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  • richardmitnick 12:43 pm on July 11, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Oxidation in Earth's history unearthed, U Washington   

    From University of Washington: “Oxygen levels on early Earth rose and fell several times before the successful Great Oxidation Event” 

    U Washington

    From University of Washington

    July 9, 2018
    Peter Kelley

    1
    The Jeerinah Formation in Western Australia, where a UW-led team found a sudden shift in nitrogen isotopes. “Nitrogen isotopes tell a story about oxygenation of the surface ocean, and this oxygenation spans hundreds of kilometers across a marine basin and lasts for somewhere less than 50 million years,” said lead author Matt Koehler.Photo Roger Buick.

    Earth’s oxygen levels rose and fell more than once hundreds of millions of years before the planetwide success of the Great Oxidation Event about 2.4 billion years ago, new research from the University of Washington shows.

    The evidence comes from a new study that indicates a second and much earlier “whiff” of oxygen in Earth’s distant past — in the atmosphere and on the surface of a large stretch of ocean — showing that the oxygenation of the Earth was a complex process of repeated trying and failing over a vast stretch of time.

    The finding also may have implications in the search for life beyond Earth. Coming years will bring powerful new ground- and space-based telescopes able to analyze the atmospheres of distant planets. This work could help keep astronomers from unduly ruling out “false negatives,” or inhabited planets that may not at first appear to be so due to undetectable oxygen levels.

    “The production and destruction of oxygen in the ocean and atmosphere over time was a war with no evidence of a clear winner, until the Great Oxidation Event,” said Matt Koehler, a UW doctoral student in Earth and space sciences and lead author of a new paper published the week of July 9 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    “These transient oxygenation events were battles in the war, when the balance tipped more in favor of oxygenation.”

    In 2007, co-author Roger Buick, UW professor of Earth and space sciences, was part of an international team of scientists that found evidence of an episode — a “whiff” — of oxygen some 50 million to 100 million years before the Great Oxidation Event. This they learned by drilling deep into sedimentary rock of the Mount McRae Shale in Western Australia and analyzing the samples for the trace metals molybdenum and rhenium, accumulation of which is dependent on oxygen in the environment.

    Now, a team led by Koehler has confirmed a second such appearance of oxygen in Earth’s past, this time roughly 150 million years earlier — or about 2.66 billion years ago — and lasting for less than 50 million years. For this work they used two different proxies for oxygen — nitrogen isotopes and the element selenium — substances that, each in its way, also tell of the presence of oxygen.

    “What we have in this paper is another detection, at high resolution, of a transient whiff of oxygen,” said Koehler. “Nitrogen isotopes tell a story about oxygenation of the surface ocean, and this oxygenation spans hundreds of kilometers across a marine basin and lasts for somewhere less than 50 million years.”

    The team analyzed drill samples taken by Buick in 2012 at another site in the northwestern part of Western Australia called the Jeerinah Formation.

    The researchers drilled two cores about 300 kilometers apart but through the same sedimentary rocks — one core samples sediments deposited in shallower waters, and the other samples sediments from deeper waters. Analyzing successive layers in the rocks years shows, Buick said, a “stepwise” change in nitrogen isotopes “and then back again to zero. This can only be interpreted as meaning that there is oxygen in the environment. It’s really cool — and it’s sudden.”

    The nitrogen isotopes reveal the activity of certain marine microorganisms that use oxygen to form nitrate, and other microorganisms that use this nitrate for energy. The data collected from nitrogen isotopes sample the surface of the ocean, while selenium suggests oxygen in the air of ancient Earth. Koehler said the deep ocean was likely anoxic, or without oxygen, at the time.

    The team found plentiful selenium in the shallow hole only, meaning that it came from the nearby land, not making it to deeper water. Selenium is held in sulfur minerals on land; higher atmospheric oxygen would cause more selenium to be leached from the land through oxidative weathering — “the rusting of rocks,” Buick said — and transported to sea.

    “That selenium then accumulates in ocean sediments,” Koehler said. “So when we measure a spike in selenium abundances in ocean sediments, it could mean there was a temporary increase in atmospheric oxygen.”

    The finding, Buick and Koehler said, also has relevance for detecting life on exoplanets, or those beyond the solar system.

    “One of the strongest atmospheric biosignatures is thought to be oxygen, but this study confirms that during a planet’s transition to becoming permanently oxygenated, its surface environments may be oxic for intervals of only a few million years and then slip back into anoxia,” Buick said.

    “So, if you fail to detect oxygen in a planet’s atmosphere, that doesn’t mean that the planet is uninhabited or even that it lacks photosynthetic life. Merely that it hasn’t built up enough sources of oxygen to overwhelm the ‘sinks’ for any longer than a short interval.

    “In other words, lack of oxygen can easily be a ‘false negative’ for life.”

    Koehler added: “You could be looking at a planet and not see any oxygen — but it could be teeming with microbial life.”

    Koehler’s other co-authors are UW Earth and space sciences doctoral student Michael Kipp, former Earth and space sciences postdoctoral researcher Eva Stüeken — now a faculty member at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland — and Jonathan Zaloumis of Arizona State University.

    The research was funded by grants from NASA, the UW-based Virtual Planetary Laboratory and the National Science Foundation; drilling was funded by the Agouron Institute.

    For more information, contact Koehler at koehlerm@uw.edu or Buick at 206-543-1913 or buick@ess.washington.edu

    See the full article here .


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    u-washington-campus
    The University of Washington is one of the world’s preeminent public universities. Our impact on individuals, on our region, and on the world is profound — whether we are launching young people into a boundless future or confronting the grand challenges of our time through undaunted research and scholarship. Ranked number 10 in the world in Shanghai Jiao Tong University rankings and educating more than 54,000 students annually, our students and faculty work together to turn ideas into impact and in the process transform lives and our world. For more about our impact on the world, every day.
    So what defines us —the students, faculty and community members at the University of Washington? Above all, it’s our belief in possibility and our unshakable optimism. It’s a connection to others, both near and far. It’s a hunger that pushes us to tackle challenges and pursue progress. It’s the conviction that together we can create a world of good. Join us on the journey.

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  • richardmitnick 10:20 am on June 26, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA Asks: Will We Know Life When We See It?, , , U Washington   

    From JPL-Caltech and U Washington: “NASA Asks: Will We Know Life When We See It?” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    June 25, 2018
    NASA:

    Calla Cofield
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California
    818-393-1821
    Calla.e.cofield@jpl.nasa.gov

    Felicia Chou
    NASA Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-0257
    felicia.chou@nasa.gov 2018-147

    U Washington
    Peter Kelley

    From JPL-Caltech

    1
    This image is an artist’s conception of what life could look like on the surface of a distant planet. Credit: NASA

    2
    Life can leave “fingerprints” of its presence in the atmosphere and on the surface of a planet. These potential signs of life, or biosignatures, can be detected with telescopes. Credit: NASA/Aaron Gronstal

    3
    Abiotic processes can fool us into thinking a barren planet is alive. Rather than measuring a single characteristic of a planet, we should consider a suite of traits to build the case for life. Credit: NASA/Aaron Gronstal

    4
    NASA Asks: Will We Know Life When We See It?
    Since the data we collect from planets will be limited, scientists will quantify how likely a planet has life based on all the available evidence. Follow-up observations are required for confirmation. Credit: NASA/Aaron Gronstal

    In the last decade, we have discovered thousands of planets outside our solar system and have learned that rocky, temperate worlds are numerous in our galaxy. The next step will involve asking even bigger questions. Could some of these planets host life? And if so, will we be able to recognize life elsewhere if we see it?

    A group of leading researchers in astronomy, biology and geology has come together under NASA’s Nexus for Exoplanet System Science, or NExSS, to take stock of our knowledge in the search for life on distant planets and to lay the groundwork for moving the related sciences forward.

    “We’re moving from theorizing about life elsewhere in our galaxy to a robust science that will eventually give us the answer we seek to that profound question: Are we alone?” said Martin Still, an exoplanet scientist at NASA Headquarters, Washington.

    In a set of five review papers published last week in the scientific journal Astrobiology, NExSS scientists took an inventory of the most promising signs of life, called biosignatures. The paper authors include four scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. They considered how to interpret the presence of biosignatures, should we detect them on distant worlds. A primary concern is ensuring the science is strong enough to distinguish a living world from a barren planet masquerading as one.

