly pledged to spend $40 million in support of basic neuroscience research. “With this announcement, the Foundation more than meets this commitment,” said Robert W. Conn, President and CEO of The Kavli Foundation. “The establishment of three new institutes, along with the added investment in our existing neuroscience institutes, will further empower great scientists to help write the next chapter in neuroscience.”


    The BRAIN Initiative is supported by federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and private partners such as The Kavli Foundation.

    “The President launched the BRAIN Initiative to help unlock the mysteries of the brain, to improve our treatment of conditions like Alzheimer’s and autism, and to deepen our understanding of how we think, learn, and remember. The Kavli Foundation is responding to the President’s call to action by making investments to advance the goals of the BRAIN Initiative. I hope this spurs other private, philanthropic, and academic institutions to support this important initiative,” said John P. Holdren, PhD, assistant to the President for Science and Technology, and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

    The three new institutes are the Kavli Neuroscience Discovery Institute at JHU, the Kavli Neural Systems Institute at The Rockefeller University and the Kavli Institute for Fundamental Neuroscience at UCSF. Each of the Institutes will receive a $20 million endowment supported equally by their universities and the Foundation, along with start-up funding. The Foundation is also partnering with four other universities to build their Kavli Institute endowments further. These Institutes are at Columbia University, the University of California, San Diego, Yale University and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

    The BRAIN Initiative calls specifically for establishing new interdisciplinary collaborations aimed at creating novel new technologies for visualizing the brain at work.

    “The cultivation of diverse partnerships, with government, big and small business, non-profits and academia, is a critical step on the path to unravel the mysteries of the brain,” National Science Foundation Director France Córdova, PhD, said. “Only through continued investments in collaborative, fundamental research will we develop the innovative tools and technologies needed to help us understand the brain, which is the ultimate goal of the BRAIN Initiative. Progress in this area will bolster America’s health, economy and security.”

    In the spirit of the interdisciplinary charge of the BRAIN Initiative, the new Kavli Institutes each work across their universities and with outside partners:

    The mission of the new Kavli Neuroscience Discovery Institute (Kavli NDI) at JHU is to bring together neuroscientists, engineers and data scientists to investigate neural development, neuronal plasticity, perception and cognition. “The challenges of tomorrow will not be confined to distinct disciplines, and neither will be the solutions we create,” said Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels. “The Kavli Foundation award is a tremendous honor, because it allows Johns Hopkins to build on our history of pioneering neuroscience and catalyze new partnerships with engineers and data scienctists that will be essential to building a unified understanding of brain function.”
    At The Rockefeller University, the Kavli Neural Systems Institute (Kavli NSI) will also promote interdisciplinary research and learning to tackle the biggest questions in neuroscience through high-risk, high-reward projects and the development of new research technologies. “Kavli’s investment in neuroscience at Rockefeller will enable us to create and share new research approaches and laboratory technologies to capture the possibilities of neuroscience from the micro to the macro level,” said Rockefeller President Marc Tessier-Lavigne, PhD. “For example, Rockefeller scientists are currently developing a number of tools to push neuroscience forward, including advanced neuronal recording capabilities, sophisticated three-dimensional imaging, and non-invasive activation of neural circuits, among others.”
    The Kavli Institute for Fundamental Neuroscience (Kavli IFN) at UCSF will focus initially on understanding brain plasticity, the remarkable capacity of the brain to modify its structure and function. The Kavli IFN will partner with engineers at two San Francisco Bay-area national laboratories to develop new tools and approaches to brain research. “UCSF scientists have made some of the seminal discoveries in modern neuroscience,” said UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood, MBBS. “The Kavli Institute will sustain this rich tradition into the 21st Century.”

    “While private funding should never supplant federal funding,” said Conn, “the scientific enterprise also depends on philanthropic giving to catalyze pioneering new directions and discoveries.”

    “Understanding the complex language of brain circuits—and how they function in both health and disease—is one of the greatest challenges in science. This effort will be made possible by cooperation across disciplines to build the advanced tools necessary to probe the brain in fine detail. The commitment of both public and private organizations brings much needed firepower and interdisciplinary expertise to this endeavor,” said Walter Koroshetz, MD, director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the co-chair of the NIH BRAIN Initiative.


    The Kavli Neuroscience Discovery Institute at Johns Hopkins University

    The Kavli Neuroscience Discovery Institute (Kavli NDI) is designed to integrate neuroscience, engineering and data science — three fields in which JHU has traditionally excelled — to understand the relationship between the brain and behavior.

    In the past 25 years, rapid progress in neuroscience has yielded a wealth of new data about brain structure and function at different scales, from the level of single cells to the whole brain. But neuroscientists need to find ways to connect their knowledge of the brain across these scales. Kavli NDI plans to bring together biologists, engineers and data scientists to acquire large data sets that span spatial and temporal scales, create new technologies for measuring and manipulating neural activity, and develop theoretical models of brain function.

    “Neuroscience is inherently interdisciplinary. You can study the biochemistry of the brain, but how does that relate to circuits and behavior? It’s tough to answer that in a single laboratory. It necessitates interaction and collaboration, and with Kavli NDI, we’re trying to take that to a new level to understand the brain,” said the Institute’s inaugural director, Richard L. Huganir, PhD, professor and director of the Department of Neuroscience at The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

    The 45 initial members of Kavli NDI, including Huganir and co-director Michael I. Miller, PhD, professor of biomedical engineering, are drawn from 14 different departments in The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Engineering, Arts and Sciences, Public Health and the Applied Physics Laboratory. The leadership of Kavli NDI consists of an equally multidisciplinary executive board and steering committee.

    JHU is home to one of the first neuroscience departments in the country, which Huganir has overseen since 2006. His research focuses on the molecular and cellular mechanisms that regulate the function of synapses, the connections between neurons. Biomedical engineering as a discipline also began at JHU and its program is ranked first in the country. Kavli NDI’s co-director, Miller, develops mathematical and computational techniques to extract meaning from neuroimaging data. He is also director of the Center for Imaging Science at JHU.

    New experimental tools in neuroscience are yielding larger and more complex data sets than ever before. But the ability of neuroscientists to manage and mine these data sets to maximal effect has lagged behind, as has their ability to model the behavior of cells and circuits in the brain. Kavli NDI aims to change that by drawing on the university’s expertise in “big data” analytics, stemming in part from its involvement in the university’s Sloan Digital Sky Survey astronomy project. The new institute’s emphasis on data science — both the creation of data analysis and management tools and the emphasis on rigorous modeling, simulation and theory — sets it apart, said Miller.

    “Our ability to collect cellular neural data is growing at a Moore’s Law kind of doubling rate. At the same time, our ability to image the brain at different scales is producing massive data sets. One of the fundamental problems we all face now is how to connect the information that is being represented across scales. With this deluge of data, mathematical, algorithmic and computational models become perhaps more important today in neuroscience than ever before,” he said.

    The Kavli Neural Systems Institute at The Rockefeller University

    The Kavli Neural Systems Institute (Kavli NSI) aims to draw on The Rockefeller University’s culture of creativity and excellence to solve the most challenging problems in neuroscience, such as: how the astonishing array of cell types in the brain arise from a single fertilized egg; how the brain processes information so rapidly; and how the brain and nervous system control complex behaviors. The long-term goal is to reach an integrated understanding of the brain as a neural system that supports complex, higher cognitive functions.

    Thirty-six Rockefeller faculty members, or Heads of Laboratories, will join Kavli NSI. Among these will be faculty in the early stages of the careers and members of the Center for Studies in Physics and Biology, which was founded by neuroscientist Torsten N. Wiesel, president emeritus of The Rockefeller University, to unite physicists and biologists around common biomedical problems, particularly those of neuroscience.

    “We’re reaching a phase where many of the tools we need to make new discoveries in neuroscience are coming from the physical sciences into biology — these include the hard tools, or technologies, but also conceptual tools. Rockefeller’s neuroscience labs are in the vanguard of this change, and the new Kavli Institute will help us codify this culture,” said Cori Bargmann, PhD, Torsten N. Wiesel Professor at The Rockefeller University and head of the Lulu and Anthony Wang Laboratory of Neural Circuits and Behavior.

    Bargmann will serve as co-director of Kavli NSI with Jeffrey M. Friedman, MD, PhD, Marilyn M. Simpson Professor and head of the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics. Bargmann studies the relationship between genes, neural circuits and behavior in the worm C. elegans, a model organism in neuroscience. She served as co-chair of the National Institutes of Health working group for the BRAIN Initiative, which outlined a 12-year scientific vision for the project. In 2012, she was one of three scientists who were awarded the Kavli Prize in Neuroscience “for elucidating basic neuronal mechanisms underlying perception and decision.” Friedman’s research focuses on the molecular mechanisms that regulate food intake and body weight. He has received Lasker and Gairdner Awards for his discovery of leptin, a hormone that interacts with receptors in the brain to regulate food intake and energy expenditure. Kavli NSI’s associate director will be Leslie B. Vosshall, PhD, Robin Chemers Neustein Professor and head of the Laboratory of Neurogenetics and Behavior. She studies fruit flies and mosquitoes to understand how the nervous system processes and perceives odors.

    The convergence of neuroscience with such fields as bioengineering, nanoscience, and computer science, as well as mathematics and theoretical and experimental physics, will accelerate in the coming decades. The impact of this scientific convergence is evident in The Rockefeller University’s neuroscience laboratories, which are seeded with investigators trained in physics, engineering, and computer science.

    The Kavli NSI will enable Rockefeller scientists to fast-track their collaborations with individuals outside of the life sciences. It will also provide much-needed seed funding that will allow Rockefeller investigators to launch high-risk, high-reward research initiatives.

