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  • richardmitnick 11:48 am on April 13, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Hobby-Eberly Telescope Updated, U Texas at Austin, VIRUS spectrographs   

    From U Texas at Austin: Hobby-Eberly Telescope Updated 

    U Texas Austin bloc

    University of Texas at Austin

    1
    Hobby-Eberly Telescope. 2011-05-10 | Max Planck Institute for extraterrestrial physics

    The HET was designed and constructed with a unique objective: to gather a very large amount of light, specifically for spectroscopy, at extremely low cost.

    A fixed elevation-axis design, based on the radio telescope at Arecibo, and an innovative system for tracking stars, contributed to an 80% reduction in initial costs compared to optical telescopes of similar size. The primary mirror of the HET is the largest yet constructed, at 11.1 x 9.8 meters. At any given time during observations, only a portion of the mirror is utilized. The HET’s 10 meter effective aperture places it among the world’s five largest telescopes.

    Work is underway to modify the telescope for the upcoming Dark Energy Experiment (HETDEX). The addition of 150 integral field spectrographs (VIRUS), mounted to the sides of the main framework, will give the HET the ability to map the expansion rate of the early universe, looking back in time billions of years, to measure how clusters of galaxies moved in relation to one another as the universe evolved.

    Wide Field Upgrade

    The Wide Field Upgrade (WFU) is the first phase of the HETDEX retrofit. Keep up with progress at HET Blog, a forum where users can post articles, comments, and photos of the work. Time-lapse movies and live webcams are available at HETDEX WFU.

    2
    Artist’s concept of the upgraded Hobby-Eberly Telescope. The VIRUS spectrographs are contained in the curved gray “saddlebags” on the side of the telescope.

    Unique and Powerful Survey Instrument

    The deployment of the Visible Integral-field Replicable Unit Spectrograph (VIRUS), for the HETDEX project, will transform the HET into a powerful survey instrument like no other in astronomy, placing 35,000 fibers on the sky, each capable of collecting a distinct spectrum, with every exposure. VIRUS is scheduled to begin science operations in 2017.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    U Texas Arlington Campus

    In 1839, the Congress of the Republic of Texas ordered that a site be set aside to meet the state’s higher education needs. After a series of delays over the next several decades, the state legislature reinvigorated the project in 1876, calling for the establishment of a “university of the first class.” Austin was selected as the site for the new university in 1881, and construction began on the original Main Building in November 1882. Less than one year later, on Sept. 15, 1883, The University of Texas at Austin opened with one building, eight professors, one proctor, and 221 students — and a mission to change the world. Today, UT Austin is a world-renowned higher education, research, and public service institution serving more than 51,000 students annually through 18 top-ranked colleges and schools.

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  • richardmitnick 2:39 pm on March 24, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , U Texas at Austin,   

    From WIRED: “Astronomers Don’t Point This Telescope—The Telescope Points Them” 

    Wired logo

    WIRED

    03.23.17
    Sarah Scoles

    1
    U Texas Austin McDonald Observatory Hobby-Eberly Telescope

    The hills of West Texas rise in waves around the Hobby-Eberly Telescope, a powerful instrument encased in a dome that looks like the Epcot ball. Soon, it will become more powerful still: Scientists recently primed the telescope to find evidence of dark energy in the early universe, prying open its eye so it can see and process a wide swath of sky. On April 8, scientists will dedicate the new telescope, capping off the $40 million upgrade and beginning the real work.

    The dark energy experiment, called Hetdex, isn’t how astronomy has traditionally been done. In the classical model, a lone astronomer goes to a mountaintop and solemnly points a telescope at one predetermined object. But Hetdex won’t look for any objects in particular; it will just scan the sky and churn petabytes of the resulting data through a silicon visual cortex. That’s only possible because of today’s steroidal computers, which let scientists analyze, store, and send such massive quantities of data.

    “Dark energy is not only terribly important for astronomy, it’s the central problem for physics. It’s been the bone in our throat for a long time.”

    Steven Weinberg
    Nobel Laureate
    University of Texas at Austin

    The hope is so-called blind surveys like this one will find stuff astronomers never even knew to look for. In this realm, computers take over curation of the sky, telling astronomers what is interesting and worthy of further study, rather than the other way around. These wide-eyed projects are becoming a standard part of astronomers’ arsenal, and the greatest part about them is that their best discoveries are still totally TBD.

    Big Sky Country

    To understand dark energy—that mysterious stuff that pulls the taffy of spacetime—the Hetdex team needed Hobby-Eberly to study one million galaxies 9-11 billion light-years away as they fly away from Earth. To get that many galaxies in a reasonable amount of time, they broadened the view of its 91 tessellated stop-sign-shaped mirrors by 100. They also created an instrument called Virus, with 35,000 optical fibers that send the light from the universe to a spectrograph, which splits it up into constituent wavelengths. All that data can determine both how far away a galaxy is and how fast it’s traveling away from Earth.

    But when a telescope takes a ton of data down from the sky, scientists can also uncover the unexpected. Hetdex’s astronomers will find more than just the stretch marks of dark energy. They’ll discover things about supermassive black holes, star formation, dark matter, and the ages of stars in nearby galaxies.

    The classical method still has advantages; if you know exactly what you want to look at, you write up a nice proposal to Hubble and explain why a fixed gaze at the Whirlpool Galaxy would yield significant results. “But what you see is what you get,” says astronomer Douglas Hudgins. “This is an object, and the science of that object is what you’re stuck with.”

