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  • richardmitnick 10:03 am on May 9, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: A big universe needs big computing-Sijacki accessed HPC resources through XSEDE in the US and PRACE in Europe, , , , , Debora Sijacki, , She now uses the UK’s National Computing Service DiRAC in combination with PRACE, Sijacki wants to understand the role supermassive black holes (SMBH) play in galaxy formation., , Women in STEM   

    From Science Node: Women in STEM- “Shining a light on cosmic darkness” Debora Sijacki 

    Science Node bloc
    From Science Node

    08 May, 2019
    Alisa Alering

    Debora Sijacki. Courtesy David Orr.

    Award-winning astrophysicist Debora Sijacki wants to understand how galaxies form.

    Carl Sagan once described the Earth as a “pale blue dot, a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark.”

    The need to shine a light into that cosmic darkness has long inspired astronomers to investigate the wonders that lie beyond our lonely planet. For Debora Sijacki, a reader in astrophysics and cosmology at the University of Cambridge, her curiosity takes the form of simulating galaxies in order to understand their origins.

    A supermassive black hole at the center of a young, star-rich galaxy. SMBHs distort space and light around them, as illustrated by the warped stars behind the black hole. Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

    “We human beings are a part of our Universe and we ultimately want to understand where we came from,” says Sijacki. “We want to know what is this bigger picture that we are taking part in.”

    Sijacki is the winner of the 2019 PRACE Ada Lovelace Award for HPC for outstanding contributions to and impact on high-performance computing (HPC). Initiated in 2016, the award recognizes female scientists working in Europe who have an outstanding impact on HPC research and who provide a role model for other women.

    Specifically, Sijacki wants to understand the role supermassive black holes (SMBH) play in galaxy formation. These astronomical objects are so immense that they contain mass on the order of hundreds of thousands to even billions of times the mass of the Sun. At the same time they are so compact that, if the Earth were a black hole, it would fit inside a penny.

    The first image of a black hole, Messier 87 Credit Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, via NSF and ERC 4.10.19

    SMBHs are at the center of many massive galaxies—there’s even one at the center of our own galaxy, The Milky Way. Astronomers theorize that these SMBHs are important not just in their own right but because they affect the properties of the galaxies themselves.

    Sgr A* from ESO VLT

    SGR A* ,the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way. NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory

    “What we think happens is that when gas accretes very efficiently and draws close to the SMBH it eventually falls into the SMBH,” says Sijacki. “The SMBH then grows in mass, but at the same time this accretion process is related to an enormous release of energy that can actually change the properties of galaxies themselves.”

    A big universe needs big computing

    To investigate the interplay of these astronomical phenomena, Sijacki and her team create simulations where they can zoom into details of SMBHs while at the same time viewing a large patch of the Universe. This allows them to focus on the physics of how black holes influence galaxies and even larger environments.

    Dark matter density (l) transitioning to gas density (r). Large-scale projection through the Illustris volume at z=0, centered on the most massive galaxy cluster of the Illustris cosmological simulation. Courtesy Illustris Simulation.

    But in order to study something as big as the Universe, you need a big computer. Or several. As a Hubble Fellow at Harvard University, Sijacki accessed HPC resources through XSEDE in the US and PRACE in Europe. She now uses the UK’s National Computing Service DiRAC in combination with PRACE.


    DiRAC is the UK’s integrated supercomputing facility for theoretical modelling and HPC-based research in particle physics, astronomy and cosmology.

    PRACE supercomputing resources

    Hazel Hen, GCS@HLRS, Cray XC40 supercomputer Germany

    JOLIOT CURIE of GENCI Atos BULL Sequana system X1000 supercomputer France

    JUWELS, GCS@FZJ, Atos supercomputer Germany

    MARCONI, CINECA, Lenovo NeXtScale supercomputer Italy

    MareNostrum Lenovo supercomputer of the National Supercomputing Center in Barcelona

    Cray Piz Daint Cray XC50/XC40 supercomputer of the Swiss National Supercomputing Center (CSCS)

    SuperMUC-NG, GCS@LRZ, Lenovo supercomputer Germany

    According to Sijacki, in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, astrophysicists laid the foundations of galaxy formation and developed some of the key ideas that still guide our understanding. But it was soon recognized that these theories needed to be refined—or even refuted.

    “There is only so much we can do with the pen-and-paper approach,” says Sijacki. “The equations we are working on are very complex and we have to solve them numerically. And it’s not just a single physical process, but many different mechanisms that we want to explain. Often when you put different bits of complex physics together, you can’t easily predict the outcome.”

    The other motivation for high-performance computing is the need for higher resolution models. This is because the physics in the real Universe occurs on a vast range of scales.