    “Our focus is on developing a deeper understanding of the configuration and function of the mind and brain,” says Tessier-Lavigne, Carson Family Professor and head of the Laboratory of Brain Development and Repair. “The success of the Kavli Neural Systems Institute at Rockefeller will be measured by how far we have departed from our current neuroscience research portfolio 20 years from now.”

    The Kavli Institute for Fundamental Neuroscience at the University of California, San Francisco

    The brain is dynamic, constantly changing in response to cues from an ever-changing environment. Despite this state of flux, it maintains the abilities we’ve learned and the memories we’ve made over a lifetime. The question is how is that plasticity and stability established and maintained? Members of the Kavli Institute for Fundamental Neuroscience (Kavli IFN) will seek the answers by bringing together the diverse expertise of neuroscientists, engineers and computational scientists—on campus and beyond.

    “How does the brain maintain function despite the fact that it’s constantly changing? The study of plasticity, changes in the brain, at all levels is an area where UCSF has been a leader for many, many years. At Kavli IFN, we’re going to take a problem that we’re experts in and try to unite that with the computational and technological abilities of other groups to make what we hope will be very fundamental progress,” said Loren Frank, PhD, a professor of physiology at UCSF, who will serve as the Institute’s inaugural co-director along with Roger Nicoll, MD, professor of cellular and molecular pharmacology and of physiology.

    Frank is a newly named Howard Hughes Medical Investigator who studies the neural basis of learning, memory and decision-making. His expertise spans neuroscience, statistics, engineering and computer science, and he has ongoing projects to develop new tools for monitoring and manipulating neural activity in rodents. Nicoll studies the molecular and cellular mechanisms that underlie neural plasticity. He has been a primary investigator for more than 40 years and is the recipient of numerous neuroscience awards.

    Kavli IFN’s initial 36 members are drawn from more than one dozen departments around the university and outside institutions, namely two San Francisco-area national labs, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). The goal of these partnerships is to create new and innovative technologies for brain research and to bring an engineering approach to solving problems in neuroscience.

    Kavli IFN will also establish a link with the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences based at UCSF, where researchers use the tools of mathematics, physics, computer science and engineering to make sense of the complexity of cell biology. This relatively new approach, known as systems biology, may prove valuable to neuroscientists seeking to understand the complexities of the brain.

    “I think new scientists are going to need the skills to think about complex, interacting systems such as the billions of neurons that make up the human brain. The Kavli Institute is positioned to train them in these system-building, system-identification and system-understanding tools, both with a connection to the engineers and the connection to the computational scientists,” said Frank.

    Key initiatives of Kavli IFN will be: a technology core for the development of new brain research tools; a pilot grant program to support projects that bring together neuroscientists, computer scientists, computational biologists and engineers; start-up funds for newly hired computational and theoretical neuroscientists; and mentoring and support programs for the next generation of neuroscientists.

    Kavli IFN will be overseen by an executive committee that draws its members from UCSF and the national labs, including Paul Alivisatos, a nanoscientist at LBNL and co-director of the Kavli Energy NanoSciences Institute at the University of California, Berkeley.

    “UCSF enjoys great strengths in fundamental neuroscience on our own campus, but we are also fortunate to be located in a region that fosters innovation and collaboration,” said Hawgood. “By forging partnerships with engineers, nanoscientists, and computer scientists at our local national laboratories through the Kavli IFN we can design and build the tools that will propel neuroscience research to new frontiers.”

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Stem Education Coalition
    The Kavli Foundation, based in Oxnard, California, is dedicated to the goals of advancing science for the benefit of humanity and promoting increased public understanding and support for scientists and their work.

    The Foundation’s mission is implemented through an international program of research institutes, professorships, and symposia in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience, neuroscience, and theoretical physics as well as prizes in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience.

  • richardmitnick 9:54 am on September 26, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Kavli Institute   

    From Kavli IPMU: “Discovery of potential gravitational lenses shows citizen science value” 


    The Kavli Foundation

    Kavli IPMU
    Kavli IMPU

    September 24, 2015
    Press Contact

    Motoko Kakubayashi
    Press officer, Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe
    E: press@ipmu.jp
    T: +81-4-7136-5980
    F: +81-4-7136-4941

    Research Contact

    Anupreeta More
    Project Researcher, Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe
    E: anupreeta.more@ipmu.jp

    Figure 1: 29 gravitational lens candidates found through Space Warps (credit: Space Warps, Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope Legacy Survey)

    Around 37,000 citizen scientists combed through 430,000 images to help an international team of researchers to discover 29 new gravitational lens candidates through SpaceWarps, an online classification system which guides citizen scientists to become lens hunters.

    Gravitational lens systems are massive galaxies that act like special lenses through their gravity, bending the light coming from a distant galaxy in the background and distorting its image. Dark matter around these massive galaxies also contributes to this lensing effect, and so studying these gravitational lenses gives scientists a way to study this exotic matter that emits no light.

    Since gravitational lenses are rare, only about 500 of them have been discovered to date, and the universe is enormous, it made sense for researchers to call on an extra pair of eyes to help scour through the mountain of images taken from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope [CFHT] Legacy Survey (CFHTLS).

    CFHT nterior

    Details of the discoveries will be published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

    “Computer algorithms have been somewhat successful in identifying gravitational lenses, but they can miss lensed images that appear similar to other features commonly found in galaxies, for example the blue spiral arms of a spiral galaxy,” said Anupreeta More, co-principal investigator of Space Warps and project researcher at the University of Tokyo’s Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe.

    “All that was needed was the ability to recognise patterns of shapes and colours,” said citizen scientist and paper co-author Christine Macmillan from Scotland. “It was fascinating to look at galaxies so far away, and realize that there is another behind it, even further away, whose light gets distorted in an arc.”

    Not only did this project give the public a chance to make scientific discoveries, it also gave them a chance to develop as researchers themselves. “I benefited from this project with an increase of my knowledge and some experience on making models of lenses,” said citizen scientist and paper co-author Claude Cornen from France.

    More, and two other collaborators, Phil Marshall at the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology, Stanford University, and Aprajita Verma at the Department of Physics, University of Oxford, are co-principal investigators of Space Warps, which taps into the unique strength of humans in analysing visual information essential for finding gravitational lenses.

    The team will now move onto studying some of the interesting gravitational lens candidates by observing them with telescopes to uncover some of the mysteries related to dark matter. They are keen to work together with more volunteers in the near future as they are preparing new images from other ongoing imaging surveys to discover many more lenses.

    Figure 2: How one galaxy’s image appears distorted due to another galaxy (credit: Kavli IPMU)

    Paper details

    Journal: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (MNRAS)

    Title: Space Warps II. New Gravitational Lens Candidates from the CFHTLS Discovered through Citizen Science

    To download preprint, click here.
    Useful Links

    All images can be downloaded from this page: http://web.ipmu.jp/press/20150903-SpaceWarps

    Full list of citizens who took part: http://spacewarps.org/#/projects/CFHTLS/contributors

    To download preprint of another paper also accepted to MNRAS journal that describes the details of Space Warps, click here.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Kavli IPMU (Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe) is an international research institute with English as its official language. The goal of the institute is to discover the fundamental laws of nature and to understand the Universe from the synergistic perspectives of mathematics, astronomy, and theoretical and experimental physics. The Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe (IPMU) was established in October 2007 under the World Premier International Research Center Initiative (WPI) of the Ministry of Education, Sports, Science and Technology in Japan with the University of Tokyo as the host institution. IPMU was designated as the first research institute within the University of Tokyo Institutes for Advanced Study (UTIAS) in January 2011. It received an endowment from The Kavli Foundation and was renamed the “Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe” in April 2012. Kavli IPMU is located on the Kashiwa campus of the University of Tokyo, and more than half of its full-time scientific members come from outside Japan. http://www.ipmu.jp/

    Stem Education Coalition
    The Kavli Foundation, based in Oxnard, California, is dedicated to the goals of advancing science for the benefit of humanity and promoting increased public understanding and support for scientists and their work.

    The Foundation’s mission is implemented through an international program of research institutes, professorships, and symposia in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience, neuroscience, and theoretical physics as well as prizes in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience.

  • richardmitnick 6:21 am on February 10, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Kavli Institute, Optical antennae   

    From Kavli: “Rediscovering Spontaneous Light Emission” 


    The Kavli Foundation


    Media Contact

    James Cohen
    Director of Communications
    The Kavli Foundation
    (805) 278-7495

    Spontaneous light emissions from LEDs can be substantially enhanced when coupled to the right optical antenna, making them comparable to the stimulated emissions from lasers. (Image from Wikipedia)

    Berkeley Lab researchers have developed a nano-sized optical antenna that can greatly enhance the spontaneous emission of light from atoms, molecules and semiconductor quantum dots. This advance opens the door to light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that can replace lasers for short-range optical communications, including optical interconnects for microchips, plus a host of other potential applications.

    “Since the invention of the laser, spontaneous light emission has been looked down upon in favor of stimulated light emission,” says Eli Yablonovitch, an electrical engineer with Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division. “However, with the proper optical antenna, spontaneous emission can actually be faster than stimulated emission.”

    Yablonovitch, who also holds a faculty appointment with the University of California (UC) Berkeley where he directs the NSF Center for Energy Efficient Electronics Science (E3S), and is a member of the Kavli Energy NanoSciences Institute at Berkeley (Kavli ENSI), led a team that used an external antenna made from gold to effectively boost the spontaneous light emission of a nanorod made from Indium Gallium Arsenide Phosphide (InGaAsP) by 115 times. This is approaching the 200-fold increase that is considered the landmark in speed difference between stimulated and spontaneous emissions. When a 200-fold increase is reached, spontaneous emission rates will exceed those of stimulated emissions.