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 9:15 am on February 9, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Faintest galaxies yet seen in the early universe, , , , U Texas at Austin   

    From U Texas at Austin: “Astronomers Find Faintest Early Galaxies Yet, Probe How the Early Universe Lit Up” 

    U Texas Austin bloc

    University of Texas at Austin

    08 February 2017
    No writer credit

    Astronomers at The University of Texas at Austin have developed a new technique to discover the faintest galaxies yet seen in the early universe —10 times fainter than any previously seen.

    1
    A Hubble Space Telescope view of the galaxy cluster Abell 2744.

    These galaxies will help astronomers probe a little-understood, but important period in cosmic history. Their new technique helps probe the time a billion years after the Big Bang, when the early, dark universe was flooded with light from the first galaxies.

    Rachael Livermore and Steven Finkelstein of the UT Austin Astronomy Department, along with Jennifer Lotz of the Space Telescope Science Institute, went looking for these faint galaxies in images from Hubble Space Telescope’s Frontier Fields survey.

    2
    A Hubble Space Telescope view of the galaxy cluster MACS 0416 is annotated in cyan and magenta to show how it acts as a ‘gravitational lens,’ magnifying more distant background galaxies.

    “These galaxies are actually extremely common,” Livermore said. “It’s very satisfying being able to find them.”

    These faint, early galaxies gave rise to the Epoch of Reionization, when the energetic radiation they gave off bombarded the gas between all galaxies in the universe. This caused the atoms in this diffuse gas to lose their electrons (that is, become ionized).

    Finkelstein explained why finding these faint galaxies is so important. “We knew ahead of time that for our idea of galaxy-powered reionization to work, there had to be galaxies a hundred times fainter than we could see with Hubble,” he said, “and they had to be really, really common.” This was why the Hubble Frontier Fields program was created, he said.

    Lotz leads the Hubble Frontier Fields project, one of the telescope’s largest to date. In it, Hubble photographed several large galaxy clusters. These were selected to take advantage of their enormous mass which causes a useful optical effect, predicted by Albert Einstein. A galaxy cluster’s immense gravity bends space, which magnifies light from more-distant galaxies behind it as that light travels toward the telescope. Thus the galaxy cluster acts as a magnifying glass, or a “gravitational lens,” allowing astronomers to see those more-distant galaxies — ones they would not normally be able to detect, even with Hubble.

    Even then, though, the lensed galaxies were still just at the cusp of what Hubble could detect.

    “The main motivation for the Frontier Fields project was to search for these extremely faint galaxies during this critical period in the universe’s history,” Lotz said. “However, the primary difficulty with using the Frontier Field clusters as an extra magnifying glass is how to correct for the contamination from the light of the cluster galaxies.”

    Livermore elaborates: “The problem is, you’re trying to find these really faint things, but you’re looking behind these really bright things. The brightest galaxies in the universe are in clusters, and those cluster galaxies are blocking the background galaxies we’re trying to observe. So what I did was come up with a method of removing the cluster galaxies” from the images.

    Her method uses modeling to identify and separate light from the foreground galaxies (the cluster galaxies) from the light coming from the background galaxies (the more-distant, lensed galaxies).

    According to Lotz, “This work is unique in its approach to removing this light. This has allowed us to detect more and fainter galaxies than seen in previous studies, and to achieve the primary goal for the Frontier Fields survey.”

    Livermore and Finkelstein have used the new method on two of the galaxy clusters in the Frontier Fields project: Abell 2744 and MACS 0416. It enabled them to identify faint galaxies seen when the universe was about a billion years old, less than 10 percent of its current age — galaxies 100 times fainter than those found in the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, for instance, which is the deepest image of the night sky yet obtained.

    Their observations showed that these faint galaxies are extremely numerous, consistent with the idea that large numbers of extremely faint galaxies were the main power source behind reionization.

    There are four Frontier Fields clusters left, and the team plans to study them all with Livermore’s method. In future, she said, they would like to use the James Webb Space Telescope to study even fainter galaxies.

    The work is published in a recent issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    U Texas Arlington Campus

    In 1839, the Congress of the Republic of Texas ordered that a site be set aside to meet the state’s higher education needs. After a series of delays over the next several decades, the state legislature reinvigorated the project in 1876, calling for the establishment of a “university of the first class.” Austin was selected as the site for the new university in 1881, and construction began on the original Main Building in November 1882. Less than one year later, on Sept. 15, 1883, The University of Texas at Austin opened with one building, eight professors, one proctor, and 221 students — and a mission to change the world. Today, UT Austin is a world-renowned higher education, research, and public service institution serving more than 51,000 students annually through 18 top-ranked colleges and schools.

     
  • richardmitnick 9:40 pm on December 19, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , U Texas at Austin   

    From U Texas Austin via Pys.org: “Famous red star Betelgeuse is spinning faster than expected; may have swallowed a companion 100,000 years ago” 

    THIS POST IS DEDICATED TO J.L.T. who knew how to get it done.