    The assessment comes as a new generation of space and ground-based telescopes are in development. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope will characterize the atmospheres of some of the first small, rocky planets. There are plans for other observatories — such as the Giant Magellan Telescope and the Extremely Large Telescope, both in Chile — to carry sophisticated instruments capable of detecting the first biosignatures on faraway worlds.

    Through their work with NExSS, scientists aim to identify the instruments needed to detect potential life for future NASA flagship missions. The detection of atmospheric signatures of a few potentially habitable planets may possibly come before 2030, although determining whether the planets are truly habitable or have life will require more in-depth study.

    Since we won’t be able to visit distant planets and collect samples anytime soon, the light that a telescope observes will be all we have in the search for life outside our solar system. Telescopes can examine the light reflecting off a distant world to show us the kinds of gases in the atmosphere and their “seasonal” variations, as well as colors like green that could indicate life.

    These kinds of biosignatures can all be seen on our fertile Earth from space, but the new worlds we examine will differ significantly. For example, many of the promising planets we have found are around cooler stars, which emit light in the infrared spectrum, unlike our sun’s high emissions of visible-light.

    “What does a living planet look like?” said Mary Parenteau, an astrobiologist and microbiologist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley and a co-author. “We have to be open to the possibility that life may arise in many contexts in a galaxy with so many diverse worlds — perhaps with purple-colored life instead of the familiar green-dominated life forms on Earth, for example. That’s why we are considering a broad range of biosignatures.”

    The scientists assert that oxygen — the gas produced by photosynthetic organisms on Earth — remains the most promising biosignature of life elsewhere, but it is not foolproof. Abiotic processes on a planet could also generate oxygen. Conversely, a planet lacking detectable levels of oxygen could still be alive – which was exactly the case of Earth before the global accumulation of oxygen in the atmosphere.

    “On early Earth, we wouldn’t be able to see oxygen, despite abundant life,” said Victoria Meadows, an astronomer at the University of Washington in Seattle and lead author of one of the papers. “Oxygen teaches us that seeing, or not seeing, a single biosignature is insufficient evidence for or against life — overall context matters.”

    Rather than measuring a single characteristic, the NExSS scientists argue that we should be looking at a suite of traits. A planet must show itself capable of supporting life through its features, and those of its parent star.

    The NExSS scientists will create a framework that can quantify how likely it is that a planet has life, based on all the available evidence. With the observation of many planets, scientists may begin to more broadly classify the “living worlds” that show common characteristics of life, versus the “non-living worlds.”

    “We won’t have a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to finding life elsewhere,” said Shawn Domagal-Goldman, an astrobiologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and a co-author. “What we will have is a high level of confidence that a planet appears alive for reasons that can only be explained by the presence of life.”

    U Washington

    From University of Washington

    June 25, 2018

    For more information, contact
    Victoria Meadows at vsm@astro.washington.edu or
    Catling at dcatling@uw.edu.

    Researchers with the University of Washington-led Virtual Planetary Laboratory are central to a group of papers published by NASA researchers in the journal Astrobiology outlining the history — and suggesting the future — of the search for life on exoplanets, or those orbiting stars other than the sun.

    The research effort is coordinated by NASA’s Nexus for Exoplanet Systems Science, or NExSS, a worldwide network dedicated to finding new ways to study the age-old question: “Are we alone?”

    A theme through the research and the discussions behind it is the need to consider planets in an integrated way, involving multiple disciplines and perspectives.

    “For life to be detectable on a distant world it needs to strongly modify its planet in a way that we can detect,” said UW astronomy professor Victoria Meadows, lead author of one of the papers and principle investigator of the Virtual Planetary Laboratory, or VPL for short. “But for us to correctly recognize life’s impact, we also need to understand the planet and star — that environmental context is key.”

    Work done by NExSS researchers will help identify the measurements and instruments needed to search for life using future NASA flagship missions. The detection of atmospheric signatures of a few potentially habitable planets may possibly come before 2030, although whether the planets are truly habitable or have life will require more in-depth study.

    The papers result from two years of effort by some of the world’s leading researchers in astrobiology, planetary science, Earth science, heliophysics, astrophysics, chemistry and biology, including several from the UW and the Virtual Planetary Laboratory, or VPL. The coordinated work was born of online meetings and an in-person workshop held in Seattle in July of 2016.

    The pace of exoplanet discoveries has been rapid, with over 3,700 detected since 1992. NASA formed the international NExSS network to focus a variety of disciplines on understanding how we can characterize and eventually search for signs of life, called biosignatures, on exoplanets.

    The NExSS network has furthered the field of exoplanet biosignatures and “fostered communication between researchers searching for signs of life on solar system bodies with those searching for signs of life on exoplanets,” said Niki Parenteau, an astrobiologist and microbiologist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California, and a VPL team member. “This has allowed for sharing of ‘lessons learned’ by both communities.”

    The first of the papers [links for all papers are below] reviews types of signatures astrobiologists have proposed as ways to identify life on an exoplanet. Scientists plan to look for two major types of signals: One is in the form of gases that life produces, such as oxygen made by plants or photosynthetic microbes. The other could come from the light reflected by life itself, such as the color of leaves or pigments.

    Such signatures can be seen on Earth from orbit, and astronomers are studying designs of telescope concepts that may be able to detect them on planets around nearby stars. Meadows is a co-author, and lead author is Edward Schwieterman, a VPL team member who earned his doctorate in astronomy and astrobiology from the UW and is now a post-doctoral researcher at the University of California, Riverside.

    Meadows is lead author of the second review paper, which discusses recent research on “false positives” and “false negatives” for biosignatures, or ways nature could “trick” scientists into thinking a planet without life was alive, or vice versa.

    In this paper, Meadows and co-authors review ways that a planet could make oxygen abiotically, or without the presence of life, and how planets with life may not have the signature of oxygen that is abundant on modern-day Earth.

    The paper’s purpose, Meadows said, was to discuss these changes in our understanding of biosignatures and suggest “a more comprehensive” treatment. She said: “There are lots of things in the universe that could potentially put two oxygen atoms together, not just photosynthesis — let’s try to figure out what they are. Under what conditions are they are more likely to happen, and how can we avoid getting fooled?”

    Schwieterman is a co-author on this paper, as well as UW doctoral students Jacob Lustig-Yaeger, Russell Deitrick and Andrew Lincowski.

    With such advance thinking, scientists are now better prepared to distinguish false positives from planets that truly do host life.

    Two more papers show how scientists try to formalize the lessons we have learned from Earth, and expand them to the wide diversity of worlds we have yet to discover.

    David Catling, UW professor of Earth and space sciences, is lead author on a paper that proposes a framework for assessing exoplanet biosignatures, considering such variables as the chemicals in the planet’s atmosphere, the presence of oceans and continents and the world’s overall climate. Doctoral student Joshua Krissansen-Totton is a co-author.

    By combining all this information in systematic ways, scientists can analyze whether data from a planet can be better explained statistically by the presence of life, or its absence.

    “If future data from an exoplanet perhaps suggest life, what approach can distinguish whether the existence of life is a near-certainty or whether the planet is really as dead as a doornail?” said Catling. “Basically, NASA asked us to work out how to assign a probability to the presence of exoplanet life, such as a 10, 50 or 90 percent chance. Our paper presents a general method to do this.”

    The data that astronomers collect on exoplanets will be sparse. They will not have samples from these distant worlds, and in many cases will study the planet as a single point of light. By analyzing these fingerprints of atmospheric gases and surfaces embedded in that light, they will discern as much as possible about the properties of that exoplanet.

    “Because life, planet, and parent star change with time together, a biosignature is no longer a single target but a suite of system traits,” said Nancy Kiang, a biometeorologist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York and a VPL team member. She said more biologists and geologists will be needed to interpret observations “where life processes will be adapted to the particular environmental context.”

    The final article discusses the ground-based and space-based telescopes that astronomers will use to search for life beyond the solar system. This includes a variety of observatories, from those in operation today to ones that will be built decades in the future.

    Taken together, this cluster of papers explains how the exoplanet community will evolve from their current assessments of the sizes and orbits of these faraway worlds, to thorough analysis of their chemical composition and eventually whether they harbor life.

    “I’m excited to see how this research progresses over the coming decades,” said Shawn Domagal-Goldman, an astrobiologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland, and a VPL team member. He is also a co-author on four of the five papers.

