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  • richardmitnick 4:05 pm on April 20, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Focused Ion Beam Milling, , U Oxford   

    From Oxford: “Widely used engineering technique has unintended consequences new research reveals” 

    U Oxford bloc

    Oxford University

    1

    20 Apr 2017

    A technique that revolutionised scientists’ ability to manipulate and study materials at the nano-scale may have dramatic unintended consequences, new Oxford University research reveals.

    Focused Ion Beam Milling (FIB) uses a tiny beam of highly energetic particles to cut and analyse materials smaller than one thousandth of a stand of human hair.

    This remarkable capability transformed scientific fields ranging from materials science and engineering to biology and earth sciences. FIB is now an essential tool for a number of applications including; researching high performance alloys for aerospace engineering, nuclear and automotive applications and for prototyping in micro-electronics and micro-fluidics.

    FIB was previously understood to cause structural damage within a thin surface layer (tens of atoms thick) of the material being cut. Until now it was assumed that the effects of FIB would not extend beyond this thin damaged layer. Ground-breaking new results from the University of Oxford demonstrate that this is not the case, and that FIB can in fact dramatically alter the material’s structural identity. This work was carried out in collaboration with colleagues from Argonne National Laboratory, USA, LaTrobe University, Australia, and the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, UK.

    In research newly published in the journal Scientific Reports, the team studied the damage caused by FIB using a technique called coherent synchrotron X-ray diffraction. This relies on ultra-bright high energy X-rays, available only at central facilities such as the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Lab, USA. These X-rays can probe the 3D structure of materials at the nano-scale. The results show that even very low FIB doses, previously thought negligible, have a dramatic effect.

    Felix Hofmann, Associate Professor in Oxford’s Department of Engineering Science and lead author on the study, said, ‘Our research shows that FIB beams have much further-reaching consequences than first thought, and that the structural damage caused is considerable. It affects the entire sample, fundamentally changing the material. Given the role FIB has come to play in science and technology, there is an urgent need to develop new strategies to properly understand the effects of FIB damage and how it might be controlled.’

    Prior to the development of FIB, sample preparation techniques were limited, only allowing sections to be prepared from the material bulk, but not from specific features. FIB transformed this field by making it possible to cut out tiny coupons from specific sites in a material. This progression enabled scientists to examine specific material features using high-resolution electron microscopes. Furthermore it has made mechanical testing of tiny material specimens possible, a necessity for the study of dangerous or extremely precious materials.

    Although keen for his peers to heed the serious consequence of FIB, Professor Hofmann said, ‘The scientific community has been aware of this issue for a while now, but no one (myself included) realised the scale of the problem. There is no way we could have known that FIB had such invasive side effects. The technique is integral to our work and has transformed our approach to prototyping and microscopy, completely changing the way we do science. It has become a central part of modern life.’

    Moving forward, the team is keen to develop awareness of FIB damage. Furthermore, they will build on their current work to gain a better understanding of the damage formed and how it might be removed. Professor Hofmann said, ‘We’re learning how to get better. We have gone from using the technique blindly, to working out how we can actually see the distortions caused by FIB. Next we can consider approaches to mitigate FIB damage. Importantly the new X-ray techniques that we have developed will allow us to assess how effective these approaches are. From this information we can then start to formulate strategies for actively managing FIB damage.’

    See the full article here.

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    U Oxford campus

    Oxford is a collegiate university, consisting of the central University and colleges. The central University is composed of academic departments and research centres, administrative departments, libraries and museums. The 38 colleges are self-governing and financially independent institutions, which are related to the central University in a federal system. There are also six permanent private halls, which were founded by different Christian denominations and which still retain their Christian character.

    The different roles of the colleges and the University have evolved over time.

     
  • richardmitnick 8:57 am on October 22, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , U Oxford   

    From Oxford: “The universe is expanding at an accelerating rate — or is it?” 

    U Oxford bloc

    Oxford University

    21 October 2016
    Stuart Gillespie

    1
    Researchers analysed a database of supernovae — the spectacular thermonuclear explosions of dying stars. Image credit: University of Oxford; Shutterstock.

    Five years ago, the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to three astronomers for their discovery, in the late 1990s, that the universe is expanding at an accelerating pace.

    Their conclusions were based on analysis of Type Ia supernovae – the spectacular thermonuclear explosions of dying stars – picked up by the Hubble space telescope and large ground-based telescopes. It led to the widespread acceptance of the idea that the universe is dominated by a mysterious substance named ‘dark energy’ that drives this accelerating expansion.