    U Texas Austin bloc

    University of Texas at Austin

    phys.org

    phys.org

    December 19, 2016
    No writer credit

    1
    This 2012 infrared image of Betelgeuse by the orbiting Herschel telescope shows two shells of interacting matter on one side of the star. Credit: L. Decin/University of Leuven/ESA

    Astronomer J. Craig Wheeler of The University of Texas at Austin thinks that Betelgeuse, the bright red star marking the shoulder of Orion, the hunter, may have had a past that is more interesting than meets the eye. Working with an international group of undergraduate students, Wheeler has found evidence that the red supergiant star may have been born with a companion star, and later swallowed that star. The research is published today in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

    For such a well-known star, Betelgeuse is mysterious. Astronomers know that it’s a red supergiant, a massive star that is nearing the end of its life and so has bloated up to many times its original size. Someday it will explode as a supernova, but no one knows when.

    “It might be ten thousand years from now, or it might be tomorrow night,” Wheeler, a supernova expert, said.

    A new clue to the future of Betelgeuse involves its rotation. When a star inflates to become a supergiant, its rotation should slow down. “It’s like the classic spinning ice skater—not bringing her arms in, but opening her arms up,” Wheeler said. As the skater opens her arms, she slows down. So, too, should Betelgeuse’s rotation have slowed as the star expanded. But that is not what Wheeler’s team found.

    “We cannot account for the rotation of Betelgeuse,” Wheeler said. “It’s spinning 150 times faster than any plausible single star just rotating and doing its thing.”

    He directed a team of undergraduates including Sarafina Nance, Manuel Diaz, and James Sullivan of The University of Texas at Austin, as well as visiting students from China and Greece, to study Betelgeuse with a computer modeling program called MESA. The students used MESA to model Betelgeuse’s rotation for the first time.

    Wheeler said in contemplating the star’s puzzlingly fast rotation, he began to speculate. “Suppose Betelgeuse had a companion when it was first born? And let’s just suppose it is orbiting around Betelgeuse at an orbit about the size that Betelgeuse is now. And then Betelgeuse turns into a red supergiant and absorbs it—swallows it.”

    He explained that the companion star, once swallowed, would transfer the angular momentum of its orbit around Betelgeuse to that star’s outer envelope, speeding Betelgeuse’s rotation.

    2
    This view of Orion, the hunter, was captured from McDonald Observatory on November 20, 2016 by a DSLR camera piggybacked on a three-inch telescope for a 12-minute exposure. Supergiant star Betelgeuse forms the hunter’s bright orange shoulder at top left. Credit: Tom Montemayor

    Wheeler estimates that the companion star would have had about the same mass as the Sun, in order to account for Betelgeuse’s current spin rate of 15 km/sec.

    While an interesting idea, is there any evidence for this swallowed-companion theory? In a word: perhaps.

    If Betelgeuse did swallow a companion star, it’s likely that the interaction between the two would cause the supergiant to shoot some matter out into space, Wheeler said.

    Knowing how fast matter comes off of a red giant star, about 10 km/sec, Wheeler said he was able to roughly estimate how far from Betelgeuse this matter should be today.

    “And then I went to the literature, in my naiveté, and read about Betelgeuse, and it turns out there’s a shell of matter sitting beyond Betelgeuse only a little closer than what I had guessed,” Wheeler said.

    Infrared images taken of Betelgeuse in 2012 by Leen Decin of the University of Leuven in Belgium with the orbiting Herschel telescope show two shells of interacting matter on one side of Betelgeuse. Various interpretations exist; some say that this matter is a bow shock created as Betelgeuse’s atmosphere pushes through the interstellar medium as it races through the galaxy.

    No one knows the origin with certainty. But “the fact is,” Wheeler said, “there is evidence that Betelgeuse had some kind of commotion on roughly this timescale”—that is, 100,000 years ago when the star expanded into a red supergiant.

    The swallowed companion theory could explain both Betelgeuse’s rapid rotation and this nearby matter.

    Wheeler and his team of students are continuing their investigations into this enigmatic star. Next, he says, they hope to probe Betelgeuse using a technique called “asteroseismology”—looking for sound waves impacting the surface of the star, to get clues to what’s happening deep inside its obscuring cocoon. They will also use the MESA code to better understand what would happen if Betelgeuse ate a companion star.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    U Texas Arlington Campus

    In 1839, the Congress of the Republic of Texas ordered that a site be set aside to meet the state’s higher education needs. After a series of delays over the next several decades, the state legislature reinvigorated the project in 1876, calling for the establishment of a “university of the first class.” Austin was selected as the site for the new university in 1881, and construction began on the original Main Building in November 1882. Less than one year later, on Sept. 15, 1883, The University of Texas at Austin opened with one building, eight professors, one proctor, and 221 students — and a mission to change the world. Today, UT Austin is a world-renowned higher education, research, and public service institution serving more than 51,000 students annually through 18 top-ranked colleges and schools.

     
  • richardmitnick 11:00 am on December 15, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Non-essential amino acid cysteine, U Texas at Austin   

    From U Texas at Austin: “Enzyme Safely Starves Cancer Cells in Preclinical Study” 

    [THIS POST IS DEDICATED TO E.B.M., who will begin his work in cancer research as an incoming student next Fall at Brown University. We are all proud of him, as would be his grandmother who was a lung cancer victim. There are tears on this page.]

    U Texas Austin bloc

    University of Texas at Austin

    Dec. 9, 2016
    Kristin Phillips, College of Natural Sciences
    kristin.phillips@austin.utexas.edu
    512-232-0654

    1
    Malignant breast cancer cells. Peter Thomas

    A research team led by scientists at The University of Texas Austin has engineered an enzyme that safely treats prostate and breast cancer in animals and also lengthens the lifespan of models that develop chronic lymphocytic leukemia. The new treatment and results from preclinical trials are described in a paper published in the Nov. 21 issue of Nature Medicine.

