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  • richardmitnick 8:25 am on September 22, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Hacking a pressure sensor to track gradual motion along marine faults, U Washington   

    From U Washington: “Hacking a pressure sensor to track gradual motion along marine faults” 

    U Washington

    University of Washington

    September 21, 2017
    Hannah Hickey

    Deep below the ocean’s surface, shielded from satellite signals, the gradual movement of the seafloor — including along faults that can unleash deadly earthquakes and tsunamis — goes largely undetected. As a result, we know distressingly little about motion along the fault that lies just off the Pacific Northwest coast.

    University of Washington oceanographers are working with a local company to develop a simple new technique that could track seafloor movement in earthquake-prone coastal areas. Researchers began testing the approach this summer in central California, and they plan to present initial results in December at the American Geophysical Union’s annual meeting in New Orleans.

    1
    The modified pressure sensor is now being tested at the bottom of Monterey Bay.MBARI/University of Washington

    Their approach uses existing water-pressure sensors to cheaply measure gradual swelling of the seafloor over months to years. If successful, the innovative hack could provide new insight into motion along the Cascadia Subduction Zone and similar faults off Mexico, Chile and Japan. The data could provide clues about what types of earthquakes and tsunamis each fault can generate, where and how often.

    The concept began with a workshop in 2012 that brought together Jerry Paros, the founder of Bellevue-based Paroscientific, Inc., with UW geoscientists. Paros’ company manufactures sensors used to measure pressure at the bottom of the ocean with high precision, which are used by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration for its tsunami sensors.

    2
    The Paroscientific sensor’s crystal inside this instrument can measure crushing pressures on the seafloor. University of Washington researchers altered the sensor to monitor seismic creep by calibrating its measurements against the pressure inside the silver titanium case.University of Washington

    But an engineering quirk prevents the sensors from measuring the gradual ground motions that build up pressure along earthquake faults. The instruments can measure seafloor pressure, or the weight of water above the sensor, to an extremely precise fraction of a millimeter. But the readings lose accuracy over time, and the error is proportional to the quantity measured. On the ocean floor, where pressures are tens to hundreds of times that on the surface, the readings can change by 10 centimeters (3 inches) per year. In between major earthquakes, this is much more than the seafloor might shift up or down due to tectonic forces.

    “If you want to measure how the seafloor is moving, you don’t want your reading to change by a larger value than the thing that you’re measuring,” said Dana Manalang, an engineer at the UW’s Applied Physics Laboratory who is working on the project.

    Paros proposed an idea that would instead calibrate the pressure sensor against the air pressure inside the metal case that houses the instrument, which is roughly one atmosphere. This would allow existing pressure sensors to autonomously track small bulges and slumps on the seafloor.

    3
    This deep-sea robot, the ROV Ventana operated by Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, in June attached the instrument (lower right) to the Internet-connected observatory at the bottom of Monterey Bay.MBARI/University of Washington

    Last year engineers at the UW Applied Physics Laboratory modified an existing Paros pressure sensor. The sensitive quartz crystal that measures the seafloor pressure can now be connected to measure pressure inside its titanium instrument case, with a known pressure and another barometer to check the value. The prototype instrument was attached in mid-June to the Monterey Accelerated Research System, a cabled seafloor observatory that lets researchers communicate directly with the instrument.

    “That chunk of seafloor actually does not move much. We’re looking for a null result,” Manalang said. “If successful, the next step would be to deploy similar instruments in some more geologically active areas.”

    Those areas include the Cascadia Subduction Zone, the fault that could unleash the Really Big One at any time on the Pacific Northwest.

    4
    http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-05-30/fema-preparing-magnitude-90-cascadia-subduction-zone-earthquake-tsunami

    Geologists studying the small rise and fall of this section of seafloor, around 1 centimeter per year, have instead been forced to develop complicated workarounds.

    “We are trying to find a pattern of which areas are going up and which areas are going down, and how quickly, which can potentially tell us where the subduction zone fault is locked,” said William Wilcock, a UW oceanography professor who holds the Paros endowed chair. “But we can’t yet do that with a conventional pressure sensor.”

    Wilcock and seismologists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography have been monitoring seafloor movement off central Oregon, where the Cascadia Fault displays behavior that suggests it may gradually slip, releasing strain along that section of the fault. Once a year, the partners go to sea with a research ship, deep-sea robot and specialized equipment to calibrate six seafloor pressure sensors. By monitoring exactly how the seafloor has moved in this way from one summer to the next, they can compare sections of the fault and learn which zones are fully locked, building up potentially dangerous energy, and which aren’t.

    “The approach we are using appears to work, but it’s expensive, and you can’t do it very often,” Wilcock said.

    If Paros’ modified sensors can do the job, future work might place a network of them along Cascadia or other subduction zones, in which a seafloor plate plunges beneath a continental plate. Measuring motion along different parts of these faults might answer longstanding questions about how and where a fault ruptures.

    From her Seattle office, Manalang now communicates with the prototype sensor in Monterey and flips the crystal about once each weekday to recalibrate it against the instrument housing pressure. She will flip it less often as the test continues, while remotely monitoring the change in pressure readings.

    “We’re still close to the starting line on this one, and have some initial, really promising results,” Manalang said. Observations so far show that the shift in measurements is predictable, and similar at both ends of the instrument’s range. “We’re at the very beginning of what we hope is a fairly long-term test,” she said.

    If the method proves reliable, future pressure sensors could be programmed to pivot periodically on their own and gather observations over months or years. Precise long-term measurements of water pressure could not only help seismologists, but also researchers who study how sea level changes over decades.

    “If you can make very accurate observations, and routinely, it would interest both the people studying what’s happening beneath and what’s happening above,” Wilcock said. “These data would open up a whole bunch of new studies.”