    “We’re talking about billions and trillions of resolution elements,” says Sijacki. “It requires massive parallel calculations on thousands of cores to evolve this really complex system with many resolution elements.”

    In recent years, high-performance computing resources have become more powerful and more widely available. New architectures and novel algorithms promise even greater efficiency and optimized parallelization.

    Jet feedback from active galactic nuclei. (A) Large-scale image of the gas density centered on a massive galaxy cluster. (B) High-velocity jet launched by the central supermassive black hole. (C) Cold disk-like structure around the SMBH from which black hole is accreting. (D) 2D Voronoi mesh reconstruction and (E) velocity streamline map of a section of the jet, illustrating massive increase in spatial resolution achieved by this simulation. Courtesy Bourne, Sijacki, and Puchwein.

    Given these advances, Sijacki projects a near-future where astrophysicists can, for the first time, perform simulations that can consistently track individual stars in a given galaxy and follow that galaxy within a cosmological framework.

    “Full predictive models of the evolution of our Universe is our ultimate goal,” says Sijacki. “We would like to have a theory that is completely predictive, free of ill-constrained parameters, where we can theoretically understand how the Universe was built and how the structures in the Universe came about. This is our guiding star.”

    Awards matter

    When asked about the significance of the award, Sijacki says that she is proud to have her research recognized—and to be associated with the name of Ada Lovelace.

    Perhaps more importantly, the award has already had an immediate effect on the female PhD students and post-docs at Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy. Sijacki says the recognition motivates the younger generations of female scientists, by showing them that this is a possible career path that leads to success and recognition.

    “I have seen how my winning this award makes them more enthusiastic—and more ambitious,” says Sijacki. “I was really happy to see that.”

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Science Node is an international weekly online publication that covers distributed computing and the research it enables.

    “We report on all aspects of distributed computing technology, such as grids and clouds. We also regularly feature articles on distributed computing-enabled research in a large variety of disciplines, including physics, biology, sociology, earth sciences, archaeology, medicine, disaster management, crime, and art. (Note that we do not cover stories that are purely about commercial technology.)

    In its current incarnation, Science Node is also an online destination where you can host a profile and blog, and find and disseminate announcements and information about events, deadlines, and jobs. In the near future it will also be a place where you can network with colleagues.

    You can read Science Node via our homepage, RSS, or email. For the complete iSGTW experience, sign up for an account or log in with OpenID and manage your email subscription from your account preferences. If you do not wish to access the website’s features, you can just subscribe to the weekly email.”

  • richardmitnick 2:08 pm on May 6, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Shake-up at NIH: Term limits for important positions would open new opportunities for women and minorities", , Many chiefs (54 of 272) have served at least 20 years and 17 for more than 30 years, , Starting next year the 272 lab and branch chiefs who oversee NIH's intramural research will be limited to 12-year terms., The main NIH campus in Bethesda Maryland and its other intramural research sites are known as stodgy places where the scientific management- mostly white men- tends to stay in place for decades., Up to half of the chiefs will turn over in the next 5 years, Women in STEM   

    From “Science”: Women in STEM- “Shake-up at NIH: Term limits for important positions would open new opportunities for women, minorities” 


    From “Science”

    The National Institutes of Health’s in-house research program plans to limit the terms of midlevel managers, in part so that more women can move into leadership positions.
    National Institutes of Health/flickr (CC BY-NC)

    May 2, 2019
    Jocelyn Kaiser

    Able to pursue open-ended research without relentless grant deadlines, some scientists who work directly for the National Institutes of Health joke that NIH stands for “nerds in heaven.” But the main NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland, and its other intramural research sites are also known as stodgy places where the scientific management, mostly white men, tends to stay in place for decades.

    Mark O. Hatfield Clinical Research Center, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland

    Now, NIH is aiming to shake up its intramural program, the largest collection of biomedical researchers in the world, by imposing term limits on midlevel leadership positions.

    Starting next year, the 272 lab and branch chiefs who oversee NIH’s intramural research will be limited to 12-year terms. The policy, now being refined by the directors of NIH’s 23 institutes with in-house science programs, means up to half of the chiefs will turn over in the next 5 years, says Michael Gottesman, NIH’s deputy director for intramural research. “We see this as an opportunity for diversity in the leadership at NIH, especially gender and ethnic diversity,” says Hannah Valantine, NIH’s chief officer for scientific workforce diversity.

    The changes are roiling the campus, with some grumbling they will have little impact and others questioning whether good leaders should automatically be replaced. “The appointment of more women … could be a plus, but the ‘coin of the realm’ still remains scientific excellence and productivity,” says Malcolm Martin, who has headed a lab at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for 37 years.