    Many cancers depend on the non-essential amino acid cysteine to grow, survive, and even resist many chemotherapeutics. George Georgiou, a professor of molecular biosciences and chemical engineering, and Everett Stone, a research assistant professor in molecular biosciences, led a team that was able to capitalize upon these observations by engineering a human enzyme to systemically degrade cysteine. The UT research team showed that injection of their cysteine-degrading enzyme into animals leads to the elimination of cysteine in blood and thus deprives the tumor cells of what they need to grow.

    “With this treatment approach, cancers build up toxic molecules of their own making because we took away their ability to make an antioxidant that is really important to them—but not necessarily important to a normal cell,” Stone says. “A very important component of our result is that there are no apparent side effects.”

    Cysteine is considered a non-essential amino acid in healthy cells because it is produced by most tissues and does not have to be taken up in the diet. It plays a central role in the defense of cells against oxidation. Numerous tumors are known to be oxidatively stressed, in part because of their fast growth; for this reason, they require cysteine, which they take up from blood.

    “Cancer cells are often very stressed and toxic to themselves because of abnormal metabolism,” says Stone. “With the enzyme that we engineered, we are pushing them over the edge by increasing oxidative stress to levels that they cannot recover from. This cancer-selective starvation gives us a new way to target cancer in addition to conventional approaches such as surgery, radiation or chemotherapy.”

    The results of the preclinical trials showed that using the engineered enzyme to selectively eliminate cysteine had no adverse effects on healthy cells yet effectively impacted a variety of cancer types, inhibiting their growth and survival.

    The new product is being developed under the trade name AEB3103 by Aeglea Biotherapeutics, Inc, a biotechnology company cofounded by Georgiou and Stone.

    “Preclinical findings showed that AEB3103 had a potent anti-tumor effect in multiple solid tumor models, including prostate and breast cancer, and it was well tolerated for more than five months,” says Georgiou. “This suggests that AEB3103 could be a safe and effective alternative to experimental drugs targeting oxidative stress that are currently under clinical evaluation.”

    The idea for this treatment originated with Stone and Georgiou, and the research was designed in conjunction with authors John DiGiovanni from UT Austin’s College of Pharmacy and Peng Huang of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

    “This is an excellent example of how interdisciplinary, collaborative research can lead to more rapid development of novel therapeutic strategies in the fight against cancer,” says DiGiovanni.

    Additional authors were Shira Cramer, Achinto Saha, Surendar Tadi, Stefano Tiziani, Wupeng Yan, Kendra Triplett, Candice Lamb and Yan Jessie Zhang all of UT Austin; Susan Alters and Scott Rowlinson of Aeglea Biotherapeutics; and Michael Keating and Jinyun Liu of MD Anderson Cancer Center.

    The research was funded by the National Cancer Institute and Aeglea Biotherapeutics Inc.

    The University of Texas at Austin is committed to transparency and disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. The university investigators who led this research, George Georgiou and Everett Stone, have submitted required financial disclosure forms with the university. Georgiou and Stone are co-founders with equity ownership of Aeglea Biotherapeutics, which is developing the product described in this release. Both also have equity ownership stakes in GMA LLC, which licensed intellectual property to Aeglea Biotherapeutics.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    U Texas Arlington Campus

    In 1839, the Congress of the Republic of Texas ordered that a site be set aside to meet the state’s higher education needs. After a series of delays over the next several decades, the state legislature reinvigorated the project in 1876, calling for the establishment of a “university of the first class.” Austin was selected as the site for the new university in 1881, and construction began on the original Main Building in November 1882. Less than one year later, on Sept. 15, 1883, The University of Texas at Austin opened with one building, eight professors, one proctor, and 221 students — and a mission to change the world. Today, UT Austin is a world-renowned higher education, research, and public service institution serving more than 51,000 students annually through 18 top-ranked colleges and schools.

     
  • richardmitnick 7:06 am on September 8, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , U Texas at Austin   

    From U Texas at Austin: “Chemists Garner New Insights into Protein Linked to Alzheimer’s Disease” 

    U Texas Austin bloc

    University of Texas at Austin

    07 September 2016
    Christine S Sinatra, Chemistry

    Alzheimer’s disease, the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, has proven especially thorny for researchers: no cure has been found, nor has there been any treatment proven to slow the progression of the disease once it sets in. In a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists have taken a back-to-the-beginning approach, examining what happens at the start of a chain reaction that occurs before onset of the disease.

    1
    Amyloid plaques in a brain tissue sample. Credit: CDC/ Teresa Hammett.

    Dave Thirumalai, a theoretical chemist at The University of Texas at Austin and chair of the Department of Chemistry, and John Straub, a computational chemist at Boston University, teamed up to understand how a mutation in a normal protein can create amyloid β, a key contributor to Alzheimer’s disease. Amyloid β builds up as a plaque in the brains of people with the disease, apparently leading to dementia and other symptoms.

    Amyloid β occurs when a protein found in healthy brains – called the amyloid precursor protein – gets cut by an enzyme in a particular way. Thirumalai and the other researchers wanted to understand what interactions were occurring in the membrane, and under which circumstances, to cause the precursor to be severed in such a way that it mutates into amyloid β.