    The research is funded by Jerry Paros and the University of Washington.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    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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  • richardmitnick 1:12 pm on September 8, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Anthropocene epoch, Earth as hybrid planet, Nikolai Kardashev, Non-equilibrium thermodynamics, U Washington   

    From U Washington: “Earth as hybrid planet” 

    U Washington

    University of Washington

    New classification scheme places Anthropocene era in astrobiological context.

    September 6, 2017
    Peter Kelley

    For decades, as astronomers have imagined advanced extraterrestrial civilizations, they categorized such worlds by the amount of energy their inhabitants might conceivably be able to harness and use.

    They sorted the hypothetical worlds into three types according to a scheme named in 1964 for Soviet astronomer Nikolai Kardashev. A Type 1 civilization could manipulate all the energy resources of its home planet (a distant goal yet for Earth) and Type 2 all the energy in its star/planetary system. A super-advanced Type 3 civilization would command the energy of its whole home galaxy. The Kardashev Scale has since become a sort of gold standard for dreaming about possible civilizations beyond Earth.

    Now, a team of researchers including Marina Alberti of the University of Washington has devised a new classification scheme for the evolutionary stages of worlds based on “non-equilibrium thermodynamics” — a planet’s energy flow being out of synch, as the presence of life could cause. The categories range from imagined planets with no atmosphere whatsoever to those with an “agency-dominated biosphere” or even a “technosphere,” reflecting the achievements of a vastly advanced, “energy-intensive technological species.”

    Their paper, Earth as a Hybrid Planet: The Anthropocene in an Evolutionary Astrobiological Context, was published Sept. 6 in the journal Anthropocene. Lead author is Adam Frank, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester. Alberti is a professor of urban design and planning in the UW College of Built Environments, and director of the college’s Urban Ecology Research Lab.

    The new classification system, the researchers say, is a way of thinking about sustainability on a planetary scale in what is being recognized as the Anthropocene epoch — the geological period of humanity’s significant impact on Earth and its ecosystems. Alberti contends in her research that humans and the urban areas we create are having a strong, planetwide effect on evolution.

    “Our premise is that Earth’s entry into the Anthropocene represents what might, from an astrobiological perspective, be a predictable planetary transition,” they write. “We explore this problem from the perspective of our own solar system and exoplanet studies.

    “In our perspective, the beginning of the Anthropocene can be seen as the onset of the hybridization of the planet — a transitional stage from one class of planetary systems to another.”

    That would be, in their scheme, Earth’s possible transition from Class IV — marked by a thick biosphere and life having some effect on the planet — to the final Class V, where a planet is profoundly affected by the activity of an advanced, energy-intensive species.

    The classification scheme, the researchers write, is based on “the magnitude by which different planetary processes — abiotic, biotic and technologic — generate free energy, i.e. energy that can perform work within the system.”

    Class I represents worlds with no atmosphere at all, such as the planet Mercury and the Earth’s moon.
    Class II planets have a thin atmosphere containing greenhouse gases, but no current life, such as the current states of planets Mars and Venus.
    Class III planets have perhaps a thin biosphere and some biotic activity, but much too little to “affect planetary drivers and alter the evolutionary state of the planet as a whole.” No current examples exist in the solar system, but early Earth may have represented such a world — and possibly early Mars, if life ever flickered there in the distant past.
    Class IV planets have a thick biosphere sustained by photosynthetic activity and life has begun strongly affecting the planetary energy flow.

    Alberti said, “The discovery of seven new exoplanets orbiting the relatively close star TRAPPIST-1 forces us to rethink life on Earth. It opens the possibility to broaden our understanding of coupled system dynamics and lay the foundations to explore a path to long-term sustainability by entering into a cooperative ecological-evolutionary dynamic with the coupled planetary systems.”

    The researchers write, “Our thesis is that the development of long-term sustainable, versions of an energy-intensive civilization must be seen on a continuum of interactions between life and its host planet.”

    The classifications lay the groundwork, they say, for future research on the “co-evolution” of planets along that continuum.

    “Any world hosting a long-lived energy-intensive civilization must share at least some similarities in terms of the thermodynamic properties of the planetary system,” they write. “Understanding these properties, even in the broadest outlines, can help us understand which direction we must aim our efforts in developing a sustainable human civilization.”

    In other words, they added, “If one does not know where one is going, it’s hard to get there.”

    Co-author on the paper is Axel Kleidon of the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, Germany.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    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 8:13 am on August 28, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Tsewone Melaku, U Washington,   

    From U Washington: Women in STEM – “Undaunted passion: Making STEM education accessible” Tsewone Melaku 

    U Washington

    University of Washington

    August 16, 2017 [U Wash took their sweet time getting this into social media.]
    Chelsea Yates

    1
    HCDE major Tsewone Melaku. Photo by Dennis Wise / University of Washington.

    Tsewone Melaku discovered engineering in high school through a UW mentorship program. Now a UW student majoring in HCDE [Human Centered Design & Engineering], she is aligning her interests in engineering with her passion to make STEM education accessible to underrepresented high school students.

    Melaku benefited from many of the same UW college access programs in which she now holds leadership roles, such as the Dream Project and the Women’s Center Making Connections program. She shares with us why it’s important to prioritize social justice issues and how she balances volunteering with her engineering studies.

    What led you to the UW?

    I attended high school here in Seattle, first at Ingraham and then at Chief Sealth. I struggled with math during my sophomore year to the point that I nearly failed. A friend was involved with Making Connections, a college readiness program offered through the UW Women’s Center. The program prepares Seattle-area high school girls from low-income communities for success in STEM fields in college. It offers everything from one-on-one tutoring and mentoring to college tours, job shadowing opportunities and college application workshops.

    I got involved with Making Connections because I needed a tutor, but it opened my eyes to so much more! I’m the first in my family to go to college; my parents are from Ethiopia, and the higher education system here was completely unfamiliar to us. After Making Connections, I sought out all the admissions support programs I could. I passed my math class and attended Young, Gifted and Black, a UW conference on social consciousness, cultural awareness and the importance of higher education for Black high school students. I signed up for the Dream Project, a program that partners UW students with first-generation and underrepresented high school students to assist in the college admissions process. I also joined UW’s Young Executives of Color program, certain that I’d major in business.

