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  • richardmitnick 9:49 am on October 30, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , U Texas at Austin   

    From University of Texas at Austin: “UT Is Now Home to the Fastest Supercomputer at Any U.S. University” 

    U Texas Austin bloc

    University of Texas at Austin

    October 27, 2017
    Anna Daugherty

    The term “medical research” might bring to mind a sterile room with white lab coats, goggles, and vials. But for cutting-edge researchers, that picture is much more high-tech: it’s a room filled with row after row of metal racks housing 300,000 computer processors, each blinking green, wires connecting each processor, and the deafening sound of a powerful machine at work. It’s a room like the one housing the 4,000-square-foot supercomputer Stampede2 at The University of Texas’ J.J. Pickle Research Campus.

    TACC Maverick HP NVIDIA supercomputer

    TACC Lonestar Cray XC40 supercomputer

    Dell Poweredge U Texas Austin Stampede Supercomputer. Texas Advanced Computer Center 9.6 PF

    TACC HPE Apollo 8000 Hikari supercomputer

    TACC Maverick HP NVIDIA supercomputer

    TACC DELL EMC Stampede2 supercomputer

    At peak performance, Stampede2, the flagship supercomputer at UT Austin’s Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC), will be capable of performing 18 quadrillion operations per second (18 petaflops, in supercomputer lingo). That’s more powerful than 100,000 desktops. As the fastest supercomputer at any university in the U.S., it’s a level of computing that the average citizen can’t comprehend. Most people do their computing on phones the size of their hands—but then again, most aren’t mining cancer data, predicting earthquakes, or analyzing black holes.

    Funded by a $30 million grant from the National Science Foundation, Stampede2 replaces the original Stampede system, which went live in 2013. Designed to be twice as powerful while using half the energy of the older system, Stampede2 is already being used by researchers around the country. In June 2017, Stampede2 went public with 12 petaflops and was ranked as the 12th most powerful computer in the world. Phase two added six petaflops in September and phase three will complete the system in 2018 by adding a new type of memory capacity to the computer.

    For researchers like Rommie Amaro, professor of chemistry at the University of California, San Diego, a tool like Stampede2 is essential. As the director of the National Biomedical Computation Resource, Amaro says nearly all of their drug research is done on supercomputers.

    Most of her work with the original Stampede system focused on a protein called p53, which prevents tumor growth; the protein is mutated in approximately half of all cancer patients. Due to the nature of p53, it’s difficult to track with standard imaging tools, so Amaro’s team took available images of the protein to supercomputers and turned them into a simulation showing how the 1.6 million atoms in p53 move. Using Stampede, they were able to find weaknesses in p53 and simulate interactions with more than a million compounds; several hundred seemed capable of restoring p53. More than 30 proved successful in labs and are now being tested by a pharmaceutical company.

    “The first Stampede gave us really outstanding, breakthrough research for cancer,” Amaro says. “And we already have some really interesting preliminary data on what Stampede2 is going to give us.”

    And it’s not just the medical field that benefits. Stampede has created weather phenomena models that have shown new ways to measure tornado strength, and produced seismic hazard maps that predict the likelihood of earthquakes in California. It has also helped increase the accuracy of hurricane predictions by 20–25 percent. During Hurricane Harvey in August, researchers used TACC supercomputers to forecast how high water would rise near the coast and to predict flooding in rivers and creeks in its aftermath.

    Aaron Dubrow, strategic communications specialist at TACC, says supercomputer users either use publicly available programs or create an application from the mathematics of the problem they are researching. “You take an idea like how cells divide and turn that into a computer algorithm and it becomes a program of sorts,” he says. Researchers can log into the supercomputer remotely or send their program to TACC staff. Stampede2 also has web portals for smaller problems in topics like drug discovery or natural disasters.

    For Dan Stanzione, executive director at the TACC, some of the most important research isn’t immediately applied. “Basic science has dramatic impacts on the world, but you might not see that until decades from now.” He points to Einstein’s 100-year-old theory of gravitational waves, which was recently confirmed with the help of supercomputers across the nation, including Stampede. “You might wonder why we care about gravitational waves. But now we have satellite, TV, and instant communications around the world because of Einstein’s theories about gravitational waves 100 years ago.”

    According to Stanzione, there were nearly 40,000 users of the first Stampede and an approximate 3,500 projects completed. Similar to Stampede, the new Stampede2 is expected to have a four-year lifespan. “Your smartphone starts to feel old and slow after four or five years, and supercomputers are the same,” he says. “They may still be fast, but it’s made out of four-year-old processors. The new ones are faster and more power efficient to run.” The old processors don’t go to waste though—most will be donated to state institutions across Texas.

    In order to use a supercomputer, researchers must submit proposals to an NSF board, which then delegates hours of usage. Stanzione says there are requests for nearly a billion processor hours every quarter, which is several times higher than what is available nationwide. While Stanzione says nearly every university has some sort of supercomputer now, the U.S. still lags behind China in computing power. The world’s top two computers are both Chinese, and the first is nearly five times more powerful than the largest in the states.

    Regardless, Stampede2 will still manage to serve researchers from more than 400 universities. Other users include private businesses, such as Firefly Space Company in nearby Cedar Park, and some government users like the Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Stanzione says all work done on Stampede2 must be public and published research.

    “Being the leader in large-scale computational sciences and engineering means we can attract the top researchers who need these resources,” he says. “It helps attract those top scholars to UT. And then hopefully once they’re here, it helps them reach these innovations a little faster.”