    “Several enzymes cut this amyloid precursor protein, which is a very long protein spanning the membrane and outside the membrane,” Thirumalai said. “Some products of cutting it are benign, some are not. One can lead to Alzheimer’s disease.”

    The scientific team has spent several years examining how circumstances in the membrane can trigger the disease-causing mutation in the precursor protein. In the latest study, Thirumalai and colleagues report that variations in the membrane, as well as in the structure of the protein, can interact in ways that lead to production of amyloid β. Drug developers could potentially use insights from such studies to understand a new way to prevent the onset of the disease.

    Thirumalai and the other scientists plan to continue this line of exploration, including looking into how cholesterol affects the interactions between the membrane, the precursor protein, and the enzyme each time the disease-causing mutation occurs.

    “In order to devise a therapy against this process, you need to understand the life cycle of the amyloid precursor protein and figure out what it is doing and what the membrane is doing,” Thirumalai says. “These promising leads and new research that we and many others are exploring will hopefully in the end give us a better target for therapy. I’m cautiously optimistic about that.”

    The group’s research was funded with a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    U Texas Arlington Campus

    In 1839, the Congress of the Republic of Texas ordered that a site be set aside to meet the state’s higher education needs. After a series of delays over the next several decades, the state legislature reinvigorated the project in 1876, calling for the establishment of a “university of the first class.” Austin was selected as the site for the new university in 1881, and construction began on the original Main Building in November 1882. Less than one year later, on Sept. 15, 1883, The University of Texas at Austin opened with one building, eight professors, one proctor, and 221 students — and a mission to change the world. Today, UT Austin is a world-renowned higher education, research, and public service institution serving more than 51,000 students annually through 18 top-ranked colleges and schools.

     
  • richardmitnick 2:15 pm on August 15, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Pop-Up Institutes, U Texas at Austin   

    From U Texas Austin: “Creative Research Collaborations to Start with ‘Pop-Up Institutes’ “ 

    U Texas Austin bloc

    University of Texas at Austin

    11 August 2016
    Kristin E Phillips

    Faculty members in the College of Natural Sciences are leading new Pop-Up Institutes as part of a new interdisciplinary research initiative at The University of Texas at Austin. Three Pop-Up Institutes were announced this week, with two originating in Natural Sciences. These research efforts will assemble fresh collaborations to address the influence of individual variation on the health and fitness of populations and the impact of discrimination on health outcomes.

    Pop-Up Institutes are a new campus-wide research initiative designed to address specific goals. Multidisciplinary teams at UT Austin will spend the upcoming academic year preparing for a burst of activity focused on a specific area of research. These Institutes will then ‘Pop Up’ for one month — longer than an academic conference, but less than a dedicated research center or program.

    “This novel approach gives distinguished researchers the time and space to work together outside of traditional disciplines and think about an important problem in a new way,” says Dan Jaffe, vice president for research at UT Austin and a faculty member in the Department of Astronomy. “I am confident we will see remarkable results and build new connections across campus.”

    Professor of integrative biology Hans Hofmann, who is the director of the Center for Computational Biology and Bioinformatics, will lead one Pop-Up Institute. Called Seeing the Tree AND the Forest: Understanding Individual and Population Variation in Biology, Medicine and Society, it will focus on how variation among a population of individuals determines what makes a population thrive.

    “Our Pop-Up-Institute will organize a symposium, working groups, and a hackathon to explore transdisciplinary perspectives on the causes and consequences of individual and population variation in biology, medicine and society,” says Hofmann.

    Another Pop-Up Institute is headed by Stephen Russell, the Priscilla Pond Flawn Regents Professor in Child Development in the School of Human Ecology and incoming chair of the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences. Discrimination and Population Health Disparities will bring together leading health, policy and discrimination scholars to investigate the dramatic implications of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, social class or LGBTQ status for health.

    “We want to nurture research that will help understand discrimination – and dismantle how it undermines health,” says Russell.
    The Office of the Vice President for Research will host a Town Hall meeting to introduce the Institutes and their team members on September 15. This event is open to the entire UT community and will provide campus researchers an opportunity to contribute their perspectives to the new Institutes.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    U Texas Arlington Campus

    In 1839, the Congress of the Republic of Texas ordered that a site be set aside to meet the state’s higher education needs. After a series of delays over the next several decades, the state legislature reinvigorated the project in 1876, calling for the establishment of a “university of the first class.” Austin was selected as the site for the new university in 1881, and construction began on the original Main Building in November 1882. Less than one year later, on Sept. 15, 1883, The University of Texas at Austin opened with one building, eight professors, one proctor, and 221 students — and a mission to change the world. Today, UT Austin is a world-renowned higher education, research, and public service institution serving more than 51,000 students annually through 18 top-ranked colleges and schools.

     
  • richardmitnick 4:56 pm on May 23, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , U Texas at Austin,   

    From U Texas at Austin: “Making Virus Sensors Cheap and Simple: New Method Detects Single Viruses” 

    U Texas Austin bloc

    University of Texas at Austin

    23 May 2016
    Marc G Airhart

    Scientists at The University of Texas at Austin have developed a new method to rapidly detect a single virus in urine, as reported* this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    1
    Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin demonstrated the ability to detect single viruses in a solution containing murine cytomegalovirus (MCMV). The single virus in this image is a human cytomegalovirus, a cousin of MCMV. It was obtained by chilling a sample down with liquid nitrogen and exposing it to high-energy electrons. Image courtesy of Jean-Yves Sgro, U. of Wisconsin-Madison (EMD-5696 data Dai, XH et al., 2013)

    Although the technique presently works on just one virus, scientists say it could be adapted to detect a range of viruses that plague humans including Ebola, Zika and HIV.