    Eli YablonovitchEli Yablonovitch is an award-winning electrical engineer with Berkeley Lab, UC Berkeley and Kavli ENSI (photo by Roy Kaltschmidt)

    “With optical antennas, we believe that spontaneous emission rate enhancements of better than 2,500 times are possible while still maintaining light emission efficiency greater than 50-percent,” Yablonovitch says. “Replacing wires on microchips with antenna -enhanced LEDs would allow for faster interconnectivity and greater computational power.”

    The results of this study are reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in a paper titled Optical antenna enhanced spontaneous emission. Yablonovitch and UC Berkeley’s Ming Wu are the corresponding authors. Other authors are Michael Eggleston, Kevin Messer and Liming Zhang.

    In the world of high technology lasers are ubiquitous, the reigning workhorse for high-speed optical communications. Lasers, however, have downsides for communications over short distances, i.e., one meter or less – they consume too much power and typically take up too much space. LEDs would be a much more efficient alternative but have been limited by their spontaneous emission rates.

    “Spontaneous emission from molecular-sized radiators is slowed by many orders of magnitude because molecules are too small to act as their own antennas,” Yablonovitch says. “The key to speeding up these spontaneous emissions is to couple the radiating molecule to a half-wavelength antenna. Even though we’ve had antennas in radio for 120 years, somehow we’ve overlooked antennas in optics. Sometimes the great discoveries are looking right at us and waiting.”

    Optical AntannaeCoupling a gold antenna to a InGaAsP nanorod, isolated by TiO2 and embedded in epoxy, greatly enhanced the spontaneous light emission of the InGaAsP

    For their optical antenna, Yablonovitch and his colleagues used an arch antenna configuration. The surface of a square-shaped InGaAsP nanorod was coated with a layer of titanium dioxide to provide isolation between the nanorod and a gold wire that was deposited perpendicularly over the nanorod to create the antenna. The InGaAsP semiconductor that served as the spontaneous light-emitting material is a material already in wide use for infrared laser communication and photo-detectors.

    In addition to short distance communication applications, LEDs equipped with optical antennas could also find important use in photodetectors. Optical antennas could also be applied to imaging, bio-sensing and data storage applications.

    This research was supported by E3S, the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition
    The Kavli Foundation, based in Oxnard, California, is dedicated to the goals of advancing science for the benefit of humanity and promoting increased public understanding and support for scientists and their work.

    The Foundation’s mission is implemented through an international program of research institutes, professorships, and symposia in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience, neuroscience, and theoretical physics as well as prizes in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience.

  • richardmitnick 9:25 am on January 29, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Kavli Institute   

    From Kavli Foundation: “Bubbles From the Center of Our Galaxy: A Key to Understanding Dark Matter and the Milky Way’s Past?” 


    The Kavli Foundation

    Winter 2014
    Kelen Tuttle

    Three astrophysicists who discovered two enormous and unexpected structures radiating from the center of our galaxy discuss what these mysterious bubbles can tell us about the history of the Milky Way and how they could help in the search for dark matter.

    From end to end, the newly discovered gamma-ray bubbles (magenta) extend 50,000 light-years, or roughly half of the Milky Way’s diameter. (Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

    COMPARED TO OTHER GALAXIES, the Milky Way is a peaceful place. But it hasn’t always been so sleepy. In 2010, a team of scientists working at the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics discovered a pair of “Fermi bubbles” extending tens of thousands of light-years above and below the Milky Way’s disk.

    NASA Fermi Telescope

    These structures are enormous balloons of energetic gamma rays emanating from the center of our galaxy. They hint at a powerful event that took place millions of years ago, likely when the black hole at the center of our galaxy feasted on an enormous amount of gas and dust – perhaps several hundreds or even thousands of times the mass of the sun. But exactly how the bubbles formed, and the exact story they can tell us about the history of our galaxy, remains a mystery.

    Fresh from giving the January 6 Rossi Prize lecture at the Winter American Astronomical Society conference, three astrophysicists who discovered the Fermi bubbles spoke with The Kavli Foundation about ongoing attempts to understand the cause and implications of these unexpected and strange structures, as well as ways in which they may help in the hunt for dark matter.

    Douglas Finkbeiner(Credit: Erin Cram)
    DOUGLAS FINKBEINER is a professor of astronomy and of physics at Harvard University and a member of the Institute for Theory and Computation at the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. He was part of a collaboration that first discovered a gamma ray “haze” near the center of the Milky Way.

    Tracy SlatyerTracy Slatyer(Credit: Heather Williams/MIT School of Science)
    TRACY SLATYER is an assistant professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an Affiliated Faculty member at the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. Working with Finkbeiner and Su, she showed that the gamma ray haze is in fact emission from two hot bubbles of plasma emanating from the galactic center.

    Meng SuMeng Su (Credit: Yuqi Qin)
    MENG SU is a Pappalardo Fellow and an Einstein Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. He developed the first maps that showed the exact shape of the Fermi bubbles.

    The following is an edited transcript of their roundtable discussion. The participants have been provided the opportunity to amend or edit their remarks.

    THE KAVLI FOUNDATION: When the three of you discovered Fermi bubbles in 2010, they were a complete surprise. No one anticipated the existence of such structures. What were your first thoughts when you saw these huge bubbles – which span more than half of the visible sky – emerge from the data?

    DOUGLAS FINKBEINER: How about crushing disappointment? There seems to be a popular misconception that scientists know what they’re looking for and when they find it, they know it. In reality, that’s often not how it works. In this case, we were on a quest to find dark matter, and we found something completely different. So at first I was puzzled, baffled, disappointed and confused.

    We had been looking for evidence of dark matter in the inner galaxy, which would have shown up as gamma rays. And we did find an excess of gamma rays, so for a little while we thought this might be a dark matter signal. But as we did a better analysis and added more data, we started to see the edges of this structure. It looked like a big figure 8 with a balloon above and below the plane of the galaxy. Dark matter probably wouldn’t do that. At the time, I made the tongue-in-cheek comment that we had double bubble trouble. Instead of a nice spherical halo like we would see with dark matter, we were finding these two bubbles.

    TRACY SLATYER: I called a talk on the Fermi bubbles “Double Bubble Trouble” – it has such a nice ring to it.

    FINKBEINER: It does. After my first thought – “Oh darn, it’s not dark matter” – my second thought was, “Oh, it’s still something very interesting, so now let’s go find out what it is.”

    SLATYER: At the time, Doug, you told me something along the lines of “Scientific discoveries are more often heralded by ‘Huh, that looks funny’ than by ‘Eureka!’” When we first started seeing the edge of these bubbles emerge, I remember looking at the maps with Doug, who was pointing out where he thought there were edges, and not seeing them at all myself. And then more data started coming in and they became clearer and clearer – though it may have been Isaac Asimov who said it first.

    So my first reaction was more like “Huh, that looks really strange.” But I wouldn’t call myself disappointed. It was a puzzle that we needed to figure out.

    FINKBEINER: Maybe befuddled is a better descriptor than disappointed.

    MENG SU: I agree. We already knew of other bubble-like structures in the universe, but this was still quite a big shock. Finding these bubbles in the Milky Way wasn’t anticipated by any theories. When Doug first showed us the picture where you could start to see the bubbles, I immediately started to think about what could possibly produce this type of structure besides dark matter. I personally was less puzzled by the structure itself and more puzzled by how the Milky Way could have produced it.

    SLATYER: But of course it’s also true that the structures we see in other galaxies have never been seen in gamma rays. As far as I know, beyond the question of whether the Milky Way could make a structure like this, there had never been an expectation that we would see a bright signal in gamma rays.

    SU: That’s right. This discovery is still unique and, to me, punishing.

    TKF: Why were such bubbles not expected in the Milky Way, if they are seen in other galaxies?

    FINKBEINER: It’s a good question. On the one hand we’re saying that these aren’t uncommon in other galaxies, while on the other hand we’re saying they were totally unexpected in the Milky Way. One of the reasons it was unexpected is that while every galaxy has a supermassive black hole at the center, in the Milky Way that black hole is about 4 million times the mass of the sun while in the galaxies in which we had previously observed bubbles, the black holes tend to be 100 or 1,000 times more massive than our black hole. And because we think it’s the black hole sucking in nearby matter that’s making most of these bubbles, you wouldn’t have expected a small black hole like the one we have in the Milky Way to be capable of this.

    SU: For that reason, no one expected to see bubbles in our galaxy. We thought the black hole at the center of the Milky Way was a boring one that just sat there quietly. But more and more evidence is suggesting that it was very active a long time ago. It now seems that, in the past, our black hole could have been tens of millions of times more active than it is currently. Before the discovery of Fermi bubbles, people were discussing that possibility, but there was no single piece of evidence showing that our black hole could be that active. The Fermi bubble discovery changed the picture.

    SLATYER: Exactly. Other galaxies that have similar looking structures are in fact quite different galactic environments. It’s not clear that bubbles we see in other galaxies with fairly similar shapes to the ones we see in the Milky Way are necessarily coming from the same physical processes. Due to the sensitivity of the instruments, we have no way to look at the gamma rays associated with these bubbles in other Milky Way-like galaxies – if they release gamma rays at all. The Fermi bubbles are really our first chance to look at anything like this close up and in gamma rays, and we just don’t know if many of the very puzzling features of the Fermi bubbles are present in other galaxies. It’s quite unclear at the moment the degree to which the Fermi bubbles are the same phenomenon as what we see in similarly shaped structures at other wavelengths in other galaxies.

    SU: I think it’s actually very lucky that our galaxy has these structures. We get to look at them very clearly and with great sensitivity, allowing us to study them in detail.

    SLATYER: Something like this could be present in other galaxies, and we would never know.