    At most institutes, NIH’s intramural lab and branch chiefs oversee several labs or groups. Although they don’t control researchers’ budgets directly, they handle administrative matters, mentoring, and recruitment. Chiefs overseeing clinical studies and shared facilities hold even more sway. “These are fiefdoms where [chiefs have] power and resources,” Valantine says.

    Many chiefs (54 of 272) have served at least 20 years, and 17 for more than 30 years, Gottesman says. Although 26% are women—comparable to the 24% women among all NIH tenured researchers—men tend to lead larger programs. Because of the lack of turnover, “People feel like there’s no way they’ll ever have a leadership position,” says Gisela Storz, chair of NIH’s equity committee, which pushed for the changes. “And trainees need to see people in those positions who look like them.”

    Under the draft policy released in January, the chiefs will have to step down after at most three 4-year terms. The positions that become vacant will be filled through “open and transparent processes,” the draft policy states. While some institutes already do that, at others, the scientific director overseeing the intramural program “plucks an heir apparent” from internal staff, Storz says.

    To help build the pipeline, NIH will rely on a recently launched program aimed at recruiting more tenure-track female and minority faculty. In the long term, NIH hopes its intramural leadership will more closely reflect that women now earn more than 50% of new Ph.D. degrees in the biological sciences, Valantine says.

    Individual institutes are now figuring out how to enact the term limits “in a way that’s not disruptive,” Gottesman says. Some chiefs may be exempt, he says, if a change would have “serious consequences” for science programs, for example because there is no pool of candidates for the job.

    One former NIH veteran is skeptical. “How much have they thought this through?” asks Story Landis, who was scientific director and later director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. She questions why NIH would want to replace a midcareer chief doing a stellar job. And, she wonders, will the job searches truly be open? Will women get the training they need to move into leadership positions?

    Others point out that NIH’s scientific directors—seven of whom are now women—are the true feudal lords, and the new policy does not affect them. Gottesman has held his job for 25 years.

    But he and the scientific directors he oversees may be next: NIH term limits could “move up to other kinds of leadership,” Valantine says.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The American Association for the Advancement of Science is an international non-profit organization dedicated to advancing science for the benefit of all people.

  • richardmitnick 9:03 am on May 4, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Lisa Miller, , Women in STEM   

    From Brookhaven National Lab: Women n STEM- “Meet NSLS-II’s Lisa Miller” 

    From Brookhaven National Lab

    May 1, 2019
    Stephanie Kossman

    As the manager of NSLS-II’s USCEO office, Lisa Miller can usually be found traveling around the facility’s experimental floor on trike—the most fun (and the safest) way to quickly get around NSLS-II’s half-mile ring.

    When Lisa Miller isn’t managing outreach efforts at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) [image s below], she’s using the facility’s ultrabright x-ray light to study neurological protein-misfolding diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

    Today, Miller is the manager of NSLS-II’s user services, communications, education, and outreach (USCEO) office, but she first came to the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory 25 years ago as a doctoral student at NSLS, the predecessor of NSLS-II—a DOE Office of Science User Facility at Brookhaven.

    “My thesis advisor came to NSLS all the time,” Miller said. “He would send a team of four students and we would spend a lot of time collecting each other’s data. I always got the night shift.”

    Having developed a passion for scientific collaboration and helping others collect their data, Miller decided to come back to NSLS for a postdoctoral research project—building an infrared beamline (experimental station) for biological research.

    When Lisa Miller isn’t managing outreach efforts at NSLS-II, she’s using the facility’s ultrabright x-ray light to study neurological protein-misfolding diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

    “And I’ve been here ever since,” she said. “After my postdoc, I ran two infrared beamlines at NSLS for 15 years.”

    Growing up, Miller and her three younger sisters were always encouraged to follow whatever career path they wanted. “Being a girl didn’t matter,” she said. “My dad taught us to drive a tractor, change the oil in the car, and fix the leaky sink. We got tools for our birthdays.”

    Of the four girls, Miller was the only one to become a scientist. “I always knew I liked science, but I never imagined working at a synchrotron light source,” she said. “I wanted to get a faculty job in a four-year undergraduate institution and teach. Research was a secondary thing to me. But in my early years at NSLS, I had such supportive mentors. All of the beamline scientists were so willing to help me succeed that, after a year, I had no desire to look for a faculty position.”

    During her time at NSLS and NSLS-II, Miller has been researching “protein-misfolding” diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, in which normal proteins in the brain clump together to form “plaques” and cause neurodegeneration—the death of brain cells.