    “The ultimate goal is to build a cheap, easy-to-use device to take into the field and measure the presence of a virus like Ebola in people on the spot,” says Jeffrey Dick, a chemistry graduate student and co-lead author of the study. “While we are still pretty far from this, this work is a leap in the right direction.”

    The other co-lead author is Adam Hilterbrand, a microbiology graduate student.

    The new method is highly selective, meaning it is only sensitive to one type of virus, filtering out possible false negatives caused by other viruses or contaminants.

    There are two other commonly used methods for detecting viruses in biological samples, but they have drawbacks. One requires a much higher concentration of viruses, and the other requires samples to be purified to remove contaminants. The new method, however, can be used with urine straight from a person or animal.

    The other co-authors are Lauren Strawsine, a postdoctoral fellow in chemistry; Jason Upton, an assistant professor of molecular biosciences; and Allen Bard, professor of chemistry and director of the Center for Electrochemistry.

    The researchers demonstrated their new technique on a virus that belongs to the same family as the herpes virus, called murine cytomegalovirus (MCMV). To detect individual viruses, the team places an electrode — a wire that conducts electricity, in this case, one that is thinner than a human cell — in a sample of mouse urine. They then add to the urine some special molecules made up of enzymes and antibodies that naturally stick to the virus of interest. When all three stick together and then bump into the electrode, there’s a spike in electric current that can be easily detected.

    The researchers say their new method still needs refinement. For example, the electrodes become less sensitive over time because a host of other naturally occurring compounds stick to them, leaving less surface area for viruses to interact with them. To be practical, the process will also need to be engineered into a compact and rugged device that can operate in a range of real-world environments.

    Support for this research was provided by the National Science Foundation, the Welch Foundation and the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas.

    *Science paper:
    Enzymatically enhanced collisions on ultramicroelectrodes for specific and rapid detection of individual viruses

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    U Texas Arlington Campus

    In 1839, the Congress of the Republic of Texas ordered that a site be set aside to meet the state’s higher education needs. After a series of delays over the next several decades, the state legislature reinvigorated the project in 1876, calling for the establishment of a “university of the first class.” Austin was selected as the site for the new university in 1881, and construction began on the original Main Building in November 1882. Less than one year later, on Sept. 15, 1883, The University of Texas at Austin opened with one building, eight professors, one proctor, and 221 students — and a mission to change the world. Today, UT Austin is a world-renowned higher education, research, and public service institution serving more than 51,000 students annually through 18 top-ranked colleges and schools.

     
  • richardmitnick 10:40 am on May 21, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Rebecca Larson, U Texas at Austin,   

    From U Texas at Austin: “The Unexpected Journey of a Veteran Student and Astronomer” Women in Science 

    U Texas Austin bloc

    University of Texas at Austin

    20 May 2016
    Steven E Franklin

    1

    The educational journey of one exceptional student has taken her from translating Arabic in the Air Force to learning the secrets of the stars.

    Rebecca Larson is a Dean’s Honored Graduate in Astronomy, who will receive bachelor’s degrees in both astronomy and physics at Saturday’s commencement ceremony. She returns to campus in the fall to pursue a Ph.D. in astronomy.

    When Larson graduates this weekend, she does so as the first author on a paper published* in one of the highest-impact journals in astrophysics. A veteran, she has spent her time at The University of Texas at Austin as an advocate for improvements in the transfer process for military students and helping to create an inclusive community for those who have served. She is also a founding member of the first women’s astronomy group at UT Austin.

    The College has about 2,000 graduating seniors this spring, and only a couple dozen are selected for the honor of Dean’s Honored Graduate. There are many compelling individual stories, among the thousands and among the dozens. Larson’s story is one.

    The Journey to UT

    Her journey to study astronomy in the hallowed halls of UT Austin was long, circuitous and unexpected, with many obstacles along the way. In fact, the biggest surprise was that she never intended to study the stars in the first place. Fate engineered a strange confluence of bureaucracy and happenstance to steer her into a career that she now cannot envision leaving.

    “I had great grades but I didn’t have a passion for anything,” Larson recalled, thinking back to when she graduated high school. “I thought the military would give me a good place to start. I would learn something, I would get the GI Bill for my education, and it would give me some kind of skill that would be useful for my future.”

    A military aptitude test revealed a skill for languages, so she entered the Air Force’s intensive Defense Language Institute, graduating with an Associate’s Degree in Arabic. Stationed in Maryland and then Georgia, she supplied translation support for Operation Iraqi Freedom and led a team of ten linguists for the National Security Agency’s stateside office for Sub-Saharan Africa.

    2
    Larson receiving her associate’s degree in Arabic from the Defense Language Institute in 2006.

    During her stint in the Air Force, whenever she wasn’t working, Larson furthered her college education by taking night classes. “If there’s one thing I knew I wanted to do, it was go to school, and that’s exactly what I did. And I did it as much and as often as I could.”