    SU: Yes – and the opposite is true, too. It’s completely possible that the Fermi bubbles are from something we’ve never seen before.

    FINKBEINER: Exactly. And, for example, the X-rays we do see coming from bubbles in other galaxies, those photons have a factor of a million times less energy than the gamma rays we see streaming from the Fermi bubbles. So we should not jump to conclusions that they come from the same physical processes.

    SU: And, here in our own galaxy, I think more people are asking questions about the implications of the Milky Way’s black hole being so active. I think the picture and the questions are different now. Discovering this structure has very important implications to many key questions about the Milky Way, galaxy formation and black hole growth.
    “More and more evidence points to the story that the supermassive black hole in the center of our Milky Way was very active a long time ago. Before the discovery of Fermi bubbles, people were discussing the possibility, but there was no single piece of evidence showing that our black hole could be that active. The Fermi bubble discovery changed the picture.” —Meng Su

    TKF: Doug and Meng, in a Scientific American article you coauthored with Dmitry Malyshev, you said that Fermi bubbles “promise to reveal deep secrets about the structure and history of our galaxy.” Will you tell us more about what type of secrets these might be?

    SU: There are at least two key questions we’re trying to answer about the supermassive black holes in the center of each galaxy: How does the black hole itself form and grow? And, as the black hole grows, what’s the interaction between the black hole and the host galaxy?

    I think that how the Milky Way fits into this big picture is still a mystery. We don’t know why the mass of the black hole in the center of the Milky Way is so small relative to other supermassive black holes, or how the interaction between this relatively small black hole and the Milky Way galaxy works. The bubbles provide a unique link for both how the black hole grew and how the energy injection from the black hole accretion process impacted the Milky Way as a whole.

    FINKBEINER: Some of our colleagues at the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics conduct simulations where they can see how supernova explosions and black hole accretion events heat gas and drive it out of a galaxy. You can see in some of these simulations that things are going along just fine and stars are forming and the galaxy is rotating and everything is progressing, and then the black hole reaches some critical size. Suddenly, when more matter falls into the black hole, it makes such a big flash that it basically pushes most of the gas right out of the galaxy. After that, there’s no more star formation – you’re kind of done. That feedback process is key to galaxy formation.

    SU: If the bubbles – like the ones we found – form episodically, that could help us understand how the energy outflow from the black hole changes the halo of the gas in the Milky Way dark matter halo. When this gas cools, the Milky Way forms stars. So the whole system will be changed because of the bubble story; the bubbles are closely linked to the history of our galaxy.

    TKF: What additional experimental data or simulations are needed to really understand what’s going on with these bubbles?

    SU: Right now, we’re focused on two things. First, from multi-wavelength observations, we’re looking to understand the current status of the bubbles – how fast they expand, how much energy is released through them, and how high-energy particles within the bubbles are accelerated either close to the black hole or inside the bubbles themselves. Those details we want to understand as much as possible through observations. Second, we want to understand the physics. For example, we want to understand just how the bubbles formed in the first place. Could a burst of star formation very close to the black hole help form the outflow that powers the bubbles? This can help us understand what kind of process forms these types of bubbles.

    FINKBEINER: Any type of work that can give you the amount of energy released over specific timescales is really important to figuring out what’s going on.

    SU: Truthfully, I think it’s amazing how many of the conclusions we drew from the very first observations of the bubbles still hold true today. The energy, the velocity, the age of the bubbles – all of these are consistent with today’s observations. All of the observations point to the same story, which allows us to ask more detailed questions.

    TKF: That doesn’t often happen in astrophysics, where your initial observations are so spot-on.

    FINKBEINER: This doesn’t always happen, it’s true. But we also weren’t very precise. Our paper says that the bubbles are somewhere between 1 and 10 million years old, and now we think they’re about 3 million years old, which is logarithmically right between 1 and 10 million. So, we’re pretty happy. But it’s not like we said it would be 3.76 million and were right.

    TKF: What are the other remaining mysteries about these bubbles? What more do you hope to learn that we haven’t discussed already?

    FINKBEINER: We have an age. I’m done. [laughter]

    TKF: Ha! Now that does not sound like astrophysics.

    SU: No, actually, we expect to learn many new things from future observations. We’ll have additional satellites launching in the coming years that will offer better measurements of the bubbles. One surprising thing we’ve found is that the bubbles have a high-energy cut off. Basically, the bubbles stop shining in high-energy gamma rays at a certain energy. Above that, we don’t see any gamma rays and we don’t know why. So we hope to take better measurements that can tell us why this cutoff is happening. This can be done with future gamma-ray energy satellites, including one called Dark Matter Particle Explorer that will launch later this year. Although the satellite is focused on looking for signatures of dark matter, it will also be able to detect these high-energy gamma rays, even higher than the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, the telescope we used to discover the Fermi bubbles. That’s where the name of the structure came from.

    Hints of the Fermi bubbles’ edges were first observed in X-rays (blue) by ROSAT, which operated in the 1990s. The gamma rays mapped by the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope (magenta) extend much farther from the galaxy’s plane. (Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

    NASA ROSAT satellite

    Likewise, we’re also interested in the lower energy gamma rays. There are some limitations with the Fermi satellite we’re currently using – the spatial resolution is not nearly as good for low-energy gamma rays. So we hope to launch another satellite in the future that can view the bubbles in low-energy gamma rays. I’m actually part of a team proposing to build this satellite, and I’m glad to find a good name for it: PANGU. It’s still in the early stages, but hopefully we can get the data within 10 years. From this, we hope to learn more about the processes within the bubbles that lead to the emission of gamma rays. We need more data to understand this.

    We’d also like to learn more about the bubbles in X-rays, which also hold key information. For example, X-rays could tell us how the bubbles affect the gas in the Milky Way’s halo. The bubbles presumably heat up the gas as they expand into the halo. We’d like to measure how much the energy from the bubbles is dumped into the gas halo. That’s key to understanding the black hole’s impact on star formation. A new German-Russian satellite called eRosita, planned to launch in 2016, could help with this. We hope its data will help us learn details about all the pieces of the bubble and how they interact with the gas around them.

    FINKBEINER: I completely agree with what Meng just said. That’s going to be a very important data set.

    SLATYER: Figuring out the exact origin of the bubbles is something I’m looking forward to. For example, if you make some basic assumptions, it looks like the gamma-ray signal has some very strange features. Particularly, the fact that the bubbles look so uniform all the way across is surprising. You wouldn’t expect the physics processes we think are taking place inside the bubbles to produce this uniformity. Are there multiple processes at work here? Does the radiation field within the bubbles look very different than what we expect? Is there an odd cancellation going on between the electron density and radiation field? These are just some of the questions we still have, questions that more observations – like the ones Meng was talking about – should shed light on.

    FINKBEINER: In other words, we’re still looking in detail and saying, “That looks funny.”
    “Other galaxies that have similar looking structures are in fact quite different galactic environments. It’s not clear that bubbles that we see in other galaxies that have fairly similar shapes to the ones we see in the Milky Way are necessarily coming from the same physical processes.” —Tracy Slatyer

    TKF: It sounds like there are still many more observations that need to be made before we can fully understand the Fermi bubbles. But from what we do know already, is there anything that could fire up the galactic core again, causing it to create more such bubbles?

    FINKBEINER: Well, if we’re right that the bubbles come from the black hole sucking up a lot of matter, just drop a bunch of gas on the black hole and you’ll see fireworks.

    TKF: Is there a lot of matter near our black hole that could naturally set off these fireworks?

    FINKBEINER: Oh sure! I don’t think it’ll happen in our lifetimes, but if you wait maybe 10 million years, I wouldn’t be surprised at all.

    SU: There are smaller bits of matter, like a cloud of gas called G2 that people estimate has as much mass as perhaps three Earths, that will likely be pulled into the black hole in just a few years. That will probably not produce something like the Fermi bubbles, but it will tell us something about the environment around the black hole and the physics of this process. Those observations might help us learn how much mass it would have taken to create the Fermi bubbles and what types of physics played out in that process.

    FINKBEINER: It’s true, we might learn something interesting from this G2 cloud. But this might be a bit of a red herring, since no reasonable model indicates it will produce gamma rays. It would take a gas cloud something like 100,000,000 times larger to produce a Fermi bubble.

    SU: There’s a lot of evidence that the galactic center was a very different environment several million years ago. But it’s hard to deduce the overall story of exactly how things were in the past and what’s happened in the intervening time. I think the Fermi bubbles might provide a unique, direct piece of evidence that there was once much richer surrounding gas and dust that fed the central black hole than there is today.

    TKF: The Fermi bubbles certainly remain an exciting area of research. So does dark matter, which is what you were originally looking for when you discovered the Fermi bubbles. How is that original dark matter hunt going?

    Data from the Fermi Telescope shows the bubbles (in red and yellow) against other sources of gamma rays. The plane of the galaxy (mostly black and white) stretches horizontally across the middle of the image, and the bubbles extend up and down from the center. (Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

    FINKBEINER: We’ve really come full circle. If one of the most talked about types of theoretical dark matter particles, the Weakly Interacting Dark Matter Particle, or WIMP, exists, it should give off some sort of gamma-ray signal. It’s just a question of whether that signal is at a level that we can detect. So if you ever want to see this signal in the inner galaxy, you have to understand all the other things that make gamma rays. We thought we understood them all, and then along came the Fermi bubbles. Now we really need to thoroughly understand these bubbles before we can go back to looking for WIMPs in the center of the galaxy. Once we understand them well, we can confidently subtract the Fermi bubble gamma rays from the overall gamma-ray signal and look for any excess of gamma rays remaining that might come from dark matter.