    Now, a team of scientists led by Professor Subir Sarkar of Oxford University’s Department of Physics has cast doubt on this standard cosmological concept. Making use of a vastly increased data set – a catalogue of 740 Type Ia supernovae, more than ten times the original sample size – the researchers have found that the evidence for acceleration may be flimsier than previously thought, with the data being consistent with a constant rate of expansion.

    The study is published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports.

    Professor Sarkar, who also holds a position at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, said: ‘The discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe won the Nobel Prize, the Gruber Cosmology Prize, and the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. It led to the widespread acceptance of the idea that the universe is dominated by “dark energy” that behaves like a cosmological constant – this is now the “standard model” of cosmology.

    ‘However, there now exists a much bigger database of supernovae on which to perform rigorous and detailed statistical analyses. We analysed the latest catalogue of 740 Type Ia supernovae – over ten times bigger than the original samples on which the discovery claim was based – and found that the evidence for accelerated expansion is, at most, what physicists call “3 sigma”. This is far short of the 5 sigma standard required to claim a discovery of fundamental significance.

    An analogous example in this context would be the recent suggestion for a new particle weighing 750 GeV based on data from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. It initially had even higher significance – 3.9 and 3.4 sigma in December last year – and stimulated over 500 theoretical papers. However, it was announced in August that new data shows that the significance has dropped to less than 1 sigma. It was just a statistical fluctuation, and there is no such particle.’

    There is other data available that appears to support the idea of an accelerating universe, such as information on the cosmic microwave background [CMB] – the faint afterglow of the Big Bang – from the Planck satellite.

    CMB per ESA/Planck
    CMB per ESA/Planck

    However, Professor Sarkar said: ‘All of these tests are indirect, carried out in the framework of an assumed model, and the cosmic microwave background is not directly affected by dark energy. Actually, there is indeed a subtle effect, the late-integrated Sachs-Wolfe effect, but this has not been convincingly detected.

    ‘So it is quite possible that we are being misled and that the apparent manifestation of dark energy is a consequence of analysing the data in an oversimplified theoretical model – one that was in fact constructed in the 1930s, long before there was any real data. A more sophisticated theoretical framework accounting for the observation that the universe is not exactly homogeneous and that its matter content may not behave as an ideal gas – two key assumptions of standard cosmology – may well be able to account for all observations without requiring dark energy. Indeed, vacuum energy is something of which we have absolutely no understanding in fundamental theory.’

    Professor Sarkar added: ‘Naturally, a lot of work will be necessary to convince the physics community of this, but our work serves to demonstrate that a key pillar of the standard cosmological model is rather shaky. Hopefully this will motivate better analyses of cosmological data, as well as inspiring theorists to investigate more nuanced cosmological models. Significant progress will be made when the European Extremely Large Telescope makes observations with an ultrasensitive “laser comb” to directly measure over a ten to 15-year period whether the expansion rate is indeed accelerating.’

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    U Oxford campus

    Oxford is a collegiate university, consisting of the central University and colleges. The central University is composed of academic departments and research centres, administrative departments, libraries and museums. The 38 colleges are self-governing and financially independent institutions, which are related to the central University in a federal system. There are also six permanent private halls, which were founded by different Christian denominations and which still retain their Christian character.

    The different roles of the colleges and the University have evolved over time.

     
  • richardmitnick 10:25 am on July 13, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Red geysers in MaNGA survey, U Oxford   

    From U Oxford: “Scientists discover how supermassive black holes keep galaxies turned off” 

    U Oxford bloc

    Oxford University

    25 May 2016
    No writer credit found

    1

    An international team of scientists has identified a common phenomenon in galaxies that could explain why huge numbers of them turn into cosmic graveyards.

    Galaxies begin their existence as lively and colourful spiral galaxies, full of gas and dust, and actively forming bright new stars. However, as galaxies evolve, they quench their star formation and turn into featureless deserts, devoid of fresh new stars, and generally remain as such for the rest of their evolution. But the mechanism that produces this dramatic transformation and keeps galaxies turned off, is one of the biggest unsolved mysteries in galaxy evolution.

    Now, thanks to the new large SDSS-IV MaNGA survey of galaxies, a collaborative effort led by the University of Tokyo and involving the University of Oxford has discovered a surprisingly common new phenomenon in galaxies, dubbed red geysers, that could explain how the process works.

    Researchers interpret the red geysers as galaxies hosting low-energy supermassive black holes which drive intense interstellar winds. These winds suppress star formation by heating up the ambient gas found in galaxies and preventing it to cool and condense into stars.