    In 2010, she chose not to reenlist after six years and moved to San Jose, California, to be near her family and enroll in San Jose State University. When her family later moved to Austin, she decided to follow, with the goal of entering the McCombs School of Business at UT Austin.​

    A Rocky Start

    When Larson applied to UT, she brought an impressive transcript with more than 145 credit hours from eight separate institutions. Unfortunately, her transcript turned out to be an impediment.

    The School of Business wouldn’t allow her to transfer directly in with that many credit hours, and, although she was accepted to enter UT’s School of Undergraduate Studies in the spring of 2013, the week before classes were to begin she learned she also had too many credit hours to remain in that school. She was technically a senior and needed to pick a major. Making matters worse, Larson’s GI Bill was running out. She had to stick with whatever she chose in order to graduate on time or face losing her funding.

    “On orientation day, I suddenly had to decide what was I going to do with my life,” Larson said. “I didn’t know what to do.”

    As Larson scanned the science majors, one caught her eye. She had a love of science fiction and an appreciation for the beauty of space. So, on a whim, she chose astronomy. On that fateful orientation day she met an astronomy counselor.

    “I walked in, and I think she could see the look on my face. She sat me down and started calling people for me,” said Larson. “Had she not done that and taken the time to sit down and tell me about the Astronomy Department and the resources I’d have there, I don’t think I would have been very successful that day or that semester.”

    She would continue to be amazed at the kindness and camaraderie she found within the Astronomy Department. “I felt like I really had a place here and that I was part of a community.”

    It was a tough first semester, but a required undergraduate studies course captured her imagination. She took Dr. Neal Evans’ course on extraterrestrial life, and that, in turn, led her to research.

    The Research

    3
    The data plot that changed Larson’s life.

    Larson approached Evans to talk about summer research options, explaining that she wanted to get a taste of what it was like to be an astronomer and see if she was on the right path. Evans saw her potential, telling Larson that if she could learn Arabic, she could handle astronomy. That summer, she got a crash course in quantum mechanics from a pair of scientists, enough to get her started in sifting through data.

    The goal of the research project was to figure out why protostars—stars that are in the process of forming—take longer than expected to develop. One idea was that turbulence from a shockwave could disrupt the process, slowing down or even stopping star formation. Models predict that this turbulence should cause certain molecules to get excited and jump up to a higher state of energy.

    Larson spent the next year poring through data from the Herschel Space Observatory, looking for the telltale energy spikes. Eventually, she plotted measurements taken from the data and compared it to what the theoretical model predicted. She found a perfect match.

    ESA/Herschel
    ESA/Herschel

    “The moment I plotted that, it changed my life. I fell in love,” said Larson. “No other human being had been able to prove this…had found observational evidence that this exists, and we just did. I knew then that I didn’t want to do anything else with my life.”

    Evans was as shocked as she was upon seeing the findings, but after the data and measurements were verified, the results were found to be correct. He offered Larson the opportunity to write up the paper, with her as first author, and she jumped at the chance. The researchers submitted their paper to The Astrophysical Journal, one of the top publications in the field, where it was published in June 2015.

    4
    The center of a galaxy cluster that Larson studied at the Space Telescope Science Institute.

    The next summer, Larson applied for and received a grant through the College’s Texas Institute for Discovery Education in Science (TIDES) to do summer research, characterizing extreme star-forming galaxies in the early Universe, with Dr. Shardha Jogee. The project used a survey of a large swath of the sky that contains more than a million galaxies. Larson, the only undergraduate with a leading role in this international science collaboration, identified several dozen candidate distant extreme galaxies. These galaxies appeared to be producing stars at a rate over a hundred times that of our own Milky Way Galaxy.

    In her third and final summer, Larson accepted an offer from the Space Astronomy Summer Program to travel to Baltimore, Maryland, where she researched massive galaxies at the center of galaxy clusters with Dr. Marc Postman at the Space Telescope Science Institute.

    Larson’s work has earned her numerous awards, including the Astronomy Department’s Karl G. Henize Award and Ralph Cutler Greene Award.

    Giving Back

    Through it all, Larson remembered where she came from. She devoted time to improving the lives of Longhorn veterans, working diligently with Student Veteran Services in the Office of the Dean of Students and founding a UT Women Veterans group. She helped encourage the Student Veterans Association to create new mentor programs that pair incoming veterans with a current undergraduate veteran in their field and to organize happy hours, lunches and coffee breaks that present chances to socialize with other veterans. She is currently partnering with a fellow veteran in engineering to create a similar mentor program for incoming graduate student veterans. For her efforts, Larson was awarded the Student Veteran Academic Leadership Award in 2015 and the Outstanding Community Service Award in 2016.

    “I think that a big challenge, especially for veterans, is that there’s a sense of community in the military that you definitely lose when you leave, and that adjustment is very difficult,” she said. “The military is a wholly different world, and to have that community of veterans is very nice and it’s something that we’ve definitely worked for with our organization.”

    Larson also helped create a special transfer orientation for veterans to ensure that what happened to her during her orientation doesn’t happen to others.

    “We reach out to them before they get here, so that they know where to go on orientation day and to help them with all of the GI Bill paperwork and everything.”

    In addition to her work with veterans, Larson is part of the group that founded the first women’s organization in astronomy at UT, the Association of Women in Astronomy Research and Education (AWARE).

    The Future

    As a UT graduate student in astronomy, courtesy of the Astronomy Graduate Excellence Fellowship (a full scholarship), Larson plans to work with Dr. Steve Finkelstein to study galaxies from the very early universe and learn how galaxies evolve over time.