    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 5:07 pm on October 20, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , U Texas at Austin, Visualizing Science 2017: Finding the Hidden Beauty in College Research   

    From U Texas at Austin: “Visualizing Science 2017: Finding the Hidden Beauty in College Research” 

    U Texas Austin bloc

    University of Texas at Austin

    20 October 2017
    Steven E Franklin

    Five years ago the College of Natural Sciences began an annual tradition called Visualizing Science with the intent of finding the inherent beauty hidden within scholarly research. Each spring faculty, staff and students in our college community are invited to send us images that celebrate the splendor of science and the scientific process. Every year they deliver the moments where science and art meld and become one, and this year is no exception.

    The pursuit of scientific discovery often contains a visual aspect, as researchers explore the topics that fascinate them and attempt to communicate their discoveries in a meaningful way. History is rife with examples: Su Song drew detailed star maps, Charles Darwin sketched evolutionary trees in his notes, Rosalind Franklin’s X-ray diffraction images were vital to determining the structure of DNA, and Richard Feynman’s diagrams helped transform theoretical physics, to name a few.

    Now, with the advent of supercomputers and sophisticated software, scientific visualizations are becoming an invaluable part of the discovery process. Many modern scientists use 3-D models and data visualizations to uncover hidden patterns in data, to expose the inner workings of life or to reveal the very structure of the universe. This trend is exemplified by several of our newest Visualizing Science award winners.

    The winning images this year were publically revealed at Art in Science, an event put on by our Natural Sciences Council as part of Natural Sciences Week. These finalists, seven of the most stunning submissions from our scientific community, are featured below. The first six images were chosen by committee based on their beauty and scientific merit. The final image, our Facebook favorite, was chosen by the public on our Facebook page. The first six images will be displayed on campus in The University of Texas at Austin Tower and the Kuehne Physics Mathematics Astronomy Library, as well as on digital screens throughout buildings in the College of Natural Sciences.

    Please enjoy the fruits of our fifth annual Visualizing Science competition:

    First Place
    1
    Most stars in the Universe are not in isolation, but rather form in clusters. In the most compact clusters, a million stars as bright as a billion suns are packed within just a few light-years. This image shows the turbulent gas structures in a three-dimensional, multi-physics supercomputer simulation during the formation of such massive clusters, with the red-to-violet rainbow spectrum representing gas at high-to-low densities. Stars are the fundamental building blocks of galaxies, and of the Universe as a whole, and understanding star formation provides crucial insights to the history and future of our cosmos. The simulation and the visualization were produced locally on the Texas-sized supercomputers, Stampede and Lonestar 5, at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC). — Benny Tsang, Astronomy Graduate Student.

    TACC Maverick HP NVIDIA supercomputer

    TACC Lonestar Cray XC40 supercomputer

    Dell Poweredge U Texas Austin Stampede Supercomputer. Texas Advanced Computer Center 9.6 PF

    TACC HPE Apollo 8000 Hikari supercomputer

    TACC Maverick HP NVIDIA supercomputer

    Second Place
    2
    This three-dimensional high-resolution X-ray computed tomography (CT) image differentiates between the bony chainmail (in orange) embedded in the skin of a Komodo Dragon and the underlying bones of its skull (in white). The chainmail is formed by bony deposits in the head called cephalic osteoderms. The Komodo was donated by the Fort Worth Zoo after its death. Travis LaDuc catalogued the specimen into the Biodiversity Collections and made arrangements to have it scanned by Jessie Maisano in the Jackson School of Geosciences’s CT facility. The image is part of a manuscript being submitted to a scientific journal, featuring four authors: Chris Bell and Jessie Maisano of UT Jackson School of Geosciences; Diane Barber of the Ft. Worth Zoo; and LaDuc. — Travis LaDuc, Curator of Herpetology in the Department of Integrative Biology.

    Third Place
    3
    In this computer simulation of a diffusion process, particles are dropped in the center of a circle and then move randomly about its area until they meet another particle to which they stick. As they accumulate, the particles form growing fractal structures that are called Brownian Trees. One example of where these structures can be found in nature is in electro-chemical deposition processes, such as electroplating. — Lukas Gradl, Physics Graduate Student.

    Honorable Mentions
    4
    A close-up of a fabric that was embroidered using algorithmic design and patterning. The process includes programming the repetitive algorithm, designing and trying a pattern that will work best in holding the structure, hand folding, industrial steaming and chemical treatment. — Luisa Gil Fandino, Lecturer, Division of Textiles and Apparel.
    5
    Quantum computers run on magic states, a valuable resource required for some quantum operations. Understanding which quantum states are magic and which are not can be tricky. When states are plotted in 3-D space, the magic states form a bubbly fractal, as seen here. — Patrick Rall, Physics Graduate Student.
    6
    Newton’s method is a way of finding where a function is equal to zero. It’s simple and generally very effective, but small changes in the input can lead to large differences in the output. Though this makes its implementation more difficult, it also creates a fractal structure called a Newton fractal. In this image, Newton’s method was applied to many different inputs to graph the fractal: color represents the output of the algorithm, and shading represents its convergence time. — Arun Debray, Mathematics Graduate Student.

    Facebook Favorite
    7
    This photo captures a serendipitous moment during a trip to Port Aransas for a Field Study Seminar course in Environmental Science. Alec was using a hand lens to take notes about the grain type of the beach sand when a honeybee landed on his lab partner’s hand. Alec held his lens up to the bee, quickly grabbed the camera from his bag and snapped the picture before the visitor bee flew off. — Alec Blair, Environmental Science (Biological Sciences option) Undergraduate Student

    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 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.

     
  • 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 .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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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.

    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 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.

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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 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.

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    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

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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 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.

     
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