    “NExSS has created a diverse network of scientists. That network will allow the community to more rigorously assess planets for biosignatures than would have otherwise been possible.”

    NExSS is an interdisciplinary, cross-divisional NASA research coordination network.

    Science papers in journal Astrobiology:

    Exoplanet Biosignatures: At the Dawn of a New Era of Planetary Observations
    Exoplanet Biosignatures: Understanding Oxygen as a Biosignature in the Context of Its Environment
    Exoplanet Biosignatures: A Review of Remotely Detectable Signs of Life
    Exoplanet Biosignatures: A Framework for Their Assessment
    Exoplanet Biosignatures: Observational Prospects
    Exoplanet Biosignatures: Future Directions

    See the full NASA article here .
    See the full U Washington article here .


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    NASA JPL Campus

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge, on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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  • richardmitnick 2:10 pm on May 15, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Earth as a Snowball Planet- we have been there before, U Washington   

    From University of Washington: “Orbital variations can trigger ‘snowball’ states in habitable zones around sunlike stars” We Might Be Next? 

    U Washington

    From University of Washington

    May 14, 2018
    Peter Kelley

    1
    A NASA artist’s impression of Earth as a frigid “‘snowball” planet. New research from the University of Washington indicates that aspects of an otherwise habitable-seeming exoplanet planet’s axial tilt or orbit could trigger such a snowball state, where oceans freeze and surface life is impossible.NASA [Earth has been there before.]

    Aspects of an otherwise Earthlike planet’s tilt and orbital dynamics can severely affect its potential habitability — even triggering abrupt “snowball states” where oceans freeze and surface life is impossible, according to new research from astronomers at the University of Washington.

    The research indicates that locating a planet in its host star’s “habitable zone” — that swath of space just right to allow liquid water on an orbiting rocky planet’s surface — isn’t always enough evidence to judge potential habitability.

    Russell Deitrick, lead author of a paper to be published in The Astronomical Journal, said he and co-authors set out to learn, through computer modeling, how two features — a planet’s obliquity or its orbital eccentricity — might affect its potential for life. They limited their study to planets orbiting in the habitable zones of “G dwarf” stars, or those like the sun.

    A planet’s obliquity is its tilt relative to the orbital axis, which controls a planet’s seasons; orbital eccentricity is the shape, and how circular or elliptical — oval — the orbit is. With elliptical orbits, the distance to the host star changes as the planet comes closer to, then travels away from, its host star.

    Deitrick, who did the work while with the UW, is now a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Bern. His UW co-authors are atmospheric sciences professor Cecilia Bitz, astronomy professors Rory Barnes, Victoria Meadows and Thomas Quinn and graduate student David Fleming, with help from undergraduate researcher Caitlyn Wilhelm.

    The Earth hosts life successfully enough as it circles the sun at an axial tilt of about 23.5 degrees, wiggling only a very little over the millennia. But, Deitrick and co-authors asked in their modeling, what if those wiggles were greater on an Earthlike planet orbiting a similar star?

    Previous research indicated that a more severe axial tilt, or a tilting orbit, for a planet in a sunlike star’s habitable zone — given the same distance from its star — would make a world warmer. So Deitrick and team were surprised to find, through their modeling, that the opposite reaction appears true.

    “We found that planets in the habitable zone could abruptly enter ‘snowball’ states if the eccentricity or the semi-major axis variations — changes in the distance between a planet and star over an orbit — were large or if the planet’s obliquity increased beyond 35 degrees,” Deitrick said.

    The new study helps sort out conflicting ideas proposed in the past. It used a sophisticated treatment of ice sheet growth and retreat in the planetary modeling, which is a significant improvement over several previous studies, co-author Barnes said.

    “While past investigations found that high obliquity and obliquity variations tended to warm planets, using this new approach, the team finds that large obliquity variations are more likely to freeze the planetary surface,” he said. “Only a fraction of the time can the obliquity cycles increase habitable planet temperatures.”

    Barnes said Deitrick “has essentially shown that ice ages on exoplanets can be much more severe than on Earth, that orbital dynamics can be a major driver of habitability and that the habitable zone is insufficient to characterize a planet’s habitability.” The research also indicates, he added, “that the Earth may be a relatively calm planet, climate-wise.”

    This kind of modeling can help astronomers decide which planets are worthy of precious telescope time, Deitrick said: “If we have a planet that looks like it might be Earth-like, for example, but modeling shows that its orbit and obliquity oscillate like crazy, another planet might be better for follow-up” with telescopes of the future.”

    The main takeaway of the research, he added, is that “We shouldn’t neglect orbital dynamics in habitability studies.”

    Other co-authors are Benjamin Charnay, a former UW post-doctoral researcher now with the LESIA Observatoire de Paris; and John Armstrong of Weber State University, who earned his doctorate at the UW.

    The research used storage and networking infrastructure provided by the Hyak supercomputer system at the UW, funded by the UW’s Student Technology Fee. The work was funded by the NASA Astrobiology Institute through the UW-based Virtual Planetary Laboratory.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    stem

    Stem Education Coalition

    u-washington-campus
    The University of Washington is one of the world’s preeminent public universities. Our impact on individuals, on our region, and on the world is profound — whether we are launching young people into a boundless future or confronting the grand challenges of our time through undaunted research and scholarship. Ranked number 10 in the world in Shanghai Jiao Tong University rankings and educating more than 54,000 students annually, our students and faculty work together to turn ideas into impact and in the process transform lives and our world. For more about our impact on the world, every day.
    So what defines us —the students, faculty and community members at the University of Washington? Above all, it’s our belief in possibility and our unshakable optimism. It’s a connection to others, both near and far. It’s a hunger that pushes us to tackle challenges and pursue progress. It’s the conviction that together we can create a world of good. Join us on the journey.

     
  • richardmitnick 12:10 pm on May 14, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Going to the end of the Earth to uncover fossil life, U Washington, Vertebrate Paleontology   

    From University of Washington: “Going to the end of the Earth to uncover fossil life” 

    U Washington

    From University of Washington

    May 9, 2018
    Cathy Morris

    1
    University of Washington (UW) Graduate Student Megan (Meg) Whitney applies a plaster jacket to a fossil in Antarctica. Photo: Christian Sidor/Burke Museum

    The Antarctic fossil record is one of the least understood in the world, due in large part to its remoteness, ice cover, and extreme conditions. There is much to learn, but Antarctic research is often difficult to do.

    “It’s logistically intensive fieldwork,” said Dr. Christian Sidor, Burke Museum curator of vertebrate paleontology and University of Washington (UW) Professor of Biology. He recently led a multi-institution research team to Antarctica for an 11-week expedition funded by the National Science Foundation, which manages the U.S. Antarctic Program.

    Christian is very familiar with the logistics involved; this was his fourth research trip to Antarctica in the past 15 years to better understand how life recovered after the Permo-Triassic mass extinction, which happened about 252 million years ago and ushered in the era of dinosaurs.

    Megan (Meg) Whitney, a graduate student in the UW Department of Biology, joined Christian for her first trip to Antarctica. Meg’s interest is in anatomy, but she didn’t want to be a medical doctor. “I wasn’t a dinosaur kid—I fell into [paleontology].” Meg is studying the anatomy of fossil bones and teeth at a microscopic scale to understand how animals were affected by extreme seasonality at polar latitudes as part of her PhD.

    Christian and Meg were joined by paleontologists and geologists from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, the Field Museum, Southern Methodist University, and the Iziko South African Museum.

    2
    Members of the expedition team. From left to right: Christian Sidor, Roger Smith, Akiko Shinya, Peter Makovicky, Julia McIntosh, Nathan Smith, Hank Wooley, Peter Braddock, Megan Whitney. Photo: Mike Niedzwiecki

    After arriving at McMurdo Station and completing two weeks of trainings, the team flew to what would be their home for the next 45 days—the temporary Shackleton Glacier camp about 300 miles from the South Pole in the Transantarctic Mountains.

    The base camp was a pop-up community for the research season. Camp staff are brought in to prepare food, maintain supplies, monitor the weather, offer medical support, pilot the helicopters and planes, and help with everything the 12 research teams might need to operate for months at a time.

    Camp staff and fellow researchers become close friends—an extended family of sorts—especially since the research team celebrated the Christmas and New Years holidays thousands of miles away from home.