    Why did you decide to study HCDE?

    I first learned about HCDE through a Making Connections networking event, where a panel of Seattle-area women engineers talked to us about their careers. One woman — an employee at Boeing — was an HCDE alumna. I’d never heard of HCDE, but as she described it, I just kept thinking how cool it sounded. HCDE focuses on end users; it’s a field of engineering that’s all about helping people, and that really aligned with my personal interests.

    Not long after enrolling at the UW, I switched from being a pre-business major to majoring in HCDE. It’s been a great fit. I love the way it’s trained me to think creatively and solve problems.

    Tell us more about how HCDE and your academic goals overlap with your interests in creating awareness, access and exposure to opportunities for underrepresented high school students.

    I want to use my engineering background to help transform education, so I’m also minoring in the UW’s Education, Learning & Society program. My research interests involve the lack of diversity in higher education, particularly in STEM. I want to figure out ways to create better technology — and technical literacy — for underserved K-12 classrooms. There are huge gaps between technology, access and underrepresented communities. I hope to apply HCDE’s approach to user-centered problem solving and design to create technologies that meet the needs of low-income and underserved students.

    I want to put my degree to work after graduating, but I also want to go to graduate school and study human-computer interaction. My ultimate goal is a Ph.D. in engineering education.

    You continue to be involved with Making Connections and the Dream Project as an engineering student. Why?

    2
    “I love the way HCDE has trained me to think creatively and solve problems,” says Melaku. Here she constructs an affinity diagram with classmates Tsuki Kaneko-Hall and Jason Chen. Photo by Dennis Wise / University of Washington

    Making Connections is my second family, and I help anytime I can. I want kids to believe that higher education is an option, even if it seems impossible. I’ve been there; I know how tough it can be when you’re fifteen and asked to think about your college aspirations, yet the idea of going to college seems like something beyond your world. If I can share my experiences and skills in ways that help high schoolers see themselves as part of this world, then count me in. Especially for girls of color. If we want girls of color to pursue STEM, they need to see women of color being successful in STEM fields.

    I got involved with the Dream Project primarily to help transform it. I valued what the program was trying to do but from my high school experience, I saw ways it could be improved. I was invited to join the Dream Project’s leadership team and teach UW students how to be mentors in high schools after serving as a mentor myself. We’ve reshaped the course curriculum to include — and prioritize — topics like power, privilege, oppression, racism and social awareness. Many of the Dream Project’s student mentors are white or come from privileged backgrounds, and most of the high school students they’re mentoring aren’t, and we felt that it was crucial to overhaul our training practices. We’ve also updated the program’s mission statement and introduced racial equity workshops for leaders and mentors.

    You’re also involved with the UW chapter of National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and Women in Science & Engineering (WiSE). Tell us about your roles with these organizations.

    I started working with WiSE this summer as the program assistant for WiSE UP BRIDGE, a first-year academic program for women engineering students. Last year, I served as UW NSBE’s Pre-College Initiative (PCI) Chair and am now serving as the regional PCI Chair. In this role, I work with Black high school students who want to pursue engineering in college. This year we’ll be starting two NSBE Jr. high school chapters in Seattle! In addition to helping them and the other UW chapter leaders, I’ll also be planning the regional PCI conference for NSBE.

    3
    “I want kids to believe that higher education is an option, even if it seems impossible,” says Melaku, who mentors high school students through access programs like Making Connections at the UW Women’s Center. Photo courtesy of the UW Women’s Center.

    How do you balance your engineering studies with your commitments to UW access programs?

    I’m involved in a lot of campus activities, but they’re activities that I’m passionate about. I never feel like, “Oh great, I have to go do X.” It’s always more like, “Cool, I get to go do X.” I try to make time for the things that make me happy. I’m fortunate that engineering is one of those things. Helping people makes me happy, and through HCDE I’m learning all sorts of new ways to help.

    I wanted to be an engineer to prove that I could do it and to show other Black girls that they could, too. Being an engineering student — as well as a mentor, teacher and advocate on campus — is a lot of work, but it’s work that I care about and that I want to do. That makes a huge difference, I think.

    Learn about the UW’s commitment to diversity and access programs for engineering students.

    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.

     
  • richardmitnick 10:47 am on August 15, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Tidally locked exoplanets, U Washington   

    From U Washington: “Tidally locked exoplanets may be more common than previously thought” 

    U Washington

    University of Washington

    August 14, 2017
    Peter Kelley

    1
    Tidally locked bodies such as the Earth and moon are in synchronous rotation, each taking as long to rotate around its own axis as it does to revolve around its host star or gravitational partner. New research from UW astronomer Rory Barnes indicates that many exoplanets to be found by coming high-powered telescopes also will probably be tidally locked — with one side permanently facing their host star, as one side of the moon forever faces the Earth. NASA.

    Many exoplanets to be found by coming high-powered telescopes will probably be tidally locked — with one side permanently facing their host star — according to new research by astronomer Rory Barnes of the University of Washington.

    Barnes, a UW assistant professor of astronomy and astrobiology, arrived at the finding by questioning the long-held assumption that only those stars that are much smaller and dimmer than the sun could host orbiting planets that were in synchronous orbit, or tidally locked, as the moon is with the Earth. His paper, “Tidal Locking of Habitable Exoplanets,” has been accepted for publication by the journal Celestial Mechanics and Dynamical Astronomy.

    Tidal locking results when there is no side-to-side momentum between a body in space and its gravitational partner and they become fixed in their embrace. Tidally locked bodies such as the Earth and moon are in synchronous rotation, meaning that each takes exactly as long to rotate around its own axis as it does to revolve around its host star or gravitational partner. The moon takes 27 days to rotate once on its axis, and 27 days to orbit the Earth once.