    The research is published in the journal Nature.

    Lead author Dr Edmond Cheung, from the University of Tokyo’s Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe, said: ‘Stars form from the gas, but in many galaxies stars were found not to form despite an abundance of gas. It was like having deserts in densely clouded regions. We knew quiescent galaxies needed some way to suppress star formation, and now we think the red geysers phenomenon may represent how typical quiescent galaxies maintain their quiescence.’

    ‘Stars form from the gas, a bit like the drops of rain condense from the water vapour. And in both cases one needs the gas to cool down, for condensation to occur. But we could not understand what was preventing this cooling from happening in many galaxies,’ said Co-author Dr Michele Cappellari, from the Department of Physics at Oxford University. ‘But when we modelled the motion of the gas in the red geysers, we found that the gas was being pushed away from the galaxy centre, and escaping the galaxy gravitational pull.’

    ‘The discovery was made possible by the amazing power of the ongoing MaNGA galaxy survey,’ said Dr Kevin Bundy, from the University of Tokyo, the overall leader of the collaboration. ‘The survey allows us to observe galaxies in three dimensions, by mapping not only how they appear on the sky, but also how their stars and gas move inside them.’

    Using a near-dormant distant galaxy named Akira as a prototypical example, the researchers describe how the wind’s driving mechanism is likely to originate in Akira’s galactic nucleus. The energy input from this nucleus, powered by a supermassive black hole, is capable of producing the wind, which itself contains enough mechanical energy to heat ambient, cooler gas in the galaxy and thus suppress star formation.

    The researchers identified an episodic quality to these jets of wind, leading them to the name red geysers (with ‘red’ colour due to the lack of blue young stars). This phenomenon, discussed in the paper with reference to Akira, appears surprisingly common and could be generally applicable to all quiescent galaxies.

    The study made use of optical imaging spectroscopy from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey-IV Mapping Nearby Galaxies at Apache Point Observatory (SDSS-IV MaNGA) programme

    SDSS Telescope at Apache Point, NM, USA
    SDSS Telescope at Apache Point, NM, USA

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    U Oxford campus

    Oxford is a collegiate university, consisting of the central University and colleges. The central University is composed of academic departments and research centres, administrative departments, libraries and museums. The 38 colleges are self-governing and financially independent institutions, which are related to the central University in a federal system. There are also six permanent private halls, which were founded by different Christian denominations and which still retain their Christian character.

    The different roles of the colleges and the University have evolved over time.

     
  • richardmitnick 5:56 pm on January 11, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , U Oxford   

    From U Oxford: “Exploring spiral-host radio galaxies” 

    U Oxford bloc

    Oxford University

    OUP blog bloc

    Temp 1
    Hercules. A radio galaxy hosted in a massive elliptical galaxy. Radio emission, overplotted on the optical image, is shown in pink highlighting large jet-lobe structure. A Milky Way-sized spiral galaxy is marked by white ellipse. Image adapted from a Hubble Heritage Release. Credit: NASA, ESA, S. Baum and C. O’Dea (RIT), R. Perley and W. Cotton (NRAO/AUI/NSF), and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA).

    January 9th 2016
    Veeresh Singh

    Few know exactly what radio galaxies are, much less what factors influence their formation. Even so, new discoveries have brought these astronomical structures into the public eye, and researchers continue to investigate the mysterious conditions of their existence. Below, Veeresh Singh addresses the substance and implications of such discoveries, further elaborating on his research paper, Discovery of rare double-lobe radio galaxies hosted in spiral galaxies, recently published in Monthly Notices of Royal Astronomical Society.

    What are radio galaxies?

    A galaxy is a gigantic system possessing billions of stars, vast amounts of gas, dust, and dark matter held together by gravitational attraction. The typical size of galaxies can be anywhere from a few tens-of-thousands to a few hundreds-of-thousands of light-years. Our own solar system is part of a galaxy named the “Milky Way.” Observations made from telescopes have shown that our universe is full of billions of galaxies that are of different shapes (e.g., spiral, spheroidal, elliptical and irregular).

    Studies on the motion of stars, gas, and dust close to the core of galaxies reveal that almost all galaxies host Super Massive Black Holes(SMBHs), which are millions to billions of times the mass of our Sun in their centres. In simple words, black holes are gravitationally collapsed systems in which gravity is so strong that even light cannot escape from the surface of their sphere of influence. Whenever matter is available in the vicinity of SMBHs, they accrete matter via gravitational pull and also eject a fraction of accreted matter—through outflowing bipolar collimated jets formed via magneto-hydro-dynamical processes.