    3
    Meg Whitney (left) and Roger Smith (right) with their gear before taking it to the helicopter to head out for the day. Photo: Christian Sidor/Burke Museum

    Each day, the paleontologists loaded all of their safety gear to take with them in case bad weather rolled in. Two weather forecasters in the camp kept an eye on any approaching weather that might impact the team’s ability to get in and out in the field safely. They also had a mountaineer accompanying them for safety.

    The only way to reach the mountainsides where they were working was by helicopter.

    4
    The helicopter lands to pick up the team and their gear at the end of the day. Photo: Christian Sidor/Burke Museum

    It’s “kind of like catching an Uber,” added Meg. “Some days were longer, some shorter, dependent on availability of helicopters that day and the weather.” The weather worked in their favor most of the trip and they only had to cancel three field days. In addition to the weather, light conditions play an important role in spotting fossils.

    “We’re working on the mountainsides—the tips of mountain sticking through the glacier,” said Christian. “We use our knowledge of the geology and sedimentology to understand where fossils are likely to be found.”

    “When we find a fossil, hopefully we’re finding the beginning of a skeleton and can trace that to the hillside and excavate a big block, including the fossil but also some of the rock surrounding it so it’s protected,” he said.

    5
    A fossil of an early reptile called Procolophon still embedded in rock.
    Photo: Christian Sidor/Burke Museum

    They focused their efforts on the Fremouw Formation, a rock formation that is about 250–240 million years old and use rock saws to excavate fossils to speed up the process.

    “After we’ve cut out and chiseled out all of this rock, we put a plaster jacket on top which is an interesting thing to do in Antarctica, because it requires putting your hand in water, so you’re freezing your hand to make the jacket,” said Meg.

    The Shackleton Glacier area was previously explored by paleontologists only three other times, in 1970–71, 1977–78 and 1995–96. “I was worried that it might have been picked over [by the previous teams],” said Christian. Thankfully that wasn’t the case.

    The team found fossil bones, trace fossils including tracks and burrows, and plant impressions—all indications of what life was like about 250 million years ago.

    5
    A fossil burrow where an animal would’ve dug into its den back in the Triassic. Photo: Christian Sidor/Burke Museum

    The skeletal material includes small, salamander-like amphibians (temnospondyls), early reptiles such as Prolacerta and Procolophon, in addition to mammal relatives like Lystrosaurus and Thrinaxodon. They also found several other species that will need additional research to determine what they were.

    Fossils collected in Antarctica fall under the Antarctic Treaty, of which the United States is a signatory. This means that scientific observations and research must be made freely available. So the fossils will be cared for in the Burke Museum collection, but they will be accessible to any visiting researcher.

    Not much is known about Antarctic amphibians, but Christian believes that will change after this expedition. “In the past, we’ve known which families of amphibians have been there but not which species,” he said. “Because we have so many [amphibian fossils] and they’re so well-preserved, we’ll be able to tackle that question and know what species of amphibians were in Antarctica after the mass extinction.”

    In addition, they collected the first identifiable vertebrate fossils from the middle of the Fremouw Formation, which will help narrow down the age of those rocks. Fossils were previously found in the lower and upper parts of the Fremouw Formation, but not in the middle.

    In all, the Burke Museum team found 56 new localities and more than 100 specimens, including two new localities, where vertebrate fossils had never been collected before.

    The work is just getting started back at the museum now that the fossils arrived.

    “Antarctica provides our only window into what happened to life at high latitudes after the Permo-Triassic mass extinction, and so I’m excited to be back at the Burke and get the lab work started,” said Sidor.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    stem

    Stem Education Coalition

    u-washington-campus
    The University of Washington is one of the world’s preeminent public universities. Our impact on individuals, on our region, and on the world is profound — whether we are launching young people into a boundless future or confronting the grand challenges of our time through undaunted research and scholarship. Ranked number 10 in the world in Shanghai Jiao Tong University rankings and educating more than 54,000 students annually, our students and faculty work together to turn ideas into impact and in the process transform lives and our world. For more about our impact on the world, every day.
    So what defines us —the students, faculty and community members at the University of Washington? Above all, it’s our belief in possibility and our unshakable optimism. It’s a connection to others, both near and far. It’s a hunger that pushes us to tackle challenges and pursue progress. It’s the conviction that together we can create a world of good. Join us on the journey.

     
  • richardmitnick 10:51 am on May 11, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , New UW vessel, , RV Rachel Carson, U Washington, will explore regional waters   

    From University of Washington: “New UW vessel, RV Rachel Carson, will explore regional waters” 

    U Washington

    From University of Washington

    May 10, 2018
    Hannah Hickey

    1
    The RV Rachel Carson is a 72-foot vessel built for fisheries research in Scotland. It will carry UW students and researchers on regional trips out to sea.Dennis Wise/University of Washington

    The University of Washington’s School of Oceanography has a new member of its fleet. After revamping its global-class research vessel earlier this year, it now also has a new ship that will allow UW researchers and students to explore waters in Puget Sound and nearby coasts.

    The RV Rachel Carson was built as a fisheries research vessel in Scotland in 2003, and the UW acquired it in 2017 and had it shipped to Seattle last winter. It completed its first science voyage in early April, and is expected to officially join the University National Oceanographic Laboratory System fleet this summer.

    “With its significantly greater capabilities, the Rachel Carson really expands our ability to take more scientists and students to sea, to provide better hands-on instruction, and to conduct a much wider portfolio of oceanographic science,” said Douglas Russell, the UW’s manager of marine operations.

    The 72-foot vessel was purchased with a $1 million gift from William and Beatrice Booth. The UW then made upgrades this spring to better equip the ship for teaching and research. It replaces the 65-foot RV Clifford Barnes, which served the UW for almost 35 years.

    2
    UW undergraduates lower sampling bottles off the back of the RV Carson during a May 8 cruise in Puget Sound. The new ship has more deck space, larger lab space, more bunks and better equipment for doing research.Dennis Wise/University of Washington

    Unlike its predecessor, the RV Carson was built as a research ship. It has larger lab space, better tools for lowering equipment into the water, and space for 13 people to sleep onboard. It also has more stable handling, allowing it to venture out in stormier seas and along Washington’s outer coast.

    The vessel is named for Rachel Carson, the American marine biologist, author and conservationist.

    “It was truly an honor to lead the first group to sail on the RV Rachel Carson, literally researching ‘the sea around us’ in Washington,” said Jan Newton, an oceanographer at the UW’s Applied Physics Laboratory who was chief scientist on the ship’s first research cruise. “The ship is very stable, allowing us to work in rough conditions, and its increased capacity allows us to involve more students. I was very impressed!”

    That cruise was a five-day trip around Puget Sound to collect samples for monitoring by the state-funded Washington Ocean Acidification Center.

    The ship also has taken Oceanography 220 undergraduates on a cruise north of Seattle, and this week is doing half-day cruises out of Shilshole Marina for the Oceanography 201 class.

    The ship’s home port is on the UW Oceanography dock. It is available for use by oceanographic researchers and instructors from inside and outside the UW.

    For more information, contact Russell at 206-543-5062 or dgruss@uw.edu.

    See the full article here .

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    The University of Washington is one of the world’s preeminent public universities. Our impact on individuals, on our region, and on the world is profound — whether we are launching young people into a boundless future or confronting the grand challenges of our time through undaunted research and scholarship. Ranked number 10 in the world in Shanghai Jiao Tong University rankings and educating more than 54,000 students annually, our students and faculty work together to turn ideas into impact and in the process transform lives and our world. For more about our impact on the world, every day.
    So what defines us —the students, faculty and community members at the University of Washington? Above all, it’s our belief in possibility and our unshakable optimism. It’s a connection to others, both near and far. It’s a hunger that pushes us to tackle challenges and pursue progress. It’s the conviction that together we can create a world of good. Join us on the journey.

     
  • richardmitnick 7:31 am on April 30, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Breaking bottlenecks to the electronic-photonic information technology revolution, Electro-optic modulator, New electro-optic devices, , Plasmonic modulator, U Washington   

    From University of Washington”Breaking bottlenecks to the electronic-photonic information technology revolution” 

    U Washington

    University of Washington

    April 25, 2018
    Jackson Holtz

    1
    This artistic rendering magnifies a electro-optic modulator.Virginia Commonwealth University image/Nathaniel Kinsey.