    The moon is thought to have been created by a Mars-sized celestial body slamming into the young Earth at an angle that set the world spinning initially with approximately 12-hour days.

    3
    Artist’s conception of the hypothetical impact of Theia and young Earth.
    Credit: NASA/GSFC

    “The possibility of tidal locking is an old idea, but nobody had ever gone through it systematically,” said Barnes, who is affiliated with the UW-based Virtual Planetary Laboratory.

    In the past, he said, researchers tended to use that 12-hour estimation of Earth’s rotation period to model exoplanet behavior, asking, for example, how long an Earthlike exoplanet with a similar orbital spin might take to become tidally locked.

    “What I did was say, maybe there are other possibilities — you could have slower or faster initial rotation periods,” Barnes said. “You could have planets larger than Earth, or planets with eccentric orbits — so by exploring that larger parameter space, you find that in fact the old ideas were very limited, there was just one outcome there.”

    “Planetary formation models, however, suggest the initial rotation of a planet could be much larger than several hours, perhaps even several weeks,” Barnes said. “And so when you explore that range, what you find is that there’s a possibility for a lot more exoplanets to be tidally locked. For example, if Earth formed with no moon and with an initial ‘day’ that was four days long, one model predicts Earth would be tidally locked to the sun by now.”

    Barnes writes: “These results suggest that the process of tidal locking is a major factor in the evolution of most of the potentially habitable exoplanets to be discovered in the near future.”

    Being tidally locked was once thought to lead to such extremes of climate as to eliminate any possibility of life, but astronomers have since reasoned that the presence of an atmosphere with winds blowing across a planet’s surface could mitigate these effects and allow for moderate climates and life.

    Barnes said he also considered the planets that will likely be discovered by NASA’s next planet-hunting satellite, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite or TESS, and found that every potentially habitable planet it will detect will likely be tidally locked.

    NASA/TESS

    Even if astronomers discover the long-sought Earth “twin” orbiting a virtual twin of the sun, that world may be tidally locked.

    “I think the biggest implication going forward,” Barnes said, “is that as we search for life on any exoplanets we need to know if a planet is tidally locked or not.”

    The research was funded by a NASA grant through the Virtual Planetary Laboratory.

    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.

     
  • richardmitnick 9:07 am on August 14, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Researchers and students on annual expedition to maintain internet-connected deep-sea observatory, U Washington   

    From U Washinton: “Researchers, students on annual expedition to maintain internet-connected deep-sea observatory” 

    U Washington

    University of Washington

    August 10, 2017
    Hannah Hickey

    University of Washington oceanography researchers, engineers, and students are working off the coast of Oregon on the yearly cruise to maintain the deep-ocean observatory, the Cabled Array, which brings power and broadband Internet to the seafloor and water above.

    1
    Deborah Kelley (left) and undergraduate students in Newport, Oregon, on Aug. 9 at the end of the first leg of the cruise. Mitch Elend/University of Washington.

    The cruise, funded by the National Science Foundation, left July 25 from Newport, Oregon, and will be back Aug. 29. The group is on the California-based research vessel Roger Revelle, since the UW’s large research vessel, the Thomas G. Thompson, is completing its major midlife overhaul.

    Deborah Kelley, UW professor of oceanography, is chief scientist on the cruise that recently began its second leg.

    While at sea a deep-sea robot will brave the crushing pressures and cold temperatures, while the team works day and night to direct the dives and prepare equipment above water. The researchers will be cleaning some instruments from marine life, and swapping out sensors that collect hot spring fluids and DNA samples over their year-long missions.

    2
    One of the shallowest pieces of the observatory lives about a tenth of a mile (200 meters) beneath the water’s surface. After a year it is coated in large anemones, small pink sea urchins, feathery brown crinoids , and small crustaceans. UW/NSF-OOI/Jason.

    The team is posting regular updates from the ship. On Aug. 1, members reported seeing pyrosomes, the bioluminescent tube-shaped tropical animals that have been seen this year off the Pacific Northwest. They are also posting highlights of the robot-captured dive videos, including one showing how marine creatures are getting cozy on the UW-built technology.

    In addition to the maintenance work, two new instruments from William Chadwick at Oregon State University will be added. The first will monitor tilting and the rise and fall of the seafloor to detect inflation and deflation at Axial Seamount, an underwater volcano that is part of the cabled observatory. A second instrument, to be placed in a nearby hydrothermal vent field, will measure the temperature and salinity of fluids that waft around the vents and in the Axial caldera. More than 120 instruments — including seismometers, high-definition video and digital still camera, and underwater chemical mass spectrometers — will be recovered and reinstalled during the cruise. Data from all instruments is accessible in real time from shore through the Ocean Observatories Initiative Data Portal.

    This year’s cruise includes 24 undergraduate and graduate students from the UW, Peninsula College in Port Angeles, Western Washington University in Bellingham and Queens College in New York. They are posting student blogs. For many undergraduates this will be their first experience at sea.

    Other cruise participants include a teacher from Kingston Middle School in Kitsap County, faculty members from Grays Harbor College in Aberdeen and UW Tacoma, and a postdoctoral researcher from the UW Applied Physics Laboratory.

    Follow along on Twitter at @VISIONSops, or tune in during one of the robot’s dives for live video from the deep sea.

    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.

     
  • richardmitnick 11:12 am on July 17, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Synthetic DNA technology and high throughput screening permit large-scale testing of structural stability of multitudes of computationally designed proteins, U Washington   

    From U Washington: “Feedback from 1000s of designs could transform protein engineering” 

    U Washington

    University of Washington

    07.12.2017
    Leila Gray
    206.685.0381
    leilag@uw.edu

    1
    A model of a computationally designed mini-protein from a large-scale study to test structural stability. Institute for Protein Design.