    Putting together quotations from Richard Feynman and Valentine Telegdi, “Yesterday’s sensation is today’s calibration is tomorrow’s background.” The Fermi bubbles are certainly very interesting in their own right, and they’ll keep people busy for many years trying to figure out what they are. But they’re also a background or a foreground for any dark matter searches, and need to be understood for that reason too.
    “It would be a supreme irony if we found the Fermi bubbles while looking for dark matter and then while studying the Fermi bubbles we discovered dark matter.”
    —Douglas Finkbeiner

    SLATYER: This is what I’m working on in my research these days. And the first question to what Doug just said is often, “Well, why don’t you just look for evidence of dark matter somewhere other than the inner galaxy?” But in WIMP models of dark matter, we expect the signals from the galactic center to be significantly brighter than anywhere else in the sky. So just giving up on the galactic center is not generally a good option.

    Looking at the Fermi bubbles near the galactic center, we have found a promising signal that could potentially be associated with dark matter. It extends a significant distance from the galactic center, and has a lot of the properties that you would expect from a dark matter signal – including appearing outside the bubbles as well.

    This is a very concrete case where studies of the Fermi bubbles uncovered something that may be related to dark matter – which is what we were looking for in the first place. It also emphasizes the importance of understanding what exactly is going on in the bubbles, so that we can get a better understanding of this very interesting region of the sky.

    FINKBEINER: It would be a supreme irony if we found the Fermi bubbles while looking for dark matter and then while studying the Fermi bubbles we discovered dark matter.

    See the full article here..

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    Stem Education Coalition
    The Kavli Foundation, based in Oxnard, California, is dedicated to the goals of advancing science for the benefit of humanity and promoting increased public understanding and support for scientists and their work.

    The Foundation’s mission is implemented through an international program of research institutes, professorships, and symposia in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience, neuroscience, and theoretical physics as well as prizes in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience.

  • richardmitnick 3:02 pm on December 12, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Kavli Institute   

    From Kavli: “Is an Understanding of Dark Matter around the Corner? Experimentalists Unsure” 


    The Kavli Foundation

    December 12, 2014

    Media Contact

    James Cohen
    Director of Communications
    The Kavli Foundation
    (805) 278-7495

    Scientists have long known that dark matter is out there, silently orchestrating the universe’s movement and structure. But what exactly is dark matter made of? And what does a dark matter particle look like? That remains a mystery, with experiment after experiment coming up empty handed in the quest to detect these elusive particles.

    With some luck, that may be about to change. With ten times the sensitivity of previous detectors, three recently funded dark matter experiments have scientists crossing their fingers that they may finally glimpse these long-sought particles. In recent conversations with The Kavli Foundation, scientists working on these new experiments expressed hope that they would catch dark matter, but also agreed that, in the end, their success or failure is up to nature to decide.

    “Nature is being coy,” said Enectali Figueroa-Feliciano, an associate professor of physics at the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research who works on one of the three new experiments. “There’s something we just don’t understand about the internal structure of how the universe works. When theorists write down all the ways dark matter might interact with our particles, they find, for the simplest models, that we should have seen it already. So even though we haven’t found it yet, there’s a message there, one that we’re trying to decode now.”

    The first of the new experiments, called the Axion Dark Matter eXperiment, searches for a theoretical type of dark matter particle called the axion. ADMX seeks evidence of this extremely lightweight particle converting into a photon in the experiment’s high magnetic field. By slowly varying the magnetic field, the detector hunts for one axion mass at a time.

    ADMX Axion Dark Matter Experiment
    ADMX at U Washington

    “We’ve demonstrated that we have the tools necessary to see axions,” said Gray Rybka, research assistant professor of physics at the University of Washington who co-leads the ADMX Gen 2 experiment. “With Gen2, we’re buying a very, very powerful refrigerator that will arrive very shortly. Once it arrives, we’ll be able to scan very, very quickly and we feel we’ll have a much better chance of finding axions – if they’re out there.”

    The two other new experiments look for a different type of theoretical dark matter called the WIMP. Short for Weakly Interacting Massive Particle, the WIMP interacts with our world very weakly and very rarely. The Large Underground Xenon, or LUX, experiment, which began in 2009, is now getting an upgrade to increase its sensitivity to heavier WIMPs. Meanwhile, the Super Cryogenic Dark Matter Search collaboration, which has looked for the signal of a lightweight WIMP barreling through its detector since 2013, is in the process of finalizing the design for a new experiment to be located in Canada.

    LUX Dark matter

    LBL SuperCDMS
    Super Cryogenic Dark Matter Search

    “In a way it’s like looking for gold,” said Figueroa-Feliciano, a member of the SuperCDMS experiment. “Harry has his pan and he’s looking for gold in a deep pond, and we’re looking in a slightly shallower pond, and Gray’s a little upstream, looking in his own spot. We don’t know who’s going to find gold because we don’t know where it is.”

    Rybka agreed, but added the more optimistic perspective that it’s also possible that all three experiments will find dark matter. “There’s nothing that would require dark matter to be made of just one type of particle except us hoping that it’s that simple,” he said. “Dark matter could be one-third axions, one-third heavy WIMPs and one-third light WIMPs. That would be perfectly allowable from everything we’ve seen.”

    Yet the nugget of gold for which all three experiments search is a very valuable one. And even though the search is difficult, all three scientists agreed that it’s worthwhile because glimpsing dark matter would reveal insight into a large portion of the universe.

    “We’re all looking and somewhere, maybe even now, there’s a little bit of data that will cause someone to have an ‘Ah ha!’ moment,” said Harry Nelson, professor of physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara and science lead for the LUX upgrade, called LUX-ZEPLIN. “This idea that there’s something out there that we can’t sense yet is one of those things that sends chills down my spine.”

    More about the hunt for dark matter is available at:

    New Dark Matter Experiments Prepare to Hunt the Unknown: A Conversation with Enectali Figueroa-Feliciano, Harry Nelson and Gray Rybka
    Spotlight Live: Dark Matter at Long Last? Three New Experiments Ramp Up (Transcript)

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    The Kavli Foundation, based in Oxnard, California, is dedicated to the goals of advancing science for the benefit of humanity and promoting increased public understanding and support for scientists and their work.

    The Foundation’s mission is implemented through an international program of research institutes, professorships, and symposia in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience, neuroscience, and theoretical physics as well as prizes in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience.

  • richardmitnick 12:00 pm on October 24, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Charles Munger, Kavli Institute, ,   

    From NYT: “Charles Munger, Warren Buffett’s Longtime Business Partner, Makes $65 Million Gift” 

    New York Times

    The New York Times

    October 24, 2014
    Michael J. de la Merced

    Charles T. Munger has been known for many things over his decades-long career, including longtime business partner of Warren E. Buffett; successful investor and lawyer; and plain-spoken commentator with a wide following.


    Now Mr. Munger, 90, can add another title to that list: deep-pocketed benefactor to the field of theoretical physics.

    He was expected to announce on Friday that he has donated $65 million to the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The gift — the largest in the school’s history — will go toward building a 61-bed residence for visitors to the institute, which brings together physicists for weeks at a time to exchange ideas.

    “U.C.S.B. has by far the most important program for visiting physicists in the world,” Mr. Munger said in a telephone interview. “Leading physicists routinely are coming to the school to talk to one another, create new stuff, cross-fertilize ideas.”

    UC Santa Barbara Campus

    The donation is the latest gift by Mr. Munger, a billionaire who has not been shy in giving away the wealth he has accumulated as vice chairman of Mr. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway to charitable causes.

    Though perhaps not as prominent a donor as his business partner, who cocreated the Giving Pledge campaign for the world’s richest people to commit their wealth to philanthropy, Mr. Munger has frequently donated big sums to schools like Stanford and the Harvard-Westlake School. (He has not signed on to the Giving Pledge campaign.)

    The biggest beneficiary of his largess thus far has been the University of Michigan, his alma mater. Last year alone, he gave $110 million worth of Berkshire shares — one of the biggest gifts in the university’s history — to create a new residence intended to help graduate students from different areas of study mingle and share ideas.

    That same idea of intellectual cross-pollination underpins the Kavli Institute, which over 35 years has established itself as a haven for theoretical physicists from around the world to meet and discuss potential new developments in their field.

    Funded primarily by the National Science Foundation, the institute has produced advances in the understanding of white dwarf stars, string theory and quantum computing.

    A former director of the institute, David J. Gross, shared in the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics for work that shed new light on the fundamental force that binds together the atomic nucleus.

    “Away from day-to-day responsibilities, they are in a different mental state,” Lars Bildsten, the institute’s current director, said of the center’s visitors. “They’re more willing to wander intellectually.”

    To Mr. Munger, such interactions are crucial for the advancement of physics. He cited international conferences attended by the likes of [Albert]Einstein and Marie Curie.

    Mr. Munger himself did not study physics for very long, having taken a class at the California Institute of Technology while in the Army during World War II. But as an avid reader of scientific biography, he came to appreciate the importance of the field.

    And he praised the rise of the University of California, Santa Barbara, as a leading haven for physics, particularly given its status as a relatively young research institution.

    But while the Kavli Institute conducts various programs throughout the year for visiting scientists, it has long lacked a way for physicists to spend time outside of work hours during their stays. A permanent residence hall would allow them to mingle even more, in the hope of fostering additional eureka moments.

    “We want to make their hardest choice, ‘Which barbecue to go to?’ ” Mr. Bildsten joked.

    Though Mr. Munger has some ties to the University of California, Santa Barbara — a grandson is an alumnus — he was first introduced to the Kavli Institute through a friend who lives in Santa Barbara.

    During one of the pair’s numerous fishing trips, that friend, Glen Mitchel, asked the Berkshire vice chairman to help finance construction of a new residence. The university had already reserved a plot of land for the dormitory in case the institute raised the requisite funds.