    Researchers at the University of Washington, working with researchers from the ETH-Zurich, Purdue University and Virginia Commonwealth University, have achieved an optical communications breakthrough that could revolutionize information technology.

    They created a tiny device, smaller than a human hair, that translates electrical bits (0s and 1s of the digital language) into light, or photonic bits, at speeds 10s of times faster than current technologies.

    “As with earlier advances in information technology, this can dramatically impact the way we live,” said Larry Dalton, a UW chemistry professor emeritus and leader in photonics research.

    These new electro-optic devices approach the size of current electronic circuit elements and are important for integrating photonics and electronics on a single chip. The new technology also involves utilization of a particle, a plasmon polariton, that has properties intermediate between electrons and photons. This hybrid particle technology is referred to as plasmonics.

    The findings were published today in the journal Nature.

    “The device has been built as a plasmonic modulator,” said Christian Haffner, a graduate student at ETH-Zurich and lead author of the paper. “This is unusual as the traditional implementation relies on photonics rather than plasmonics. As a matter of fact, researchers avoid plasmonics, as plasmonics is known in all industry as a technology that comes at the price of highest optical losses. Yet – and this is by far the most spectacular finding – a trick has been found to use plasmonics without suffering from such high losses.”

    To increase the information-handling capacity of computing, telecommunications, sensing and control technologies, data needs to be communicated with high bandwidth over vast distances without signals (information) degrading, or consuming too much energy and generating too much heat. That’s where the new technology described in the Nature article fits in. Called an electro-optic modulator, the device converts electrical signals into optical ones capable at traveling either over fiberglass optic cabling or wirelessly through space via satellite and cell towers. This must be accomplished with excellent energy efficiency using extremely small devices capable of processing massive amounts of data.

    “The device must be very sensitive, capable of responding to very small electrical fields. If the fields needed to control the device are small, then the power consumption is low as well. This is important as energy efficiency is critical to all applications,” co-author Dalton said, adding, “You want to avoid generating heat and information degradation in computing or telecommunication applications.”

    This latest advance follows on a breakthrough in 2000 when Dalton and a team of UW and University of Southern California researchers first introduced newly designed electro-optical polymers or plastics, which were integrated into centimeter-long devices that could be operated with less than a volt and with bandwidths exceeding 100 gigahertz. Unfortunately, these devices were much larger than electronic data-generating elements and were not suited for integration of electronics and photonics elements on a single chip.

    However, transitioning to plasmonics, this footprint issue has now been solved. And it all started when an international team of scientists and engineers set out to improve the device by integrating better organic electro-optic materials with plasmonics. Plasmons are created when light impinges onto a metallic surface, such as gold. Photons then pass on part of their energy to the electrons on the metallic surface such that the electrons oscillate. These new photon-electron oscillations are called plasmon polaritons. Working with plasmon polaritons permits dramatic reduction in the size of optical circuitry and bandwidth operation many times that of photonics. Compared to the 2000 discovery, the bandwidth of the devices increased by almost a factor of 10 while reducing the energy requirements by almost 1,000 and this translates into a reduction in heating.

    The Achilles’ heel of plasmonics, however, is referred to as optical loss. While signal degradation with distance of transmission is not as bad as with electronics, signal degradation with plasmonics is much worse than with photonics.

    “The ETH and Purdue researchers conceived of an elegant device architecture that addresses the problem of plasmonic loss and achieves loss comparable to that of all-photonic modulators by using a combination of plasmonics and photonics,” Dalton said.

    He called the device an elegant integration of electronics, photonics and plasmonics, using an organic electro-optic material that permits integration of all of the signal processing options.

    “This is a doubly significant advance in plasmonics and organic electroactive materials, made possible through creative iteration between materials prediction, design, synthesis, and property optimization,” said Linda S. Sapochak, division director for materials research at the National Science Foundation, which helped fund the research.

    The integration of electronics and photonics on chips has been recognized for more than a decade as a critical next step in the evolution of information technology. Information technology is the science of how we sense our world and both process and communicate that information.

    The applications of the new device can be divided into two categories based on the wavelength of light utilized: Fiber optics telecommunications and optical interconnects in computing utilize light (photons) at optical frequencies (infrared light), while applications such as radar and wireless telecommunications use electromagnetic radiation in the radiofrequency and microwave (long wavelength light) regions.

    In the telecommunications and computing space, electro-optics takes information generated in an electronic device (for example, a computer processor) and transform it into light signals that travel over a fiber optic cable or via a wireless transmission to another electronic device.

    “In that sense, you might think of electro-optics as the ‘on-ramps of the information superhighway,’” said Dalton.

    Electro-optics also is critical to many other applications such as radar and GPS. It represents critical sensor technology, including applications such as embedded network sensing. For example, electro-optics is critical to many components of an autonomous vehicle and for monitoring infrastructure elements such as buildings and bridges. The device is relevant to both digital and analog information processing.

    Co-authors include Daniel Chelladurai, Yuriy Fedoryshyn, Arne Josten, Benedikt Baeuerle, Wolfgang Heni, Tatsuhiko Watanabe, Tong Cui, Bojun Cheng and Juerg Leuthold of ETH Zurich Institute of Electromagnetic Fields; Delwin L. Elder of the UW Department of Chemistry; Soham Saha, Alexandra Boltasseva and Vladimir Shalaev, Purdue University and Brick Nanotechnology Center; and Nathaniel Kinsey, Virginia Commonwealth University.

    Funding for this project is from EU Project PLASMOFAB (688166), the ERC grant PLASILOR (640478), the National Science Foundation (DMR-1303080) and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research grants (FA9550-15-1-0319 and FA9550-14-1-0138). Co-author Kinsey acknowledges support from the Virginia Microelectronics Consortium and the Virginia Commonwealth University Presidential Research Quest Fund.

    See the full article here .

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    u-washington-campus
    The University of Washington is one of the world’s preeminent public universities. Our impact on individuals, on our region, and on the world is profound — whether we are launching young people into a boundless future or confronting the grand challenges of our time through undaunted research and scholarship. Ranked number 10 in the world in Shanghai Jiao Tong University rankings and educating more than 54,000 students annually, our students and faculty work together to turn ideas into impact and in the process transform lives and our world. For more about our impact on the world, every day.
    So what defines us —the students, faculty and community members at the University of Washington? Above all, it’s our belief in possibility and our unshakable optimism. It’s a connection to others, both near and far. It’s a hunger that pushes us to tackle challenges and pursue progress. It’s the conviction that together we can create a world of good. Join us on the journey.

     
  • richardmitnick 12:38 pm on April 9, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Project SEARCH, U Washington   

    From University of Washington: “‘Differences can be a part of their skills’: Pilot program at UW offers on-the-job training for young adults with autism” 

    U Washington

    University of Washington

    April 4, 2018
    Kim Eckart

    1
    Project SEARCH intern Alan Chen helps organize the library in the Department of Classics in Denny Hall. The books had been boxed up during the Denny renovation, and with Chen’s help, “The collection is in the best shape it’s been in since we moved,” said Doug Machle, assistant to the department chair.Mark Stone / U. of Washington.

    The sky is grey, the breeze is chilly, and Matthew Skelly, decked out in a fleece vest and work boots, is pushing a contraption called a picker around the University of Washington driving range.

    Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of golf balls polka-dot the field. And four mornings a week, before the range opens, 21-year-old Skelly is one of two people assigned to collect them with the picker, a device like a push mower that traps the balls in its wheel and rolls them into a bucket. The picker squeaks as Skelly rolls it over the grass and through the mud, and sometimes he has to retrieve by hand the balls that miss its grab. By mid-morning, when folks show up with their clubs, he’ll have to move on to yard work.

    “There are a lot of balls, and sometimes I don’t get them all,” he said. “But I like being outside. I like moving around.”

    Skelly’s job at the driving range is an internship, his third this academic year, and he’s liked something about each of them: the responsibility of maintenance work at Transportation Services back in the fall, and, during winter quarter, the office environment of the Speech and Hearing Clinic, where he honed his ability to organize. The program’s three-internship structure has given Skelly, who is on the autism spectrum, skills that can translate to other jobs as he begins looking for full-time work later this spring.

    That’s the goal of Project SEARCH, a national initiative that is piloting its autism-focused, school-to-work model at the UW this academic year. At 10 locations on campus over the course of the year, the UW has hosted young adults with autism from the community in unpaid, part-time internships. The program partners the UW with the state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Seattle Public Schools and PROVAIL, a local nonprofit that helps people with disabilities find jobs and gain life skills.