    The stage is set for a new era of data-driven protein molecular engineering as advances in DNA synthesis technology merge with improvements in computational design of new proteins.

    This week’s Science reports the largest-scale testing of folding stability for computationally designed proteins, made possible by a new high-throughput approach.

    The scientists are from the UW Medicine Institute for Protein Design at the University of Washington in Seattle and the University of Toronto in Ontario.

    The lead author of the paper is Gabriel Rocklin, a postdoctoral fellow in biochemistry at the University of Washington School of Medicine. The senior authors are Cheryl Arrowsmith, of the Princess Margaret Cancer Center, the Structural Genomics Consortium and the Department of Medical Biophysics at the University of Toronto, and David Baker, UW professor of biochemistry and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.

    Proteins are biological workhorses. Researchers want to build new molecules, not found naturally, that can perform tasks in preventing or treating disease, in industrial applications, in energy production, and in environmental cleanups.

    “However, computationally designed proteins often fail to form the folded structures that they were designed to have when they are actually tested in the lab,” Rocklin said.

    In the latest study, the researchers tested more than 15,000 newly designed mini-proteins that do not exist in nature to see whether they form folded structures. Even major protein design studies in the past few years have generally examined only 50 to 100 designs.

    “We learned a huge amount at this new scale, but the taste has given us an even larger appetite,” said Rocklin. “We’re eager to test hundreds of thousands of designs in the next few years.”

    The most recent testing led to the design of 2,788 stable protein structures and could have many bioengineering and synthetic biology applications. Their small size may be advantageous for treating diseases when the drug needs to reach the inside of a cell.

    2
    Design model structures from a comprehensive mutational analysis of stability in natural and designed proteins. UW Institute for Protein Design.

    Proteins are made of amino acid chains with specific sequences, and natural protein sequences are encoded in cellular DNA. These chains fold into 3-dimensional conformations. The sequence of the amino acids in the chain guide where it will bend and twist, and how parts will interact to hold the structure together.

    For decades, researchers have studied these interactions by examining the structures of naturally occurring proteins. However, natural protein structures are typically large and complex, with thousands of interactions that collectively hold the protein in its folded shape. Measuring the contribution of each interaction becomes very difficult.

    The scientists addressed this problem by computationally designing their own, much simpler proteins. These simpler proteins made it easier to analyze the different types of interactions that hold all proteins in their folded structures.

    “Still, even simple proteins are so complicated that it was important to study thousands of them to learn why they fold,” Rocklin said. “This had been impossible until recently, due to the cost of DNA. Each designed protein requires its own customized piece of DNA so that it can be made inside a cell. This has limited previous studies to testing only tens of designs.”

    To encode their designs of short proteins in this project, the researchers used what is called DNA oligo library synthesis technology. It was originally developed for other laboratory protocols, such as large gene assembly. One of the companies that provided their DNA is CustomArray in Bothell, Wash. They also used DNA libraries made by Agilent in Santa Clara, Calif., and Twist Bioscience in San Francisco.

    By repeating the cycle of computation and experimental testing over several iterations, the researchers learned from their design failures and progressively improved their modeling. Their design success rate rose from 6 percent to 47 percent. They also produced stable proteins in shapes where all of their first designs failed.

    Their large set of stable and unstable mini-proteins enabled them to quantitatively analyze which protein features correlated with folding. They also compared the stability of their designed proteins to similarly sized, naturally occurring proteins.

    The most stable natural protein the researchers identified was a much-studied protein from the bacteria Bacillus stearothermophilus.

    3
    The researchers compared the stability of some of their designed proteins to a natural protein found in a bacteria that withstands the high temperatures of hot springs like those in Yellowstone. Alice C. Gray.

    This organism basks in high temperatures, like those in hot springs and ocean thermal vents. Most proteins lose their folded structures under such high temperature conditions. Organisms that thrive there have evolved highly stable proteins that stay folded even when hot.

    “A total of 774 designed proteins had higher stability scores than this most protease-resistant monomeric protein,” the researchers noted. Proteases are enzymes that break down proteins, and were essential tools the researchers used to measure stability for their thousands of proteins.

    The researchers predict that, as DNA synthesis technology continues to improve, high-throughput protein design will become possible for larger, more complex protein structures.

    “We are moving away from the old style of protein design, which was a mix of computer modeling, human intuition, and small bits of evidence about what worked before.” Rocklin said. “Protein designers were like master craftsmen who used their experience to hand-sculpt each piece in their workshop. Sometimes things worked, but when they failed it was hard to say why. Our new approach lets us collect an enormous amount of data on what makes proteins stable. This data can now drive the design process.”

    Their study was supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Natural Sciences and Research Council of Canada. Rocklin is a Merck Fellow of the Life Sciences Research Foundation. Arrowsmith holds a Canadian Research Chair in Structural Genomics.

    This work was facilitated by the Hyak supercomputer at the University of Washington and by donations of computing time from Rosetta@home participants.

    Rosetta@home project, a project running on BOINC software from UC Berkeley

    Dr. David Baker, Baker Lab, U Washington

    4
    Hyak supercomputer at the University of Washington

    See the full article here .

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  • richardmitnick 8:09 am on July 12, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Chemotherapy before breast cancer surgery might fuel metastasis, , STAT, U Washington   

    From STAT via U Washington: “Chemotherapy before breast cancer surgery might fuel metastasis” 

    U Washington

    University of Washington

    1

    STAT

    July 10, 2017
    Sharon Begley

    2
    A breast cancer tumor imaged with a technique that highlights aspects of its microenvironment. National Cancer Institute/Univ. of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center. National Cancer Institute/Univ. of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center.

    When breast cancer patients get chemotherapy before surgery to remove their tumor, it can make remaining malignant cells spread to distant sites, resulting in incurable metastatic cancer, scientists reported last week.