    Galaxies having accreting SMBH are called “active galaxies.” Some of these active galaxies exhibit radio-emitting overflowing jets extending well beyond the size of host galaxies’ stellar distribution. These active galaxies are called “radio galaxies.” As the name itself suggests, radio galaxies are powerful emitters of radio emissions and show radio morphology that consists of a core producing a pair of bipolar collimated jets terminating in two lobes. The radio core coincides with the centre of the host galaxy seen in optical light but the jet-lobe extends well-beyond the host galaxy and entrenches into the empty space between galaxies, i.e. “intergalactic region.” Radio galaxies are one of the largest structures in the Universe and the total end-to-end radio size can range from thousands to millions of light years.

    What is the shape of hosts of radio galaxies?

    Traditionally, radio galaxies are found to be hosted in massive, gas-poor elliptical galaxies characterised by feeble star formation rates. It is believed that the relativistic jets emanating from the accreting SMBHs at their centres can easily plough through the rarer InterStellar Medium (ISM) of elliptical galaxies and reach scales of up to millions of light years.

    How common are spiral-host radio galaxies?

    Unlike conventional radio galaxies, which are almost always found in elliptical galaxies, we have discovered four radio galaxies (named in astronomical parlance as J0836+0532, J1159+5820, J1352+3126, and J1649+2635) that are found to be hosted in spiral galaxies. These extremely rare and enigmatic galaxies were found in a systematic search that combined a whopping 187,000 optical images of spiral galaxies from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) DR7 with the radio-emitting sources from two radio-surveys viz. ‘Faint Images of the Radio Sky at Twenty-cm (FIRST)’ and ‘NRAO VLA Sky Survey (NVSS)’ both carried out with the Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope in the United States.

    SDSS Telescope
    SDSS telescope at Apache Point, NM, USA

    NRAO VLA
    NRAO/VLA

    This is the first attempt to carry out an extensive systematic search to find spiral-host radio galaxies using largest existing sky surveys. Before this work, only four examples of spiral-host radio galaxies were known and three of these were discovered serendipitously.

    What causes spiral galaxies to become radio-loud?

    Understanding the formation of these newly discovered spiral-host radio galaxies is a challenge in the present theoretical model. Using current available data on these sources it is speculated that the formation of spiral-host double-lobe radio galaxies can be attributed to more than one factor, such as the occurrence of strong interactions or mergers with other galaxies, and the presence of an unusually massive SMBH, while keeping the spiral structures intact. Notably, all these galaxies contain an SMBH at their centre with a mass of approximately a billion times that of the Sun.

    2
    J083+0532, a spiral galaxy with million-light-years large radio emitting jet-lobe structure. Upper panel shows contours of radio emission overplotted on the optical image from Sloane Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). Lower left panel represents the false colour radio image while lower right panel shows SDSS optical image. Image used with permission.

    Since only one among four was found in a cluster environment, it implies that the large scale environment is not the prime reason for triggering radio emission. Mergers or interactions could be more likely. In fact, two galaxies—J1159+5820 and J1352+3126—in this study show evidence of mergers. However, another two galaxies—J0836+0532 and J1649+2635—are face-on spirals and do not show any detectable signature of disturbance caused by a recent merger with another galaxy.

    How are galaxies currently being studied?

    In order to attain a better understanding of the formation of these galaxies, the research team is observing these galaxies at different frequencies. The team has already acquired low frequency radio observations with the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) in India.

    Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope
    GMRT

    The multi-frequency radio observations will enable the study of the radio structures at different spatial scales and also in estimating the time elapsed since the radio emitting jets were ejected from the centre of each galaxy.

    What does the discovery of spiral-host radio galaxies mean to upcoming surveys?

    The discovery of these spiral-host radio galaxies can be considered as a test bed to find rare populations of spiral-host double-lobe radio galaxies in the distant universe using more sensitive surveys from upcoming facilities such as the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) and the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

    LSST Exterior
    LSST Interior
    LSST Camera
    LSST, the building which will house it, and the camera being built at SLAC

    SKA ASKAP telescope

    SKA Murchison Widefield Array
    From SKA, ASKAP and part of the Murchison Wide Field Array

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    U Oxford campus

    Oxford is a collegiate university, consisting of the central University and colleges. The central University is composed of academic departments and research centres, administrative departments, libraries and museums. The 38 colleges are self-governing and financially independent institutions, which are related to the central University in a federal system. There are also six permanent private halls, which were founded by different Christian denominations and which still retain their Christian character.