    Here at the UW, seven young men and women, all ages 20 or 21, are in the final quarter of their internship experience. Having received special education services through Seattle Public Schools, they are entitled, through age 21, to receive post-high school supports such as this from the district. Now, as the interns look to the future, one or two may pursue community college in the fall. A few talk of living independently someday. All hope to land a paying job, doing something they feel comfortable with and enjoy.

    “At the end of this, we want these students to be able to put on their resume that they had these different experiences and job skills,” said Jill Locke, a research assistant professor in the UW Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences and the campus liaison to Project SEARCH. “Project SEARCH is providing them with practical experience and on-the-job training. When they go to their paid job in the real world, they will be better prepared and ready to work.”

    A job for money, and for pride

    For someone on the autism spectrum, finding and keeping a job can be a challenge.

    According to Drexel University’s 2015 National Autism Indicators Report, 58 percent of young adults on the spectrum — after high school, before their early 20s — have had a paying job outside the home.

    Project SEARCH, which started in the mid-1990s at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center to improve the job prospects of people with developmental disabilities, launched a pilot study of an autism-focused approach at three sites on the East Coast in 2016 and expanded to the UW in 2017.

    2
    Matthew Skelly, an intern with project SEARCH, retrieves golf balls four mornings a week at the UW driving range. “In middle school, my dream job was to be a bus driver,” Skelly explained. “Then I decided I wanted to be a flight attendant. This program helped me learn what else I might want to do for a job.”Mark Stone / U. of Washington.

    Autism presents a unique set of circumstances, advocates say. People on the spectrum often demonstrate an interest in or knack for a particular topic or job type, but they may need practice in some of the soft skills so critical to today’s workplaces: multitasking, adapting to new practices, joining a team environment, and recognizing conversational cues and other social norms.

    Universities can be tough sites to break into with a program like this, explained Project SEARCH’s Elizabeth Falk, because of their size, the requirements of various jobs and in some cases, the complications of contracts and vendors. The UW was chosen because of support from the university and its local partners, and because of its proximity to large technology companies such as Microsoft that have developed autism hiring programs of their own, Falk said. As part of the pilot, Falk is studying employment outcomes: what skills the interns acquired, how the host sites and partner agencies provided support, and whether interns ultimately found a paying job.

    Among people with autism, having a job produces both practical and less tangible results, said Dr. Gary Stobbe, director of UW Medicine’s Adult Autism Clinic.

    “Individuals with employment make ongoing progress. Their autism symptoms lessen, and that appears to be related to the opportunity to socially engage and continue to learn,” said Stobbe, who was involved in bringing the Project SEARCH Autism Enhancement model to the UW main campus. “We all learn a lot on the job. For people with autism, it’s about interacting with people. Having a job almost becomes part of the treatment in the adult years.”

    It’s helpful for other people in the workplace, too, Stobbe added, because they adapt. Fear and misunderstanding of differences erode. Rather than pushing people with autism to become something they’re not, how about meeting them halfway?

    “We need to embrace and welcome their differences, because differences can be a part of their skills,” he said.

    Seattle-based PROVAIL is the nonprofit agency charged with helping the Project SEARCH interns transition from high school to employment. The post-high school phase is critical to future success, said Michael Goodwill, the organization’s head of transition services. While special education students continue to receive support services from their school district, they can explore their job interests, thus increasing the odds of continued employment. Indeed, the National Autism Indicators Report shows that 90 percent of people with autism who worked during their teens went on to have a job in their 20s.

    “Schools and support systems are recognizing the value of making these opportunities happen for youth before they exit school. Our data show that retention is better when those systems get involved before students leave,” Goodwill said. Students participating in Project SEARCH have a support team that helps make for a smoother transition between school and workplace.

    “It’s bridging the gap between these big milestones in a person’s life,” Goodwill added.

    The liaisons with PROVAIL and Seattle Public Schools try to match the Project SEARCH internship with the person, their interests and challenges. They lead the interns in a group meeting every morning to discuss the day’s itinerary and upcoming tasks, and again in the afternoons to debrief.

    Serving the UW community

    At the UW, interns start a new job each quarter to gain skills for and understanding of different work environments. Transportation Services assigned an intern to tackle maintenance at Central Plaza Garage; the Department of Communication needed someone to help check out camera equipment to students; and the Speech and Hearing Clinic needed an extra hand to inventory books for children, just to name a few.

    David Rahbee, director of orchestral activities and conductor of the UW Symphony, had his own long-planned project: creating a database of high school orchestra directors in Washington and nearby states. There was a Project SEARCH intern for that, too.

    When Rahbee first heard about Project SEARCH, he said, he wondered if his task would be appropriate. Then he talked to intern Alan Chen. “He showed he could do all of it,” Rahbee said.

    And more. Chen, 20, managed the project mostly on his own and expanded it to six other western states. From there, he moved to other internships during winter and spring quarter — the first in the Department of Classics, the second in the Center for the Studies of Demography and Ecology. But he continued to work on a second database for Rahbee, this one of youth orchestras.

    “The work he did makes it possible for me to reach more people,” Rahbee said. “The success of our orchestra program depends on the participation of non-music majors. The more high school music programs I can reach out to about our program, the more we will grow, and our orchestras will be stronger,” he said. “At the same time, finding things for these students to do so that they can feel good about their work is important.”

    Before the Speech and Hearing Clinic’s first intern arrived last fall, staff had a wish list of possible job tasks, which they were able to tailor to the intern’s strengths, clinic manager Julianne Siebens said. In the winter, when Matthew Skelly came aboard, the assignment went a slightly different direction, thanks to his data-entry skills. But coming up with plans was a fun challenge.

    “The key is to be flexible with expectations and willing to think creatively,” Siebens said.

    To Locke, the Speech and Hearing Sciences faculty member who serves as a liaison to Project SEARCH, the program helps improve diversity and inclusion on campus.

    “When we think of diversity, the first thing that often comes to mind is race and ethnicity. But disability also is part of diversity,” she said. “Project SEARCH is an opportunity to highlight how valuable students with autism are in the workplace, which brings more value to the university as a whole. There are benefits for everyone involved when we have a really strong mission of inclusion.”

    Back at the driving range, Skelly considered how the program has helped him toward his ultimate career goal: flight attendant. He works part-time as a barista at a West Seattle Starbucks and, thanks to the UW internships, he’s learned what other opportunities are out there. He said he’s also figured out how he works, and what he likes: moving, not sitting, and interacting with other people. Customer service, really — something those who’ve worked with him at all his internships say he’s especially good at.

    It was nearing 10 a.m., so Skelly stepped inside and flipped the sign in the window to “open.” Time to get back to work.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    u-washington-campus
    The University of Washington is one of the world’s preeminent public universities. Our impact on individuals, on our region, and on the world is profound — whether we are launching young people into a boundless future or confronting the grand challenges of our time through undaunted research and scholarship. Ranked number 10 in the world in Shanghai Jiao Tong University rankings and educating more than 54,000 students annually, our students and faculty work together to turn ideas into impact and in the process transform lives and our world. For more about our impact on the world, every day.
    So what defines us —the students, faculty and community members at the University of Washington? Above all, it’s our belief in possibility and our unshakable optimism. It’s a connection to others, both near and far. It’s a hunger that pushes us to tackle challenges and pursue progress. It’s the conviction that together we can create a world of good. Join us on the journey.

     
  • richardmitnick 12:20 pm on April 9, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , U Washington   

    From Symmetry: “ADMX brings new excitement to dark matter search” 

    Symmetry Mag
    Symmetry

    04/09/18

    Science contact
    Andrew Sonnenschein
    Fermilab
    sonnenschein@fnal.gov
    630-840-2883

    Gray Rybka,
    ADMX co-spokesperson
    University of Washington
    grybka@uw.edu
    206-543-2797

    Media contact
    Andre Salles
    Fermilab Office of Communication,
    asalles@fnal.gov
    630-840-6733

    James Urton
    University of Washington
    jurton@uw.edu
    206-543-2580

    ADMX Axion Dark Matter Experiment at the University of Washington

    1
    ADMX collaboration

    Scientists on the Axion Dark Matter Experiment have demonstrated technology that could lead to the discovery of theoretical light dark matter particles called axions.