    “It wasn’t a hard sell,” Mr. Munger said.

    “Physics is vitally important,” he added. “Everyone knows that.”

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 7:28 pm on October 6, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Kavli Institute   

    From Kavli: ” A Warm Dark Matter Search Using XMASS “ 


    The Kavli Foundation

    Yoichiro Suzuki
    Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe, The University of Tokyo
    E-mail: yoichiro.suzuki_at_ipmu.jp 

    The XMASS collaboration, led by Yoichiro Suzuki at the Kavli IPMU, has reported its latest results on the search for warm dark matter. Their results rule out the possibility that super-weakly interacting massive bosonic particles (bosonic super-WIMPs) constitute all dark matter in the universe. This result was published in the September 19th issue of the Physical Review Letters as an Editors’ Suggestion.

    XMASS DetectorConstruction of XMASS-Ⅰ detector (2010/Feb./25) (C) Kamioka Observatory, ICRR(Institute for Cosmic Ray Research), The University of Tokyo

    The universe is considered to be filled with dark matter, which cannot be observed by ordinary light. Although much evidence supports the existence of dark matter, it has yet to be directly detected and its nature is not understood.

    Various theoretical models have been proposed to explain the nature of dark matter. Some models extend the standard model of particle physics, such as super-symmetry, and suggest that weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs) are dark matter candidates. These models have motivated most experimental research on dark matter. In discussions on the large-scale structure formation of the universe, these WIMPs fit the cold dark matter (CDM) paradigm.

    Supersymmetry standard model
    Standard Model of Supersymmetry

    On the other hand, some simulations based on the CDM scenario predict a much richer structure of the universe on galactic scales than those observed. Furthermore, high-energy collider experiments have yet to provide evidence of super-symmetric particles. These facts have increased the interest in lighter and further weakly interacting particles such as bosonic super-WIMPs as dark matter. Super-WIMPs with masses greater than a twentieth of an electron (more than 3 keV) do not conflict with the structure formation of the universe.

    “Bosonic super-WIMPs are experimentally attractive since if they are absorbed in ordinary material, they would deposit energy essentially equivalent to the super-WIMP’s rest mass,” Suzuki says. “And only ultra-low background detectors like XMASS can detect the signal.”

    The XMASS experiment was conducted to directly search for such bosonic super-WIMPS, especially in the mass range between a tenth and a third that of an electron (between 40 and 120 keV). XMASS is a cryogenic detector using about 1 ton of liquid xenon as the target material. Using 165.9 days of data, a significant excess above the background is not observed in the fiducial mass of 41 kg. The absence of such a signal excludes the possibility that bosonic super-WIMPs constitute all dark matter in the universe.

    “Light super-WIMPs are a good candidate of dark matter on galactic scales,” Professor Naoki Yoshida, a cosmologist at the School of Science, the University of Tokyo and a Project Professor at the Kavli IPMU says. “The XMASS team derived an important constraint on the possibility of such light dark models for a broad range of particle masses.”

    See the full article here.

    The Kavli Foundation, based in Oxnard, California, is dedicated to the goals of advancing science for the benefit of humanity and promoting increased public understanding and support for scientists and their work.

    The Foundation’s mission is implemented through an international program of research institutes, professorships, and symposia in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience, neuroscience, and theoretical physics as well as prizes in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience.

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  • richardmitnick 8:30 pm on September 9, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Kavli Institute,   

    From Kavli: “Tiny Graphene Drum Could Form Future Quantum Memory” 


    The Kavli Foundation

    No Writer Credit

    Scientists from TU Delft’s Kavli Institute of Nanoscience have demonstrated that they can detect extremely small changes in position and forces on very small drums of graphene. Graphene drums have great potential to be used as sensors in devices such as mobile phones. Using their unique mechanical properties, these drums could also act as memory chips in a quantum computer. The researchers present their findings in an article in the August 24th edition of Nature Nanotechnology. The research was funded by the FOM Foundation, the EU Marie-Curie program, and NWO.

    Graphene drums

    Graphene Drum

    Graphene is famous for its special electrical properties, but research on the one-layer thin graphite was recently expanded to explore graphene as a mechanical object. Thanks to their extreme low mass, tiny sheets of graphene can be used the same was as the drumhead of a musician. In the experiment, scientists use microwave-frequency light to ‘play’ the graphene drums, to listen to its ‘nano sound’, and to explore the way graphene in these drums moves.


    Dr. Vibhor Singh and his colleagues did this by using a 2D crystal membrane as a mirror in an ‘optomechanical cavity’. “In optomechanics you use the interference pattern of light to detect tiny changes in the position of an object. In this experiment, we shot microwave photons at a tiny graphene drum. The drum acts as a mirror: by looking at the interference of the microwave photons bouncing off of the drum, we are able to sense minute changes in the position of the graphene sheet of only 17 femtometers, nearly 1/10000th of the diameter of an atom.”, Singh explains.


    The microwave ‘light’ in the experiment is not only good for detecting the position of the drum, but can also push on the drum with a force. This force from light is extremely small, but the small mass of the graphene sheet and the tiny displacements they can detect mean that the scientist can use these forces to ‘beat the drum’: the scientists can shake the graphene drum with the momentum of light. Using this radiation pressure, they made an amplifier in which microwave signals, such as those in your mobile phone, are amplified by the mechanical motion of the drum.


    The scientists also show you can use these drums as ‘memory chips’ for microwave photons, converting photons into mechanical vibrations and storing them for up to 10 milliseconds. Although that is not long by human standards, it is a long time for a computer chip. “One of the long-term goals of the project is explore 2D crystal drums to study quantum motion. If you hit a classical drum with a stick, the drumhead will start oscillating, shaking up and down. With a quantum drum, however, you can not only make the drumhead move up and then down, but also make it into a ‘quantum superposition’, in which the drum head is both moving up and moving down at the same time ”, says research group leader Dr. Gary Steele. “This ‘strange’ quantum motion is not only of scientific relevance, but also could have very practical applications in a quantum computer as a quantum ‘memory chip’”.

    In a quantum computer, the fact that quantum ‘bits’ that can be both in the state 0 and 1 at the same time allow it to potentially perform computations much faster than a classical computer like those used today. Quantum graphene drums that are ‘shaking up and down at the same time’ could be used to store quantum information in the same way as RAM chips in your computer, allowing you to store your quantum computation result and retrieve it at a later time by listening to its quantum sound.

    See the full article, with video, here.

    The Kavli Foundation, based in Oxnard, California, is dedicated to the goals of advancing science for the benefit of humanity and promoting increased public understanding and support for scientists and their work.

    The Foundation’s mission is implemented through an international program of research institutes, professorships, and symposia in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience, neuroscience, and theoretical physics as well as prizes in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience.

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  • richardmitnick 10:35 pm on August 19, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Kavli Institute,   

    From Kavli: “New Survey Begins Mapping Nearby Galaxies “ 


    The Kavli Foundation

    August 18, 2014
    (Originally published by Kavli IPMU)

    A new survey called MaNGA (Mapping Nearby Galaxies at Apache Point Observatory) has been launched that will greatly expand our understanding of galaxies, including the Milky Way, by charting the internal structure and composition of an unprecedented sample of 10,000 galaxies.

    Apache Point Observatory
    Apache Point Observatory

    MaNGA is a part of the fourth generation Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS-IV) and will make maps of stars and gas in galaxies to determine how they have grown and changed over billions of years, using a novel optical fiber bundle technology that can take spectra of all parts of a galaxy at the same time.

    Sloan Digital Sky Survey Telescope
    Sloan Digital Sky Survey Telescope

    The new survey represents a collaboration of more than 200 astronomers at more than 40 institutions on four continents. With the new technology, astronomers will gain a perspective on the building blocks of the universe with a statistical precision that has never been achieved before.

    “Because the life story of a galaxy is encoded in its internal structure—a bit like the way the life story of a tree is encoded in its rings—MaNGA would, for the first time, enable us to map the evolutionary histories of galaxies of all types and sizes, living in all kinds of environments,” said Kevin Bundy, MaNGA’s Principal Investigator from the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe, the University of Tokyo.

    Previously, SDSS has mapped the universe across billions of light-years, focusing on the time from 7 billion years after the Big Bang to the present and the time from 2 billion years to 3 billion years after the Big Bang. SDSS-IV will focus on mapping the distribution of galaxies and quasars 3 billion years to 7 billion years after the Big Bang, a critical time when dark energy is thought to have started to affect the expansion of the Universe. Image credit: SDSS collaboration and Dana Berry / SkyWorks Digital, Inc. WMAP cosmic microwave background (Credit: NASA/WMAP Science Team)

    This new survey will provide a vast public database of observations that will significantly expand astronomer’s understanding of how tiny differences in the density of the early universe evolved over billions of years into the rich structure of galaxies today. This cosmic story includes the journey of our own Milky Way galaxy from its origins to the birth of our sun and solar system, and eventually the necessary conditions that gave rise to life on Earth.

    “MaNGA will not only teach us about what shapes the appearance of normal galaxies,” said SDSS Project Scientist, Matthew Bershady from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “It will also almost surely surprise us with new discoveries about the origin of dark matter, super-massive black holes, and perhaps even the nature of gravity itself.” This potential comes from MaNGA’s ability to paint a complete picture of each galaxy using an unprecedented amount of spectral information on the chemical composition and motions of stars and gas.

    To realize this potential, the MaNGA team has developed new technologies for bundling sets of fiber-optic cables into tightly-packed arrays that dramatically enhance the capabilities of existing instrumentation on the 2.5-meter Sloan Foundation Telescope in New Mexico. Unlike nearly all previous surveys, which combine all portions of a galaxy into a single spectrum, MaNGA will obtain as many as 127 different measurements across the full extent of every galaxy. Its new instrumentation enables a survey of more than 10,000 nearby galaxies at twenty times the rate of previous efforts, which did one galaxy at a time.