    The different roles of the colleges and the University have evolved over time.

     
  • richardmitnick 3:17 pm on January 9, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Safer surgery, U Oxford   

    From U Oxford: “Making patients safer in surgery” 

    U Oxford bloc

    Oxford University

    5 Jan 2016
    No writer credit found

    Temp 1

    Surgery is getting safer thanks to research by an Oxford University team that has brought together two previously competing theories about how best to protect patients.

    Previous attempts to improve patient safety in surgery used one of two approaches. Some investigators tried to improve teamwork and communication by training team members to interact better, using principles developed in the aviation industry. Others have focused on the systems of work and used industrial quality improvement techniques to rationalise these and remove or modify steps which carry a high risk of error.

    A programme of studies, funded by the Programme Grants for Applied Research section of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), was carried out over four years by the Department of Surgical Sciences at Oxford University. It is believed to be the largest, direct observational study of surgical team performance during whole procedures ever completed.

    The team ran five identical studies comparing the culture approach, two different systems approaches and two combined culture/system approaches. They found that the combined system/culture approaches were clearly better than either of the single approaches. This is an important idea which may change practice internationally.

    Two new papers, published in the journal Annals of Surgery, outline the results of their research.

    Professor Peter McCulloch, Principal Investigator of the project and head of the Quality, Reliability, Safety and Teamwork Unit (QRSTU), said: ‘One set of interventions tried to modify the culture of the team and the other tried to improve the system of work. No one had asked which of these was better, or whether combining the approaches would be more effective. It is not enough to just fix the system and it’s not enough to just train the team. You have to do both.’

    In addition, the research showed that clinical staff who receive teamwork training become better motivated and more knowledgeable about safety risks, but are not able to change their working practices. Those who are helped to improve their system are able to do this, but are not educated or motivated to focus on the changes which will be most beneficial for patients. Staff who received the combined intervention developed more ambitious projects and demanded more help from the experts.

    Lorna Flynn, Human Factors Research Assistant within QRSTU and first author of the second, qualitative paper, commented: ‘In addition to telling us that integrated approaches targeting systems and culture produce the best outcomes; our research has highlighted the fact that frontline staff do not have the time or means to address patient safety issues alone. Whilst frontline staff will possess local in-depth knowledge about their systems and working context, effective improvement work still requires substantial support from experts in the fields of Human Factors/Ergonomics and Quality Improvement. These findings have implications for practice in organisations where frontline clinical staff are often expected to do this work as part of their everyday clinical work; such an approach is not going to be sufficient in making significant change to patient safety unless healthcare organisations engage with experts in these fields.’

    The papers, Combining systems and teamwork approaches to enhance the effectiveness of safety improvement interventions in surgery: the Safer Delivery of Surgical Services (S3) and The Safer Delivery of Surgical Services Programme (S3): explaining its differential effectiveness and exploring implications for improving quality in complex systems, are published in the journal Annals of Surgery.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    U Oxford campus

    Oxford is a collegiate university, consisting of the central University and colleges. The central University is composed of academic departments and research centres, administrative departments, libraries and museums. The 38 colleges are self-governing and financially independent institutions, which are related to the central University in a federal system. There are also six permanent private halls, which were founded by different Christian denominations and which still retain their Christian character.

    The different roles of the colleges and the University have evolved over time.

     
  • richardmitnick 11:15 am on October 3, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , U Oxford   

    From Oxford: “Behind the scenes of creating the ground-breaking Ebola vaccine” 

    U Oxford bloc

    Oxford University

    Professor Adrian Hill of Oxford’s Jenner Institute led the first clinical trial of a successful Ebola virus vaccine last year. To target the outbreak his remarkable team compressed a process that takes six months into six weeks.

    1

    The recent Ebola outbreak was the deadliest since the virus’ discovery in the 1970s. Fortunately Professor Adrian Hill, Director of Oxford’s Jenner Institute, and his team managed to create a vaccine response in record time.

    At his Alumni Weekend talk, Professor Hill described the desperate situation that West Africa was in last year. Ebola was in the news every day, with death tolls spiralling up through the summer. There were no vaccines known to protect against Ebola, or drugs to treat those infected at the time. Promising vaccine candidates did exist in the US, but only one had been tested in humans and had been subsequently abandoned.

    Usually Ebola outbreaks have been contained using the traditional methods of containment in Central Africa, but it was spreading through the continent rapidly – in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia – in 2014. With no vaccines ready to be tested out in West Africa the situation was grave, Professor Hill explained.