    Forty years ago, scientists theorized a new kind of low-mass particle that could solve one of the enduring mysteries of nature: what dark matter is made of. Now a new chapter in the search for that particle, the axion, has begun.

    This week, the Axion Dark Matter Experiment (ADMX) unveiled a new result (published in Physical Review Letters) that places it in a category of one: It is the world’s first and only experiment to have achieved the necessary sensitivity to “hear” the telltale signs of these theoretical particles. This technological breakthrough is the result of more than 30 years of research and development, with the latest piece of the puzzle coming in the form of a quantum-enabled device that allows ADMX to listen for axions more closely than any experiment ever built.

    ADMX is managed by the US Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory [FNAL] and located at the University of Washington. This new result, the first from the second-generation run of ADMX, sets limits on a small range of frequencies where axions may be hiding, and sets the stage for a wider search in the coming years.

    “This result signals the start of the true hunt for axions,” says Fermilab’s Andrew Sonnenschein, the operations manager for ADMX. “If dark matter axions exist within the frequency band we will be probing for the next few years, then it’s only a matter of time before we find them.”

    One theory suggests that galaxies are held together by a vast number of axions, low-mass particles that are almost invisible to detection as they stream through the cosmos. Efforts in the 1980s to find these particles, named by theorist Frank Wilczek, currently of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, were unsuccessful, showing that their detection would be extremely challenging.

    ADMX is an axion haloscope—essentially a large, low-noise, radio receiver, which scientists tune to different frequencies and listen to find the axion signal frequency. Axions almost never interact with matter, but with the aid of a strong magnetic field and a cold, dark, properly tuned, reflective box, ADMX can “hear” photons created when axions convert into electromagnetic waves inside the detector.

    “If you think of an AM radio, it’s exactly like that,” says Gray Rybka, co-spokesperson for ADMX and assistant professor at the University of Washington. “We’ve built a radio that looks for a radio station, but we don’t know its frequency. We turn the knob slowly while listening. Ideally we will hear a tone when the frequency is right.”

    This detection method, which might make the “invisible axion” visible, was invented by Pierre Sikivie of the University of Florida in 1983. Pioneering experiments and analyses by a collaboration of Fermilab, the University of Rochester and Brookhaven National Laboratory, as well as scientists at the University of Florida, demonstrated the practicality of the experiment. This led to the construction in the late 1990s of a large-scale detector at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory that is the basis of the current ADMX.

    It was only recently, however, that the ADMX team has been able to deploy superconducting quantum amplifiers to their full potential, enabling the experiment to reach unprecedented sensitivity. Previous runs of ADMX were stymied by background noise generated by thermal radiation and the machine’s own electronics.

    Fixing thermal radiation noise is easy: A refrigeration system cools the detector down to 0.1 Kelvin (roughly -460 degrees Fahrenheit). But eliminating the noise from electronics proved more difficult. The first runs of ADMX used standard transistor amplifiers, but then ADMX scientists connected with John Clarke, a professor at the University of California Berkeley, who developed a quantum-limited amplifier for the experiment. This much quieter technology, combined with the refrigeration unit, reduces the noise by a significant enough level that the signal, should ADMX discover one, will come through loud and clear.

    “The initial versions of this experiment, with transistor-based amplifiers, would have taken hundreds of years to scan the most likely range of axion masses. With the new superconducting detectors, we can search the same range on timescales of only a few years,” says Gianpaolo Carosi, co-spokesperson for ADMX and scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

    “This result plants a flag,” says Leslie Rosenberg, professor at the University of Washington and chief scientist for ADMX. “It tells the world that we have the sensitivity, and have a very good shot at finding the axion. No new technology is needed. We don’t need a miracle anymore, we just need the time.”

    ADMX will now test millions of frequencies at this level of sensitivity. If axions were found, it would be a major discovery that could explain not only dark matter, but other lingering mysteries of the universe. If ADMX does not find axions, that may force theorists to devise new solutions to those riddles.

    “A discovery could come at any time over the next few years,” says scientist Aaron Chou of Fermilab. “It’s been a long road getting to this point, but we’re about to begin the most exciting time in this ongoing search for axions.”

    Editor’s note: This article is based on a Fermilab press release.

    See the full article here .

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    Symmetry is a joint Fermilab/SLAC publication.


     
  • richardmitnick 8:03 am on April 3, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Kathryn Neugent, , U Washington, , Yellow supergiant star   

    From University of Washington: Women in STEM -“Stellar break-up likely behind ‘runaway’ star’s fast pace, researcher says” Kathryn Neugent Interview 

    U Washington

    University of Washington

    March 29, 2018
    James Urton

    1
    An infrared image of the Small Magellanic Cloud taken by VISTA, a survey telescope in Chile operated by the European Southern Observatory.European Southern Observatory/VISTA VMC


    ESO/Vista Telescope at Cerro Paranal, with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

    During a recent survey of supermassive stars, an international team of astronomers discovered a star that is in quite a hurry. The star is J01020100-7122208. As they report in a paper accepted to The Astronomical Journal and a story by the Lowell Observatory, the team tracked one yellow supergiant star cruising along at about 300,000 miles per hour, a velocity that would get you from the Earth to the Moon in about 48 minutes.

    Kathryn Neugent, a University of Washington doctoral student in astronomy, is lead author on the paper — which stems from work she began as a researcher at the Lowell Observatory. Neugent sat down with the UW News Office to answer some questions about this star and its journey.

    How did you and your colleagues discover this yellow supergiant traveling at 300,000 miles per hour?

    I have been at Lowell Observatory as a part-time researcher for the past 9 years, and we were in the process of searching for yellow supergiant stars in the Small Magellanic Cloud, one of the Milky Way’s satellite galaxies, when we found this star.

    What is a yellow supergiant star?

    A yellow supergiant is a brief phase in the life of certain “massive stars” — any star generally greater than about 10 solar masses. Yellow supergiants only exist for a relatively short period of time as a star goes from being very hot to very cool or very cool to very hot again. They’re also yellow in color, much like our sun. Polaris, the north star, is a yellow supergiant.

    How brief is the yellow supergiant phase?

    Massive stars spend only about 10,000 to 100,000 years as a yellow supergiant. Our sun, by comparison, will spend about 10 billion years as a main sequence star. The yellow supergiant phase is a very unstable phase, so stars don’t spend too much time in it. They are more stable either on the blue side, which are hotter stars, or red side, which are cooler stars.

    How did you and your colleagues discover that this particular yellow supergiant is moving so fast?

    We collected data on yellow supergiants at the International Observatory in Chile.

    CTIO Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, CTIO Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory,approximately 80 km to the East of La Serena, Chile, at an altitude of 2200 meters

    Carnegie 6.5 meter Magellan Baade and Clay Telescopes located at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory, Chile. over 2,500 m (8,200 ft) high

    Also used in this work, he Victor M Blanco Telescope.


    NOAO/CTIO Victor M Blanco 4m Telescope which houses the DECam at Cerro Tololo, Chile, housing DECam at an altitude of 7200 feet

    CTIO Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, CTIO Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory,approximately 80 km to the East of La Serena, Chile, at an altitude of 2200 meters

    Specifically, the way you find yellow supergiants is by observing the spectrum of light coming from the star and looking to see how the spectral lines shift to the right and left. This is called Doppler shifting. This shift gives you the radial velocity, or how fast the star is traveling.

    Radial Velociity Method. ESO

    Stars in the Small Magellanic Cloud are going to be traveling at very specific radial velocities. One of the stars, this runaway yellow supergiant, was traveling at a much larger radial velocity than we expected and thus we decided to investigate it further.

    How old is this runaway star?

    We estimate that it is about 30 million years old. Compare this with the age of the sun which is about 5 billion years.

    Have fast-moving stars been observed before?

    Yes, they have. Up to 50 percent of main-sequence massive stars are thought to be runaway stars, those with radial velocities greater than 40 kilometers per second. What makes this discovery so exciting is that this star is moving much faster — about 150 kilometers per second — and this is a star that has left the main sequence and is slowly dying, making it what astronomers call an “evolved” star. This is only the second runaway evolved star found outside of our own galaxy, and the first runaway yellow supergiant described.

    Why is this yellow supergiant moving so quickly?

    Something needed to have happened to this star to make it move so fast. There are a few different ways a runaway star can be created but most of them create low-velocity runaways (more like 50 km/s). We believe that this star once had a companion star — and that companion star went supernovae, propelling this star away at an extremely high velocity. It needs to have interacted with something to be propelled through space at such a high velocity. Supernovae explosions in binary systems have been known to create high velocity runaways like the one we’ve found.