    But local galaxy studies are far from the only astronomical topic the new SDSS will explore. Another core program called APOGEE-2 will chart the compositions and motions of stars across the entire Milky Way in unprecedented detail, using a telescope in Chile along with the existing Sloan Foundation Telescope.

    The new SDSS will measure spectra at multiple points in the same galaxy, using a newly created fiber bundle technology. The left-hand side shows the Sloan Foundation Telescope and a close-up of the tip of the fiber bundle. The bottom right illustrates how each fiber will observe a different section of each galaxy. The image (from the Hubble Space Telescope) shows one of the first galaxies that the new SDSS has measured. The top right shows data gathered by two fibers observing two different part of the galaxy, showing how the spectrum of the central regions differs dramatically from outer regions. Image Credit: David Law, SDSS collaboration, and Dana Berry / SkyWorks Digital, Inc. Hubble Space Telescope (Credit:(http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/2008/16/image/cg/): NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration, and A. Evans (University of Virginia, Charlottesville/NRAO/Stony Brook University))

    And the new SDSS will continue to improve our understanding of the Universe as a whole. The third core program, eBOSS, will precisely measure the expansion history of the Universe through 80% of cosmic history, back to when the Universe was less than three billion years old. These new detailed measurements will help to improve constraints on the nature of dark energy, the most mysterious experimental result in modern physics.

    “SDSS has a proud history of fostering a breadth of cosmic discoveries that connect a deep understanding of the origins of the universe with key insights on the nature of galaxies and the makeup of our own Milky Way,” said Hitoshi Murayama, Director of the Kavli IPMU. “We are delighted to be a part of this endeavor to understand the Universe in the broadest sense, and particularly happy to see our Kevin Bundy playing such a crucial role to make it all happen.”

    With new technology and surveys like MaNGA and the continuing generous support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and participating institutions, the SDSS will remain one of the world’s most productive astronomical facilities. Science results from the SDSS will continue to reshape our view of the fundamental constituents of the cosmos, the universe of galaxies, and our home in the Milky Way.


    Funding for the Sloan Digital Sky Survey IV has been provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Participating Institutions. SDSS-IV acknowledges support and resources from the Center for High-Performance Computing at the University of Utah.

    SDSS-IV is managed by the Astrophysical Research Consortium for the Participating Institutions of the SDSS Collaboration including the Carnegie Institution for Science, Carnegie Mellon University, the Chilean Participation Group, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias, The Johns Hopkins University, Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe (Kavli IPMU) / University of Tokyo, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Leibniz Institut fur Astrophysik Potsdam (AIP),Max-Planck-Institut fur Astrophysik (MPA Garching), Max-Planck-Institut fur Extraterrestrische Physik (MPE), Max-Planck-Institut fur Astronomie (MPIA Heidelberg), National Astronomical Observatory of China, New Mexico State University, New York University, The Ohio State University, Pennsylvania State University, Shanghai Astronomical Observatory, United Kingdom Participation Group, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, University of Arizona, University of Colorado Boulder, University of Portsmouth, University of Utah, University of Washington, University of Wisconsin, Vanderbilt University, and Yale University.

    SDSS Website – http://www.sdss.org/

    See the full article, with video and additional material here.

    The Kavli Foundation, based in Oxnard, California, is dedicated to the goals of advancing science for the benefit of humanity and promoting increased public understanding and support for scientists and their work.

    The Foundation’s mission is implemented through an international program of research institutes, professorships, and symposia in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience, neuroscience, and theoretical physics as well as prizes in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience.

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  • richardmitnick 5:49 am on June 3, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Kavli Institute, ,   

    From The Kavli Institute at Stanford: “Solving big questions requires big computation” 


    The Kavli Foundation

    Understanding the origins of our solar system, the future of our planet or humanity requires complex calculations run on high-power computers.

    A common thread among research efforts across Stanford’s many disciplines is the growing use of sophisticated algorithms, run by brute computing power, to solve big questions.

    In Earth sciences, computer models of climate change or carbon sequestration help drive policy decisions, and in medicine computation is helping unravel the complex relationship between our DNA and disease risk. Even in the social sciences, computation is being used to identify relationships between social networks and behaviors, work that could influence educational programs.

    dell sc

    “There’s really very little research that isn’t dependent on computing,” says Ann Arvin, vice provost and dean of research. Arvin helped support the recently opened Stanford Research Computing Center (SRCC) located at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, which expands the available research computing space at Stanford. The building’s green technology also reduces the energy used to cool the servers, lowering the environmental costs of carrying out research.

    “Everyone we’re hiring is computational, and not at a trivial level,” says Stanford Provost John Etchemendy, who provided an initial set of servers at the facility. “It is time that we have this facility to support those faculty.”

    Here are just a few examples of how Stanford faculty are putting computers to work to crack the mysteries of our origins, our planet and ourselves.

    Myths once explained our origins. Now we have algorithms.

    Our Origins

    Q: How did the universe form?

    For thousands of years, humans have looked to the night sky and created myths to explain the origins of the planets and stars. The real answer could soon come from the elegant computer simulations conducted by Tom Abel, an associate professor of physics at Stanford.

    Cosmologists face an ironic conundrum. By studying the current universe, we have gained a tremendous understanding of what occurred in the fractions of a second after the Big Bang, and how the first 400,000 years created the ingredients – gases, energy, etc. – that would eventually become the stars, planets and everything else. But we still don’t know what happened after those early years to create what we see in the night sky.

    “It’s the perfect problem for a physicist, because we know the initial conditions very well,” says Abel, who is also director of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology at SLAC. “If you know the laws of physics correctly, you should be able to exactly calculate what will happen next.”

    Easier said than done. Abel’s calculations must incorporate the laws of chemistry, atomic physics, gravity, how atoms and molecules radiate, gas and fluid dynamics and interactions, the forces associated with dark matter and so on. Those processes must then be simulated out over the course of hundreds of millions, and eventually billions, of years. Further complicating matters, a single galaxy holds one billion moving stars, and the simulation needs to consider their interactions in order to create an accurate prediction of how the universe came to be.

    “Any of the advances we make will come from writing smarter algorithms,” Abel says. “The key point of the new facility is it will allow for rapid turnaround, which will allow us to constantly develop and refine and validate new algorithms. And this will help us understand how the very first things were formed in the universe.” —Bjorn Carey //

    Q: How did we evolve?

    The human genome is essentially a gigantic data set. Deep within each person’s six billion data points are minute variations that tell the story of human evolution, and provide clues to how scientists can combat modern-day diseases.

    To better understand the causes and consequences of these genetic variations, Jonathan Pritchard, a professor of genetics and of biology, writes computer programs that can investigate those links. “Genetic variation affects how cells work, both in healthy variation and in response to disease,” Pritchard says. How that variation displays itself – in appearance or how cells work – and whether natural selection favors those changes within a population drives evolution.

    Consider, for example, variation in the gene that codes for lactase, an enzyme that allows mammals to digest milk. Most mammals turn off the lactase gene after they’ve been weaned from their mother’s milk. In populations that have historically revolved around dairy farming, however, Pritchard’s algorithms have helped to elucidate signals of strong selection since the advent of agriculture to enable people to process milk active throughout life. There has been similarly strong selection on skin pigmentation in non-Africans that allow better synthesis of vitamin D in regions where people are exposed to less sunlight.

    The algorithms and machine learning methods Pritchard used have the potential to yield powerful medical insights. Studying variations in how genes are regulated within a population could reveal how and where particular proteins bind to DNA, or which genes are turned on in different cell types­ – information that could help design novel therapies. These inquiries can generate hundreds of thousands of data sets and can only be parsed with up to tens of thousands of hours of computer work.

    Pritchard is bracing for an even bigger explosion of data; as genome sequencing technologies become less expensive, he expects the number of individually sequenced genomes to jump by as much as a hundredfold in the next few years. “Storing and analyzing vast amounts of data is a fundamental challenge that all genomics groups are dealing with,” says Pritchard, who is a member of Stanford Bio-X.

    “Having access to SRCC will make our inquiries go easier and more quickly, and we can move on faster to making the next discovery.” —Bjorn Carey //
    7 billion people live on Earth. Computers might help us survive ourselves.

    Our Planet
    Q: How can we predict future climates?

    There is no lab large enough to conduct experiments on the global-scale interactions between air, water and land that control Earth’s climate, so Stanford’s Noah Diffenbaugh and his students use supercomputers.

    Computer simulations reveal that if human emissions of greenhouse gases continue at their current pace, global warming over the next century is likely to occur faster than any global-scale shift recorded in the past 65 million years. This will increase the likelihood and severity of droughts, heat waves, heavy downpours and other extreme weather events.

    Climate scientists must incorporate into their predictions a growing number of data streams – including direct measurements as well as remote-sensing observations from satellites, aircraft-based sensors, and ground-based arrays.

    “That takes a lot of computing power, especially as we try to figure out how to use newer unstructured forms of data, such as from mobile sensors,” says Diffenbaugh, an associate professor of environmental Earth system science and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

    Diffenbaugh’s team plans to use the increased computing resources available at SRCC to simulate air circulation patterns at the kilometer-scale over multiple decades. This has rarely been attempted before, and could help scientists answer questions such as how the recurring El Niño ocean circulation pattern interacts with elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to affect the occurrence of tornadoes in the United States.

    “We plan to use the new computing cluster to run very large high-resolution simulations of climate over regions like the U.S. and India,” Diffenbaugh says. One of the most important benefits of SRCC, however, is not one that can be measured in computing power or cycles.