    The main goal of pre-operative (neoadjuvant) chemotherapy for breast cancer is to shrink tumors so women can have a lumpectomy rather than a more invasive mastectomy. It was therefore initially used only on large tumors after being introduced about 25 years ago. But as fewer and fewer women were diagnosed with large breast tumors, pre-op chemo began to be used in patients with smaller cancers, too, in the hope that it would extend survival.

    But pre-op chemo can, instead, promote metastasis, scientists concluded from experiments in lab mice and human tissue, published in Science Translational Medicine.

    When breast cancer patients get chemotherapy before surgery to remove their tumor, it can make remaining malignant cells spread to distant sites, resulting in incurable metastatic cancer, scientists reported last week.

    The main goal of pre-operative (neoadjuvant) chemotherapy for breast cancer is to shrink tumors so women can have a lumpectomy rather than a more invasive mastectomy. It was therefore initially used only on large tumors after being introduced about 25 years ago. But as fewer and fewer women were diagnosed with large breast tumors, pre-op chemo began to be used in patients with smaller cancers, too, in the hope that it would extend survival.

    But pre-op chemo can, instead, promote metastasis, scientists concluded from experiments in lab mice and human tissue, published in Science Translational Medicine.

    The reason is that standard pre-op chemotherapies for breast cancer — paclitaxel, doxorubicin, and cyclophosphamide — affect the body’s on-ramps to the highways of metastasis, said biologist John Condeelis of Albert Einstein College of Medicine, senior author of the new study.

    Called “tumor microenvironments of metastasis,” these on-ramps are sites on blood vessels that special immune cells flock to. If the immune cells hook up with a tumor cell, they usher it into a blood vessel like a Lyft picking up a passenger. Since blood vessels are the highways to distant organs, the result is metastasis, or the spread of cancer to far-flung sites.

    Depending on characteristics such as how many tumor cells, blood vessel cells, and immune cells are touching each other, the tumor microenvironment can nearly triple the chance that a common type of breast cancer (estrogen-receptor positive/HER2 negative) that has reached the lymph nodes will also metastasize, Condeelis and colleagues showed in a 2014 study [NCBI] of 3,760 patients. The discovery of how the tumor microenvironment can fuel metastasis by whisking cancer cells into blood vessels so impressed Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, that he featured it in his blog.

    The new study took the next logical step: Can the tumor microenvironment be altered so that it promotes or thwarts metastasis?

    To find out, Einstein’s George Karagiannis spent nearly three years experimenting with lab mice whose genetic mutations make them spontaneously develop breast cancer, as well as mice given human breast tumors. In both cases, paclitaxel changed the tumor microenvironments in three ways, all more conducive to metastasis: The microenvironment had more of the immune cells that carry cancer cells into blood vessels, it developed blood vessels that were more permeable to cancer cells, and the tumor cells became more mobile, practically bounding into those molecular Lyfts.

    As a result, the mice had twice as many cancer cells zipping through their bloodstream and in their lungs compared with mice not treated with paclitaxel. Two other neoadjuvants, doxorubicin and cyclophosphamide, also promoted metastasis by altering the tumor microenvironment. “This showed that the tumor microenvironment is the doorway to metastasis,” Condeelis said.

    The scientists also analyzed tissue from 20 breast cancer patients who had undergone pre-op chemo (12 weeks of paclitaxel and four of doxorubicin and cyclophosphamide). Compared to before the chemo, the tumor microenvironment after treatment was more conducive to metastasis in most patients. In five, it got more than five times worse. No patient’s microenvironment got less friendly to metastasis.

    Pre-op chemo “may have unwanted long-term consequences in some breast cancer patients,” the Einstein researchers wrote.

    That finding is “fascinating, powerful, and very important,” said Julio Aguirre-Ghiso, of Mount Sinai School of Medicine, an expert in metastasis who was not involved in the study. “It raises awareness that we might have to be smarter about how we use chemotherapy.”

    Dr. Julie Gralow, a medical oncologist at the University of Washington, said that if pre-op chemo promoted metastasis, that should have shown up in studies that compared it to post-op chemo, but for the most part it hasn’t. However, that could be because only tumor cells containing certain proteins that make them especially mobile are affected in this way. “This is an interesting study, to say the least,” Gralow said. “I am willing to keep my mind open to the possibility that there are some breast cancer patients in whom things get worse” with pre-op chemo.

    One reason to question the findings, however, is that if pre-op chemo promotes metastasis in some patients, that might be expected to have shown up in studies of the therapy. Overall, in fact, those studies show [JCO] that “neoadjuvant chemotherapy does not seem to improve overall survival,” as the authors of an editorial in the Journal of Clinical Oncology wrote.

    That’s not as bad as decreasing survival, of course. But Einstein’s Dr. Maja Oktay, a co-author of the new research, cautioned that the typical length of the studies — six or so years — is too short to assess the risk of metastasis, “which can take more than 20 years” to appear, she said. Such patients might never be flagged as having metastatic cancer, let alone having it linked to pre-op chemo decades earlier, said Aguirre-Ghiso.

    On a brighter note, not all breast cancer patients have the kind of tumor microenvironment in which pre-op chemo can promote metastasis. Whether they do or not can be determined by a simple lab test, but one that is not routinely done, Condeelis said.

    Serendipitously, an experimental compound called rebastinib, being developed by Deciphera Pharmaceuticals, seems to be able to block the on-ramp to the metastasis highway. In a study currently recruiting patient volunteers [Clinical Trials.gov], the Einstein scientists (who have no financial relationship with Deciphera) are studying whether rebastinib can improve outcomes in metastatic breast cancer.