    2

    The resulting ambitious trial at Oxford was funded by the Wellcome Trust, Medical Research Council and Department for International Development. Phase one began in mid-September 2014 with 60 volunteers, and a further 80 out in Mali in October – after the team was swamped with volunteers anxious to help.

    For the successful vaccine Professor Hill’s team used a single Ebola gene in a chimpanzee adenovirus to generate an immune response. As it did not contain any infectious virus material, it did not cause the patient to become infected. The trial’s efficiency exceeded all expectations, with a novel vaccine ready from the trial to finished product in nine months.

    3

    The researchers then used an innovative trial design in West Africa, in which the family, friends and contacts in a ‘ring’ around an Ebola patient would be given the vaccine. In March 2015, the first infected individuals were identified and the ring vaccination began in Guinea, which continues to have the majority of cases. Both this ‘ring’ approach and the vaccine were a great success.

    Looking to the future, Professor Hill reflected that it would be wonderful if Britain could manufacture vaccines ‘on a significant scale’ once again. David Cameron has promised £20million to protect Britain from future pandemics this year, but how that money will be allocated has not yet been decided.

    Professor Hill explained more broadly the challenges left facing vaccination development. On the positive side, only two countries in the world are left with polio, and smallpox has been eradicated. This leaves the big three vaccinations to find as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and an improved TB jab.

    In terms of Ebola itself, the vaccine that Professor Hill’s team worked on was for the Zaire strain, but there still remains to be one for the Sudan strain. He pointed out that there will ‘almost certainly’ be more major outbreaks, especially as Africa’s population increases, people travel more and cities expand.

    For all of the team’s hard work, the University decided that their contributions should be recognised, and commissioned a University of Oxford Ebola medal this summer. The medals were presented by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Andrew Hamilton, and the head of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine, Professor Peter Ratcliffe. Professor Hamilton reflected: ‘The work of the team was absolutely critical. These kinds of outbreaks can arise at any time and we need to be ready to respond. They responded magnificently.’

    For further details about the Jenner Institute click here.

    Photographs courtesy of Oxford University Images

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    U Oxford campus

    Oxford is a collegiate university, consisting of the central University and colleges. The central University is composed of academic departments and research centres, administrative departments, libraries and museums. The 38 colleges are self-governing and financially independent institutions, which are related to the central University in a federal system. There are also six permanent private halls, which were founded by different Christian denominations and which still retain their Christian character.

    The different roles of the colleges and the University have evolved over time.

     
  • richardmitnick 7:39 am on August 25, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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    From Oxford: “Randomness and order” 

    U Oxford bloc

    University of Oxford

    8.25.15
    This series grew out of The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH) conference ‘Randomness and Order’, at which academics in the fields of quantum physics, music, probability and medieval history discussed what randomness meant in their different disciplines.

    1
    Professor Ian Walmsley, FRS

    2
    Ian Walmsley is Hooke Professor of Experimental Physics, a Professorial Fellow of St Hugh’s College and was appointed Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research in February 2009.

    I’m talking to Professor Ian Walmsley, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Hooke Professor of Experimental Physics.

    What does randomness and order mean in quantum physics?
    It’s more than the usual sort of randomness we might encounter in everyday life, where you’re not sure what the stock market’s going to do or what the weather’s going to be like. Because, although those things are definite – in the sense that there will be stocks that have real prices to the buyer and seller – the whole edifice is so complicated that it’s impossible to know what those tiny details are at any one time.

    But, in quantum mechanics, the notion of randomness is embedded very much in the theory itself: that it is intrinsically unknowable – not just that you don’t know it, but that it is not knowable itself.

    There’s been a long debate as to whether this is simply that we have an inadequate theory and that at the bottom of it all there’s really stuff there that we can talk about definitely, or whether it really is that unknowable. People are still doing experiments, still thinking of ways to test that very concept, which is remarkable given how successful we’ve been in applying that theory to do all sorts of things. So it’s strange that this very successful theory somehow seems to be built on foundations that we don’t properly understand.

    When you first came across the extent of randomness in the world’s structure, did it change your perspective?
    Certainly it’s something that is very starkly evident as you begin to learn quantum mechanics as an undergraduate, and it does affect how you understand the very nature of what physics is about.

    Yet one does wonder whether in a sense it’s a modern disease – that is, the reason it feels so strange is that we’re used to the idea that science dissects things to the point where you reach irreducible elements that are real things (and then you can build up concepts and ideas on top of those). Quantum mechanics seems to shake that picture. Then the question is: was our earlier picture just something we were comfortable with, not any more real?