    “Perhaps most importantly, the new center is bringing together scholars from across campus who are using similar methodologies to figure out new solutions to existing problems, and hopefully to tackle new problems that we haven’t imagined yet.” —Ker Than //

    Q: How can we predict if climate solutions work?

    The capture and trapping of carbon dioxide gas deep underground is one of the most viable options for mitigating the effects of global warming, but only if we can understand how that stored gas interacts with the surrounding structures.

    Hamdi Tchelepi, a professor of energy resources engineering, uses supercomputers to study interactions between injected CO2 gas and the complex rock-fluid system in the subsurface.

    “Carbon sequestration is not a simple reversal of the technology that allows us to extract oil and gas. The physics involved is more complicated, ranging from the micro-scale of sand grains to extremely large geological formations that may extend hundreds of kilometers, and the timescales are on the order of centuries, not decades,” says Tchelepi, who is also the co-director of the Stanford Center for Computational Earth and Environmental Sciences (CEES).

    For example, modeling how a large plume of CO2 injected into the ground migrates and settles within the subsurface, and whether it might escape from the injection site to affect the air quality of a faraway city, can require the solving of tens of millions of equations simultaneously. SRCC will help augment the high computing power already available to Stanford Earth scientists and students through CEES, and will serve as a testing ground for custom algorithms developed by CEES researchers to simulate complex physical processes.

    Tchelepi, who is also affiliated with the Precourt Institute for Energy, says people are often surprised to learn the role that supercomputing plays in modern Earth sciences, but Earth scientists use more computer resources than almost anybody except the defense industry, and their computing needs can influence the designs of next-generation hardware.

    “Earth science is about understanding the complex and ever-changing dynamics of flowing air, water, oil, gas, CO2 and heat. That’s a lot of physics, requiring extensive computing resources to model.” —Ker Than //
    Q: How can we build more efficent energy networks?

    When folks crank their air conditioners during a heat wave, you can almost hear the electric grid moan. The sudden, larger-than-average demand for electricity can stress electric plants, and energy providers scramble to redistribute the load, or ask industrial users to temporarily shut down. To handle those sudden spikes in use more efficiently, Ram Rajagopal, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, used supercomputers to analyze the energy usage patterns of 200,000 anonymous households and businesses in Northern California and from that develop a model that could tune consumer demand and lead to a more flexible “smart grid.”

    Today, utility companies base forecasts on a 24-hour cycle that aggregates millions of households. Not surprisingly, power use peaks in the morning and evening, when people are at home. But when Rajagopal looked at 1.6 billion hourly data points he plotted dramatic variations.

    Some households conformed to the norm and others didn’t. This forms the statistical underpinning for a new way to price and purchase power – by aggregating as few as a thousand customers into a unit with a predictable usage pattern. “If we want to thwart global warming we need to give this technology to communities,” says Rajagopal. Some consumers might want to pay whatever it costs to stay cool on hot days, others might conserve or defer demand to get price breaks. “I’m talking about neighborhood power that could be aligned to your beliefs,” says Rajagopal.

    Establishing a responsive smart grid and creative energy economies will become even more important as solar and wind energy – which face hourly supply limitations due to Mother Nature – become a larger slice of the energy pie. —Tom Abate //

    Know thyself. Let computation help.


    Q: How does our DNA make us who we are?

    Our DNA is sometimes referred to as our body’s blueprint, but it’s really more of a sketch. Sure, it determines a lot of things, but so do the viruses and bacteria swarming our bodies, our encounters with environmental chemicals that lodge in our tissues and the chemical stew that ensues when our immune system responds to disease states.

    All of this taken together – our DNA, the chemicals, the antibodies coursing through our veins and so much more – determines our physical state at any point in time. And all that information makes for a lot of data if, like genetics professor Michael Snyder, you collected it 75 times over the course of four years.

    Snyder is a proponent of what he calls “personal omics profiling,” or the study of all that makes up our person, and he’s starting with himself. “What we’re collecting is a detailed molecular portrait of a person throughout time,” he says.

    So far, he’s turning out to be a pretty interesting test case. In one round of assessment he learned that he was becoming diabetic and was able to control the condition long before it would have been detected through a periodic medical exam.

    If personal omics profiling is going to go mainstream, serious computing will be required to tease out which of the myriad tests Snyder’s team currently runs give meaningful information and should be part of routine screening. Snyder’s sampling alone has already generated a half of a petabyte of data – roughly enough raw information to fill about a dishwasher-size rack of servers.

    Right now, that data and the computer power required to understand it reside on campus, but new servers will be located at SRCC. “I think you are going to see a lot more projects like this,” says Snyder, who is also a Stanford Bio-X affiliate and a member of the Stanford Cancer Center.

    “Computing is becoming increasingly important in medicine.” —Amy Adams //

    Q: How do we learn to read?

    A love letter, with all of its associated emotions, conveys its message with the same set of squiggly letters as a newspaper, novel or an instruction manual. How our brains learn to interpret a series of lines and curves into language that carries meaning or imparts knowledge is something psychology Professor Brian Wandell has been trying to understand.

    Wandell hopes to tease out differences between the brain scans of kids learning to read normally and those who are struggling, and use that information to find the right support for kids who need help. “As we acquire information about the outcome of different reading interventions we can go back to our database to understand whether there is some particular profile in the child that works better with intervention 1, and a second profile that works better with intervention 2,” says Wandell, a Stanford Bio-X member who is also the Isaac and Madeline Stein Family Professor and professor, by courtesy, of electrical engineering.

    His team developed a way of scanning kids’ brains with magnetic resonance imaging, then knitting the million collected samples together with complex algorithms that reveal how the nerve fibers connect different parts of the brain. “If you try to do this on your laptop, it will take half a day or more for each child,” he says. Instead, he uses powerful computers to reveal specific brain changes as kids learn to read.

    Wandell is associate director of the Stanford Neurosciences Institute, where he is leading the effort to develop a computing strategy – one that involves making use of SRCC rather than including computing space in their planned new building. He says one advantage of having faculty share computing space and systems is to speed scientific progress.

    “Our hope for the new facility is that it gives us the chance to set the standards for a better environment for sharing computations and data, spreading knowledge rapidly through the community,”

    Q: How do we work effectively together?

    There comes a time in every person’s life when it becomes easy to settle for the known relationship, for better or for worse, rather than seek out new ties with those who better inspire creativity and ensure success.

    Or so finds Daniel McFarland, professor of education and, by courtesy, of organizational behavior, who has studied how academic collaborations form and persist. McFarland and his own collaborators tracked signs of academic ties such as when Stanford faculty co-authored a paper, cited the same publications or got a grant together. Armed with 15 years of collaboration output on 3,000 faculty members, they developed a computer model of how networks form and strengthen over time.

    “Social networks are large, interdependent forms of data that quickly confront limits of computing power, and especially so when we study network evolution,” says McFarland.

    Their work has shown that once academic relationships have established, they tend to continue out of habit, regardless of whether they are the most productive fit. He argues that successful academic programs or businesses should work to bring new members into collaborations and also spark new ties to prevent more senior people from falling back on known but less effective relationships. At the same time, he comes down in favor of retreats and team building exercises to strengthen existing good collaborations.

    McFarland’s work has implications for Stanford’s many interdisciplinary programs. He has found that collaborations across disciplines often fall apart due in part to the distant ties between researchers. “To form and sustain these ties, pairs of colleagues must interact frequently to share knowledge,” he writes. “This is perhaps why interdisciplinary centers may be useful organizational means of corralling faculty and promoting continued distant collaborations.” —Amy Adams //

    Q: What can computers tell us about how our body works?

    As you sip your morning cup of coffee, the caffeine makes its way to your cells, slots into a receptor site on the cells’ surface and triggers a series of reactions that jolt you awake. A similar process takes place when Zantac provides relief for stomach ulcers, or when chemical signals produced in the brain travel cell-to-cell through your nervous system to your heart, telling it to beat.

    In each of these instances, a drug or natural chemical is activating a cell’s G-protein coupled receptor (GPCR), the cellular target of roughly half of all known drugs, says Vijay Pande, a professor of chemistry and, by courtesy, of structural biology and of computer science at Stanford. This exchange is a complex one, though. In order for caffeine or any other molecule to influence a cell, it must fit snugly into the receptor site, which consists of 4,000 atoms and transforms between an active and inactive configuration. Current imaging technologies are unable to view that transformation, so Pande has been simulating it using his Folding@Home distributed computer network.

    So far, Pande’s group has demonstrated a few hundred microseconds of the receptor’s transformation. Although that’s an extraordinarily long chunk of time compared to similar techniques, Pande is looking forward to accessing the SRCC to investigate the basic biophysics of GPCR and other proteins. Greater computing power, he says, will allow his team to simulate larger molecules in greater detail, simulate folding sequences for longer periods of time and visualize multiple molecules as they interact. It might even lead to atom-level simulations of processes at the scale of an entire cell. All of this knowledge could be applied to computationally design novel drugs and therapies.

    “Having more computer power can dramatically change every aspect of what we can do in my lab,” says Pande, who is also a Stanford Bio-X affiliate. “Much like having more powerful rockets could radically change NASA, access to greater computing power will let us go way beyond where we can go routinely today. —Bjorn Carey //

    See the full article here.

    The Kavli Foundation, based in Oxnard, California, is dedicated to the goals of advancing science for the benefit of humanity and promoting increased public understanding and support for scientists and their work.

    The Foundation’s mission is implemented through an international program of research institutes, professorships, and symposia in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience, neuroscience, and theoretical physics as well as prizes in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience.

    ScienceSprings is powered by MAINGEAR computers

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