    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 2:26 pm on July 8, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , HeraldNet, , U Washington   

    From U Washington via Heraldnet: “UW scientists may save the Earth using computer algorithms” 

    U Washington

    University of Washington

    1

    HeraldNet

    Jun 29th, 2017
    Katherine Long

    1
    Andrew Connolly, left, director of DIRAC, a new institute for intensive survey astrophysics at the University of Washington, and Zeljko Ivezic, a professor of astronomy and a key player in the development of software for the LSST telescope in Chile, stand in the planetarium at the UW. They’re involved in a major project to create a map of all the asteroids in our solar system, and to figure out which ones might pose a danger to Earth. (Ellen M. Banner/The Seattle Times) [U Washington]

    Scientists at the University of Washington are writing computer algorithms that could one day save the world — and that’s no exaggeration.

    Working away in the university’s quiet Physics/Astronomy building, these scientists are teaching computers how to sift through massive amounts of data to identify asteroids on a collision course with Earth.

    Together with 60 colleagues at six other universities, the 20 UW scientists are part of a massive new data project to catalog space itself, using the largest digital camera ever made.

    Five years from now, a sky-scanning telescope under construction in Chile will begin photographing the night sky with a 3,200-megapixel camera. The telescope will have the power to peer into the solar system and beyond, and track things we have never been able to track before — including asteroids, the rubble left behind during the formation of the solar system.

    LSST


    LSST Camera, built at SLAC



    LSST telescope, currently under construction at Cerro Pachón Chile, a 2,682-meter-high mountain in Coquimbo Region, in northern Chile, alongside the existing Gemini South and Southern Astrophysical Research Telescopes.

    When it is up and running, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) will produce 20 terabytes of images every night, and will be able to photograph half the night sky every three days, said Andrew Connolly, one of the UW astronomers working on the project.

    It will replace the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which dates back to 1998, and which was only able to cover one-eighth the sky over 10 years.

    SDSS Telescope at Apache Point Observatory, NM, USA

    The LSST’s mission is different from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, which sends back detailed photos of specific regions of space, but does not take vast surveys of everything in the sky.

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    The danger asteroids pose became clear in 2013, when more than 1,000 people were reportedly injured after a meteor exploded near the Russian town of Chelyabinsk. (Meteorites are closely related to asteroids.)

    And 66 million years ago, many scientists believe, an asteroid the size of a mountain smashed into Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, dramatically changing Earth’s environment and wiping out the dinosaurs.

    Scientists have already plotted the orbits of more than 700,000 known asteroids in the solar system, said Željko Ivezic, a UW astronomy professor and project scientist for LSST. The LSST will help astronomers identify an estimated 5 million more.

    That’s why teaching a computer to identify asteroids is such vital work.

    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 10:03 am on July 6, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Allen Discovery Center for Cell Lineage Tracing, , , , The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, U Washington   

    From U Washington: “The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group announces center to map cell lineages” 

    U Washington

    University of Washington

    07.05.2017
    Rob Piercy
    robp@alleninstitute.org
    206-548-8486

    $10 million grant will create an Allen Discover Center at UW Medicine to generate the first global maps of cell lineage in complex organisms.

    1
    An artist’s conception of cells dividing. A new Allen Discovery Center will trace cell lineages to better understand the development of living organisms. Wikimedia

    The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group announced today the creation of an Allen Discovery Center for Cell Lineage Tracing at UW Medicine, to be directed by Jay Shendure, University of Washington School of Medicine professor of genome sciences, and co-directed by Michael Elowitz at the California Institute of Technology, with site director Alex Schier at Harvard University.

    The Allen Discovery Center will use newly developed technology to create global maps of development that reveal the relationships between the vast numbers of diverse cells that make up a single organism, with major impacts across developmental biology, neuroscience, cancer biology, regenerative medicine and other fields. The Center is funded at $10 million over four years, with the potential for $30 million over eight years.

    Scientists have been asking questions about the ancestry and lineage of cells for over a century, but tracing the relationships between generations of cells has faced significant technical challenges. In the past several years, teams led by Shendure at UW Medicine, Elowitz and Long Cai, at Caltech and Schier at Harvard have created new technologies that take advantage of modern gene editing methods to effectively trace cells as they divide, move and differentiate throughout an organism’s development.

    The Allen Discovery Center for Cell Lineage Tracing will use these new technologies and paradigms to develop lineage maps for the zebrafish and mouse – the first global maps of development in any vertebrate. They will also develop genomic systems to record the molecular events that regulate development. The Center’s other investigators are Carlos Lois at Caltech and Marshall Horwitz, professor of pathology, and Cole Trapnell, assistant professor of genome sciences, both at the UW School of Medicine.

    “For the first time, we have the tools and technology to answer questions that have fascinated developmental biologists for decades,” said Shendure. “By inserting ‘barcodes’ into the genome that mutate throughout development, we can essentially create a family tree for an organism’s cells, which tells us each cell’s relationships to its ancestors and other cells both near and far. We hope that the generation of technologies that we’re developing will enable us to gain the same kind of global view on development that the Human Genome Project provided for our genes.”

    “An amazing aspect of these technologies is that they should allow each cell to record its own individual molecular history within its own genome,” said Elowitz. “Reading out these cellular memoirs will provide new insights into development and disease.”

    “This application of genome editing and sequencing technologies will allow the study of development at unprecedented scales and create the new field of developmental statistics,” said Schier.

    “Each of us began as a single cell, which divided and specialized into the trillions of cells that make up an adult human,” said Tom Skalak, executive director of The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group. “A fundamental scientific question is how this lineage of cells comes to be. This Allen Discovery Center is poised to produce solutions to this question, which would be transformative for many fields of bioscience.”

    “We expect this Allen Discovery Center to drive significant change in how we think about and study cell lineage, which is poised to have broad impact in biology,” said Ana Mari Cauce, University of Washington president. “We are glad for the support of The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group and their recognition of the incredible work being led by our researchers.”

    “This collaborative work with scientists at Cal Tech, Harvard and UW Medicine will accelerate our knowledge of cell development in health and disease,” said Paul G. Ramsey, CEO of UW Medicine and dean of the UW School of Medicine. “We appreciate the partnership with The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group and the commitment to advancing work in the biological sciences.