    Nonetheless, there is a dichotomy between the concept that things are fuzzy at the foundations and yet in everyday life we find things apparently completely certain: this is a solid table; we know it’s there and we don’t seem to feel there’s an uncertainty about it at all. So the question as to how this certainty arises out of this picture of underlying fuzziness is of great interest to physicists.

    There’s always a tendency in physics to tie the concepts that appear in your calculations to things that actually exist in the world. That’s not a uniquely quantum mechanical thing: [Sir Isaac] Newton was challenged when he came up with his ideas about gravity, which required there to be a force – an action-at-a-distance – between planets, and people felt, because he couldn’t describe in physical terms what that connection was, that he was introducing ideas of ‘the occult’ into science. He had a very impressive tool to calculate orbits based on a concept that at the time people felt was just ridiculous – the objection that it didn’t have a correspondence in the universe is the same as what we find now. The idea that things in your equations must correspond to things in the real world is always a tension in physics, and quantum mechanics just raises that in a new and very profound way – a way that challenges our conception of what the scientific enterprise is about.

    Do you think there’s something problematic about human desire to find order, when there’s a lot about the structure of the universe that is random?
    This is outside my realm of expertise, but I think the enterprise of physics is about deeper understanding. Our understanding of the universe’s structure does give us a perspective of our place in the world. In the case of quantum mechanics, people have been working for hundreds of years to discover just what this structure is telling us. There are very creative ways to think about how randomness arises within our experience of quantum mechanics. One conception, for example is embodied in the Many Worlds model.

    Outside of randomness, what is your general research interest?
    My research has been how to prepare, manipulate and probe quantum states of light and matter. Working in atomic physics and optical physics is nice because you can work in ambient conditions, with a laboratory of relatively small scale. When you want to explore quantum phenomena in such conditions, you have a couple of choices: one is you can work on very fast timescales, because when you create a quantum state, it tends to dissipate into the environment very quickly (that’s why you don’t generally see these things at room temperature); the other way is to use light itself to explore the quantum structure of the world.

    One of the big projects that we’re currently engaged in together with many colleagues across this university and several partner universities is to combine photons and atoms in order to try and build large-scale quantum states. That’s become feasible with some serious engineering, and it’s very exciting, for two reasons. First of all, when quantum states get big enough there’s no other way you can study them, other than to build them. Because it’s not possible to calculate using a normal computer what they are, what their structure is, what their dynamics are; they are too complicated. What that means, which Richard Feynman pointed out some 30 or so years ago, is that the information these states contain is vastly different from anything we know how to process.

    He hinted that we could also use these states to build computers whose power vastly exceeds any conventional computer you could imagine building. So you open this door to new discovery, new science and new technologies that could be truly amazing: fully secure communications, really precise sensors, simulation of new materials and molecules, perhaps leading to new drugs. This dual road, where you can see a really fruitful area, a new frontier of science, and new applications is really exciting.

    Has the potential for that sped up in the last decade, as technological improvement has?
    Yes, I think particularly in the UK the government has identified the technological potential of quantum science and felt it was something the UK could take a lead on, based on the long history of innovation in this country in the underpinning science. They’ve invested a lot of money and that’s really enabled us to begin to tackle some of the serious engineering and technology questions that weren’t possible before. It’s a good time to be in the field.

    Where in Oxford are you building these structures?
    There’s a new building being built in the Physics Department, just on Keble Road, and part of the laboratory space will be for this new technology centre – that’s where this machine will be built.

    You’re also Pro-Vice-Chancellor for research; what does that involve?
    My role as Pro-Vice-Chancellor is really to have sight of the research activities, and help drive some of the research policies and the overarching research strategy for the institution. It’s also to do with the wider engagement agenda, especially around innovation: how do we ensure that, where it’s appropriate and possible, the fruits of our research are utilised for the benefit of society? That’s also a very exciting part of the work: seeing this ferment of ideas and being able to facilitate where some of them, at the right time, have possible applications is really fantastic.

    Having worked at various different universities, is there anything you think is particularly distinctive about Oxford?
    Well, I think it’s a place that respects the creative autonomy of individuals and works hard to make sure that people can pursue the ideas they want to pursue. And the structure, whereby you can get to talk to people of many different backgrounds and expertise, is, I think, something that is different from many places. I think the scale of excellence across the University institution is something that gives Oxford a distinctive flavour.