    As this star hurtles forward, will it disrupt other stars or planets it passes near?

    Doubtful. I’m not sure what the probability is of it running into another star, but it is incredibly small. Space is big!

    Neugent’s co-authors on the paper are Phil Massey and Brian Skiff at the Lowell Observatory, Nidia Morrell with Las Campanas Observatory and Cyril Gregory at Geneva University. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    So what defines us —the students, faculty and community members at the University of Washington? Above all, it’s our belief in possibility and our unshakable optimism. It’s a connection to others, both near and far. It’s a hunger that pushes us to tackle challenges and pursue progress. It’s the conviction that together we can create a world of good. Join us on the journey.

     
  • richardmitnick 8:42 am on February 13, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Hybrid optics bring color imaging using ultrathin metalenses into focus, , , U Washington   

    From University of Washington: “Hybrid optics bring color imaging using ultrathin metalenses into focus” 

    U Washington

    University of Washington

    February 12, 2018
    James Urton

    1
    Alan Zhan (left), Arka Majumdar (center) and Shane Colburn (right).Mark Stone/University of Washington

    For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.

    But today’s glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require lenses made of a new array of materials.

    2
    A portion of the team’s experimental setup for capturing an image using a metalens. The researchers capture an image of flowers through a metalens (mounted on a microscope slide) and visualize it through a microscope.Matt Hagen/UW Clean Energy Institute.

    In a paper published Feb. 9 in Science Advances, scientists at the University of Washington announced that they have successfully combined two different imaging methods — a type of lens designed for nanoscale interaction with lightwaves, along with robust computational processing — to create full-color images.

    The team’s ultrathin lens is part of a class of engineered objects known as metasurfaces. Metasurfaces are 2-D analogs of metamaterials, which are manufactured materials with physical and chemical properties not normally found in nature. A metasurface-based lens — or metalens — consists of flat microscopically patterned material surfaces designed to interact with lightwaves. To date, images taken with metalenses yield clear images — at best — for only small slices of the visual spectrum. But the UW team’s metalens — in conjunction with computational filtering — yields full-color images with very low levels of aberrations across the visual spectrum.

    “Our approach combines the best aspects of metalenses with computational imaging — enabling us, for the first time, to produce full-color images with high efficiency,” said senior author Arka Majumdar, a UW assistant professor of physics and electrical engineering.

    3
    The UW team’s metalens consists of arrays of tiny pillars of silicon nitride on glass which affect how light interacts with the surface. Depending on the size and arrangement of these pillars, microscopic lenses with different properties can be designed. A traditional metalens (top) exhibits shifts in focal length for different wavelengths of light, producing images with severe color blur. The UW team’s modified metalens design (bottom), however, interacts with different wavelengths in the same manner, generating uniformly blurry images which enable simple and fast software correction to recover sharp and in-focus images.Shane Colburn/Alan Zhan/Arka Majumdar

    Instead of manufactured glass or silicone, metalenses consist of repeated arrays of nanometer-scale structures, such as columns or fins. If properly laid out at these minuscule scales, these structures can interact with individual lightwaves with precision that traditional lenses cannot. Since metalenses are also so small and thin, they take up much less room than the bulky lenses of cameras and high-resolution microscopes. Metalenses are manufactured by the same type of semiconductor fabrication process that is used to make computer chips.

    “Metalenses are potentially valuable tools in optical imaging since they can be designed and constructed to perform well for a given wavelength of light,” said lead author Shane Colburn, a UW doctoral student in electrical engineering. “But that has also been their drawback: Each type of metalens only works best within a narrow wavelength range.”

    In experiments producing images with metalenses, the optimal wavelength range so far has been very narrow: at best around 60 nanometers wide with high efficiency. But the visual spectrum is 300 nanometers wide.

    Today’s metalenses typically produce accurate images within their narrow optimal range — such as an all-green image or an all-red image. For scenes that include colors outside of that optimal range, the images appear blurry, with poor resolution and other defects known as “chromatic aberrations.” For a rose in a blue vase, a red-optimized metalens might pick up the rose’s red petals with few aberrations, but the green stem and blue vase would be unresolved blotches — with high levels of chromatic aberrations.

    4
    The UW team’s metalens, coupled with computational processing, can capture images for a variety of light wavelengths with very low levels of chromatic aberrations. For this black-and-white image of the Mona Lisa (at top), the first row shows how well a green-optimized metalens captures the image for green light, but causes severe blurring for blue and red wavelengths. The UW team’s improved metalens (second row) captures images with similar types of aberrations for blue, green and red wavelengths, showing uniform blurring across wavelengths. But computational filtering removes most of these aberrations, as shown in the bottom row, which is a substantial improvement over a traditional metalens (first row), which is only in focus for green light and is unintelligible for blue and red.Shane Colburn/Alan Zhan/Arka Majumdar

    Majumdar and his team hypothesized that, if a single metalens could produce a consistent type of visual aberration in an image across all visible wavelengths, then they could resolve the aberrations for all wavelengths afterward using computational filtering algorithms. For the rose in the blue vase, this type of metalens would capture an image of the red rose, blue vase and green stem all with similar types of chromatic aberrations, which could be tackled later using computational filtering.

    They engineered and constructed a metalens whose surface was covered by tiny, nanometers-wide columns of silicon nitride. These columns were small enough to diffract light across the entire visual spectrum, which encompasses wavelengths ranging from 400 to 700 nanometers.

    Critically, the researchers designed the arrangement and size of the silicon nitride columns in the metalens so that it would exhibit a “spectrally invariant point spread function.” Essentially, this feature ensures that — for the entire visual spectrum — the image would contain aberrations that can be described by the same type of mathematical formula. Since this formula would be the same regardless of the wavelength of light, the researchers could apply the same type of computational processing to “correct” the aberrations.

    They then built a prototype metalens based on their design and tested how well the metalens performed when coupled with computational processing. One standard measure of image quality is “structural similarity” — a metric that describes how well two images of the same scene share luminosity, structure and contrast. The higher the chromatic aberrations in one image, the lower the structural similarity it will have with the other image. The UW team found that when they used a conventional metalens, they achieved a structural similarity of 74.8 percent when comparing red and blue images of the same pattern; however, when using their new metalens design and computational processing, the structural similarity rose to 95.6 percent. Yet the total thickness of their imaging system is 200 micrometers, which is about 2,000 times thinner than current cellphone cameras.

    “This is a substantial improvement in metalens performance for full-color imaging — particularly for eliminating chromatic aberrations,” said co-author Alan Zhan, a UW doctoral student in physics.

    5
    For the color image of flower buds at the far-left, a traditional metalens (second from left) captures images with strong chromatic aberrations and blurring. The UW team’s modified metalens (third from left) yields an image with similar levels of blurring for all colors. But the team removes most of these aberrations using computational filtering, producing an image (right) with high structural similarity to the original.Shane Colburn/Alan Zhan/Arka Majumdar

    In addition, unlike many other metasurface-based imaging systems, the UW team’s approach isn’t affected by the polarization state of light — which refers to the orientation of the electric field in the 3-D space that lightwaves are traveling in.

    The team said that its method should serve as a road map toward making a metalens — and designing additional computational processing steps — that can capture light more effectively, as well as sharpen contrast and improve resolution. That may bring tiny, next-generation imaging systems within reach.

    The research was funded by the UW, an Intel Early Career Faculty Award and an Amazon Catalyst Award.

    For more information, contact Majumdar at arka@uw.edu or 206-616-5558.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    u-washington-campus
    The University of Washington is one of the world’s preeminent public universities. Our impact on individuals, on our region, and on the world is profound — whether we are launching young people into a boundless future or confronting the grand challenges of our time through undaunted research and scholarship. Ranked number 10 in the world in Shanghai Jiao Tong University rankings and educating more than 54,000 students annually, our students and faculty work together to turn ideas into impact and in the process transform lives and our world. For more about our impact on the world, every day.
    So what defines us —the students, faculty and community members at the University of Washington? Above all, it’s our belief in possibility and our unshakable optimism. It’s a connection to others, both near and far. It’s a hunger that pushes us to tackle challenges and pursue progress. It’s the conviction that together we can create a world of good. Join us on the journey.

     
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