    “I didn’t intend on doing this with my life, but I can’t imagine not doing it,” she said. “It’s the most incredible thing I’ve been able to do.”

    *Science paper:
    Evidence for Decay of Turbulence by MHD Shocks in Molecular Clouds via CO Emission, The Astrophysical Journal

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    U Texas Arlington Campus

    In 1839, the Congress of the Republic of Texas ordered that a site be set aside to meet the state’s higher education needs. After a series of delays over the next several decades, the state legislature reinvigorated the project in 1876, calling for the establishment of a “university of the first class.” Austin was selected as the site for the new university in 1881, and construction began on the original Main Building in November 1882. Less than one year later, on Sept. 15, 1883, The University of Texas at Austin opened with one building, eight professors, one proctor, and 221 students — and a mission to change the world. Today, UT Austin is a world-renowned higher education, research, and public service institution serving more than 51,000 students annually through 18 top-ranked colleges and schools.

     
  • richardmitnick 3:17 pm on May 16, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , New Method of Producing Random Numbers Could Improve Cybersecurity, U Texas at Austin   

    From U Texas: “New Method of Producing Random Numbers Could Improve Cybersecurity” 

    U Texas Austin bloc

    University of Texas at Austin

    16 May 2016
    Marc G Airhart

    1
    Photo credit: James Bowe, via Create Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

    With an advance that one cryptography expert called a “masterpiece,” University of Texas at Austin computer scientists have developed a new method for producing truly random numbers, a breakthrough that could be used to encrypt data, make electronic voting more secure, conduct statistically significant polls and more accurately simulate complex systems such as Earth’s climate.

    The new method creates truly random numbers with less computational effort than other methods, which could facilitate significantly higher levels of security for everything from consumer credit card transactions to military communications.

    Computer science professor David Zuckerman and graduate student Eshan Chattopadhyay will present research about their method in June at the annual Symposium on Theory of Computing (STOC), the Association for Computing Machinery’s premier theoretical computer science conference. An invitation to present at the conference is based on a rigorous peer review process to evaluate the work’s correctness and significance. Their paper will be one of three receiving the STOC Best Paper Award.

    “This is a problem I’ve come back to over and over again for more than 20 years,” says Zuckerman. “I’m thrilled to have solved it.”

    Chattopadhyay and Zuckerman publicly released a draft paper* describing their method for making random numbers in an online forum last year. In a field more accustomed to small, incremental improvements, the computer science community hailed the method, suggesting that, compared with earlier methods, this one is light years ahead. Oded Goldreich, a professor of computer science at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, commented that even if it had only been a moderate improvement over existing methods, it would have justified a “night-long party.”

    “When I heard about it, I couldn’t sleep,” says Yael Kalai, a senior researcher working in cryptography at Microsoft Research New England who has also worked on randomness extraction. “I was so excited. I couldn’t believe it. I ran to the (online) archive to look at the paper. It’s really a masterpiece.”

    The new method takes two weakly random sequences of numbers and turns them into one sequence of truly random numbers. Weakly random sequences, such as air temperatures and stock market prices sampled over time, harbor predictable patterns. Truly random sequences have nothing predictable about them, like a coin toss.

    The new research seems to defy that old adage in computer programming, “Garbage in, garbage out.” In fact, it’s the latest, most powerful addition to a class of methods that Zuckerman pioneered in the 1990s called randomness extractors.

    Previous versions of randomness extractors were less practical because they either required that one of the two source sequences be truly random (which presents a chicken or the egg problem) or that both source sequences be close to truly random. This new method sidesteps both of those restrictions and allows the use of two sequences that are only weakly random.

    An important application for random numbers is in generating keys for data encryption that are hard for hackers to crack. Data encryption is critical for making secure credit card purchases and bank transactions, keeping personal medical data private and shielding military communications from enemies, among many practical applications.

    Zuckerman says that although there are already methods for producing high-quality random numbers, they are very computationally demanding. His method produces higher quality randomness with less effort.

    “One common way that encryption is misused is by not using high-quality randomness,” says Zuckerman. “So in that sense, by making it easier to get high-quality randomness, our methods could improve security.”

    Their paper shows how to generate only one truly random number – akin to one coin toss – but Zuckerman’s former student Xin Li has already demonstrated how to expand it to create sequences of many more random numbers.

    The website where Zuckerman and Chattopadhyay posted their draft last summer, called the Electronic Colloquium on Computational Complexity, allows researchers to share their work and receive feedback before publishing final versions in journals or at conferences. Computer scientists and mathematicians have been carefully reviewing the article, providing suggestions and even extending the method to make it more powerful.

    Draft science paper:
    Explicit Two-Source Extractors and Resilient Functions

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    U Texas Arlington Campus

    In 1839, the Congress of the Republic of Texas ordered that a site be set aside to meet the state’s higher education needs. After a series of delays over the next several decades, the state legislature reinvigorated the project in 1876, calling for the establishment of a “university of the first class.” Austin was selected as the site for the new university in 1881, and construction began on the original Main Building in November 1882. Less than one year later, on Sept. 15, 1883, The University of Texas at Austin opened with one building, eight professors, one proctor, and 221 students — and a mission to change the world. Today, UT Austin is a world-renowned higher education, research, and public service institution serving more than 51,000 students annually through 18 top-ranked colleges and schools.

     
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