    When you stop researching, what would you like to consider the ultimate legacy of your work to be?
    On the science end, if we’re able to really show how you can build these quantum machines and use them for new machines and applications – it would be great to have contributed something substantive towards that. Moreover, to have enabled the University to continue to excel and to realise its potential as a critical part of a modern society.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    U Oxford Campus

    Oxford is a collegiate university, consisting of the central University and colleges. The central University is composed of academic departments and research centres, administrative departments, libraries and museums. The 38 colleges are self-governing and financially independent institutions, which are related to the central University in a federal system. There are also six permanent private halls, which were founded by different Christian denominations and which still retain their Christian character.

    The different roles of the colleges and the University have evolved over time.

     
  • richardmitnick 10:18 am on January 13, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Ichthyology, U Oxford   

    From Oxford: “Two-faced fish clue that our ancestors ‘weren’t shark-like'” 

    U Oxford bloc

    University of Oxford

    An investigation of a 415 million year-old fish skull strongly suggests that the last common ancestor of all jawed vertebrates, including humans, was not very shark-like. It adds further weight to the idea that sharks are not ‘primitive’.

    The fossil skull’s external features meant it had always been thought to belong to the bony fishes (osteichthyans), a group which includes familiar fishes such as cod and tuna as well as all land-dwelling creatures with backbones. But when scientists from Oxford University and Imperial College London used X-ray CT scanning to look inside the skull they found the structure surrounding the brain was reminiscent of cartilaginous fishes (chondrichthyans) such as sharks and rays. The fish fossil’s ‘two faces’ led to it being named Janusiscus after the double-faced Roman god Janus.

    Modern examples
    3
    Bony fish

    5
    Great white shark, Carcharodon carcharias

    A report of the research is published in the journal Nature.

    ‘This 415 million year-old fossil gives us an intriguing glimpse of the ‘Age of Fishes’, when modern groups of vertebrates were really beginning to take off in an evolutionary sense,’ said Dr Matt Friedman of Oxford University’s Department of Earth Sciences, an author of the report. ‘It tells us that the ancestral jawed vertebrate probably doesn’t fit into our existing categories.’

    Chondrichthyans have often been viewed as primitive, and treated as proxies for what the ‘ancestral’ jawed vertebrate would have looked like. A key component of this view is the lack of a bony skeleton in cartilaginous fishes.

    ‘The results from our analysis help to turn this view on its head: the earliest jawed vertebrates would have looked somewhat more like bony fishes, at least externally, with large dermal plates covering their skulls,’ said Sam Giles of Oxford University’s Department of Earth Sciences, first author of the report. ‘In fact, they would have had a mix of what are now viewed as cartilaginous- and bony fish-like features, supporting the idea that both groups became independently specialised later in their separate evolutionary histories.’

    Dr Friedman said: ‘This mix of features, some reminiscent of bony fishes and others cartilaginous fishes, suggests that humans may have just as many features that you might call ‘primitive’ as sharks.’

    The fossil skull was originally found near the Sida River in Siberia in 1972 and is currently held in the Institute of Geology at the Tallinn University of Technology, Estonia. Study author Martin Brazeau of Imperial College London spotted the specimen in an online catalogue and the team decided it would be worth studying in greater detail using modern investigative techniques.

    The team then used X-ray CT (computed tomography) to ‘virtually’ cut through the fossil. Different materials attenuate X-rays to different amounts – just as in a hospital X-ray, bones show up brighter than muscles and skin. This same principle can be applied to fossils, as fossilised bone and rock attenuate X-rays to different degrees. This technique was used to build a 3D virtual model of the fossil, enabling its internal and external features to be examined in great detail. Traces left by networks of blood vessels and nerves, often less than 1/100th of a centimetre in diameter, could then be compared to structure in a variety of jawed vertebrate groups, including sharks and bony fishes.

    ‘Losing your bony skeleton sounds like a pretty extreme adaptation,’ said Dr Friedman, ‘but with remarkable discoveries from China, Janusiscus strongly suggests that that the ancient ancestors of modern sharks and their kin started out just as ‘bony’ as our own ancestors.’

    1

    A report of the research, entitled ‘Osteichthyan-like cranial conditions in an Early Devonian stem gnathostome’ is published online in Nature.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    U Oxford Campus

    Oxford is a collegiate university, consisting of the central University and colleges. The central University is composed of academic departments and research centres, administrative departments, libraries and museums. The 38 colleges are self-governing and financially independent institutions, which are related to the central University in a federal system. There are also six permanent private halls, which were founded by different Christian denominations and which still retain their Christian character.

    The different roles of the colleges and the University have evolved over time.

     
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