    Allen Discovery Centers are a new form of funding for leadership-driven, compass-guided research at the frontier of science. Having a comprehensive understanding of how an organism’s lineage map would have impact not just on the basic science of developmental biology, but also provide new insights into how cancer cells develop and how to manipulate development for regenerative medicine.

    About The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group

    The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group is dedicated to exploring the landscape of science to identify and fund pioneers with ideas that will advance knowledge and make the world better. Through continuous dialogue with scientists across the world, The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group seeks opportunities to expand the boundaries of knowledge and solve important problems. Programs include the Allen Discovery Centers at partner institutions for leadership-driven, compass-guided research, and the Allen Distinguished Investigators for frontier explorations with exceptional creativity and potential impact. The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group was founded in 2016 by philanthropist and visionary Paul G. Allen, and is a division of the Allen Institute, an independent 501(c)(3) medical research organization. For more information, visit allenfrontiersgroup.org.

    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 9:31 am on July 6, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Battery free cell phone, U Washington   

    From U Washington: “First battery-free cellphone makes calls by harvesting ambient power” 

    U Washington

    University of Washington

    July 5, 2017
    Jennifer Langston

    1
    UW engineers have designed the first battery-free cellphone that can send and receive calls using only a few microwatts of power.Mark Stone/University of Washington

    University of Washington researchers have invented a cellphone that requires no batteries — a major leap forward in moving beyond chargers, cords and dying phones. Instead, the phone harvests the few microwatts of power it requires from either ambient radio signals or light.

    The team also made Skype calls using its battery-free phone, demonstrating that the prototype made of commercial, off-the-shelf components can receive and transmit speech and communicate with a base station.

    The new technology is detailed in a paper published July 1 in the Proceedings of the Association for Computing Machinery on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies [ACM-DL].

    “We’ve built what we believe is the first functioning cellphone that consumes almost zero power,” said co-author Shyam Gollakota, an associate professor in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering at the UW. “To achieve the really, really low power consumption that you need to run a phone by harvesting energy from the environment, we had to fundamentally rethink how these devices are designed.”

    The team of UW computer scientists and electrical engineers eliminated a power-hungry step in most modern cellular transmissions — converting analog signals that convey sound into digital data that a phone can understand. This process consumes so much energy that it’s been impossible to design a phone that can rely on ambient power sources.

    Instead, the battery-free cellphone takes advantage of tiny vibrations in a phone’s microphone or speaker that occur when a person is talking into a phone or listening to a call.

    An antenna connected to those components converts that motion into changes in standard analog radio signal emitted by a cellular base station. This process essentially encodes speech patterns in reflected radio signals in a way that uses almost no power.

    To transmit speech, the phone uses vibrations from the device’s microphone to encode speech patterns in the reflected signals. To receive speech, it converts encoded radio signals into sound vibrations that that are picked up by the phone’s speaker. In the prototype device, the user presses a button to switch between these two “transmitting” and “listening” modes.

    2
    The battery-free phone developed at the UW can sense speech, actuate the earphones, and switch between uplink and downlink communications, all in real time. It is powered by either ambient radio signals or light.Mark Stone/University of Washington

    Using off-the-shelf components on a printed circuit board, the team demonstrated that the prototype can perform basic phone functions — transmitting speech and data and receiving user input via buttons. Using Skype, researchers were able to receive incoming calls, dial out and place callers on hold with the battery-free phone.

    “The cellphone is the device we depend on most today. So if there were one device you’d want to be able to use without batteries, it is the cellphone,” said faculty lead Joshua Smith, professor in both the Allen School and UW’s Department of Electrical Engineering. “The proof of concept we’ve developed is exciting today, and we think it could impact everyday devices in the future.”

    The team designed a custom base station to transmit and receive the radio signals. But that technology conceivably could be integrated into standard cellular network infrastructure or Wi-Fi routers now commonly used to make calls.

    “You could imagine in the future that all cell towers or Wi-Fi routers could come with our base station technology embedded in it,” said co-author Vamsi Talla, a former UW electrical engineering doctoral student and Allen School research associate. “And if every house has a Wi-Fi router in it, you could get battery-free cellphone coverage everywhere.”

    The battery-free phone does still require a small amount of energy to perform some operations. The prototype has a power budget of 3.5 microwatts.

    The UW researchers demonstrated how to harvest this small amount of energy from two different sources. The battery-free phone prototype can operate on power gathered from ambient radio signals transmitted by a base station up to 31 feet away.

    Using power harvested from ambient light with a tiny solar cell — roughly the size of a grain of rice — the device was able to communicate with a base station that was 50 feet away.

    3
    The research team from the UW Department of Electrical Engineering and the Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering includes (left to right): Vamsi Talla, Wu Meiling, Sam Crow, Joshua Smith, Bryce Kellogg and Shyam Gollakota.Mark Stone/University of Washington

    Many other battery-free technologies that rely on ambient energy sources, such as temperature sensors or an accelerometer, conserve power with intermittent operations. They take a reading and then “sleep” for a minute or two while they harvest enough energy to perform the next task. By contrast, a phone call requires the device to operate continuously for as long as the conversation lasts.

    “You can’t say hello and wait for a minute for the phone to go to sleep and harvest enough power to keep transmitting,” said co-author Bryce Kellogg, a UW electrical engineering doctoral student. “That’s been the biggest challenge — the amount of power you can actually gather from ambient radio or light is on the order of 1 or 10 microwatts. So real-time phone operations have been really hard to achieve without developing an entirely new approach to transmitting and receiving speech.”

    Next, the research team plans to focus on improving the battery-free phone’s operating range and encrypting conversations to make them secure. The team is also working to stream video over a battery-free cellphone and add a visual display feature to the phone using low-power E-ink screens.

    The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and Google Faculty Research Awards.

    For more information, visit batteryfreephone.cs.washington.edu or contact the research team at batteryfreephone@cs.washington.edu.

    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.

     
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