    “We used the x-ray and infrared microscopes at NSLS to show that these plaques are loaded with metal ions like copper and zinc,” Miller said. “These metals are nutritionally essential, but they’re not supposed to be in the plaques. We’ve hypothesized that the metals can cause toxic reactions in the brain, leading to cell death. Now we are trying to figure out how and why this happens.”

    To move the field forward, Miller is developing new research methods that use the advanced capabilities of NSLS-II.

    “NSLS-II is a huge improvement for my research, especially in terms of the spatial resolution it provides,” she said. “Now we have these really tiny x-ray beams that enable us to image individual parts of the cells, including cell membranes, in order to understand how the metal ions are transported into the cells and damage them. The suite of imaging beamlines that we have here at NSLS-II enables us to study the problem from the level of the brain tissue all the way down to individual molecules in the cells.”

    Throughout her years of research, Miller retained her interest in science education. In 2001, she was asked to lead NSLS’s information and outreach office. Then, once NSLS-II was established, she became the facility’s first manager of USCEO.

    “Continuing my research is a really important part of my career, but that includes sharing my passion for science through teaching and outreach,” she said. As an adjunct associate professor in chemistry and biomedical engineering at Stony Brook University, Miller mentors doctoral students in synchrotron science. “Their generation will figure out the next cool things that synchrotrons can do.”

    Miller’s outreach efforts extend to the visiting researcher, or “user,” program that she oversees at NSLS-II.

    “My goal is for the users at NSLS-II to have a “Disneyland” user experience—to be able to do top-notch research, from conceiving the idea to doing the experiments and publishing the work, and having us support that. It’s more than just the photons; it’s everything from the registration process to comfortable accommodations and good coffee.”

    From the visiting researchers to the beamline scientists and support staff, Miller says having the chance to interact with so many different people is her favorite part of working at the light source.

    “We have a tremendous variety of personalities and a melting pot of people from all over the world,” she said. “The synchrotron community is a really welcoming and collaborative environment to be in.”

    As much as Miller likes working at NSLS-II, she stresses the importance of a work-life balance. Outside of “the office,” you can find Miller on backpacking trips around the country and the world. She’s hiked to the high points of 49 states, backpacked over 600 miles of the Appalachian Trail, and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa.

    Miller earned a Ph.D. in biophysics from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 1995 and an M.S. in Chemistry from Georgetown University in 1992.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    BNL Campus

    BNL Center for Functional Nanomaterials



    BNL RHIC Campus

    BNL/RHIC Star Detector


    One of ten national laboratories overseen and primarily funded by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Brookhaven National Laboratory conducts research in the physical, biomedical, and environmental sciences, as well as in energy technologies and national security. Brookhaven Lab also builds and operates major scientific facilities available to university, industry and government researchers. The Laboratory’s almost 3,000 scientists, engineers, and support staff are joined each year by more than 5,000 visiting researchers from around the world. Brookhaven is operated and managed for DOE’s Office of Science by Brookhaven Science Associates, a limited-liability company founded by Stony Brook University, the largest academic user of Laboratory facilities, and Battelle, a nonprofit, applied science and technology organization.

  • richardmitnick 12:25 pm on May 2, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Women in STEM   

    From Duke University: “Women in STEM at Duke” 

    Duke Bloc
    Duke Crest

    From Duke University

    April 22, 2019
    Stephen Schramm

    James B. Duke Professor of Mathematics and Electrical and Computer Engineering Ingrid Daubechies is one of Duke University’s most accomplished faculty members. Photo by Justin Cook.

    Jennifer West’s lab takes up an entire corner of Gross Hall’s third floor. Among the things West and her team are investigating in the lab is the use of nanoparticles that, when introduced into the body and exposed to infrared light, can heat up and destroy tumors. Duke has been West’s home since 2012. With its enthusiastic support of her research, it will likely remain so for a long time. But, at other points in her career, West hasn’t felt as comfortable.

    At her first-year student orientation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she was one of few women in an auditorium filled with men. There were times in graduate school and as a faculty member elsewhere when she was her department’s only woman. “There was a palpable sense that we were the minority,” said West, the Fitzpatrick Family University Professor of Engineering at Duke.

    For women who work, teach and study in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – often referred to as STEM fields – this is a familiar scenario. In both education and employment, women are often underrepresented in these disciplines.

    Jennifer West, third from left, stands with students in her lab. Photo courtesy of Pratt School of Engineering.

    A report on the issue, “Solving the Equation,” by the American Association of University Women, states that “diversity in the workforce contributes to creativity, productivity and innovation. The United States can’t afford to ignore the perspectives of half the population in future engineering and technical designs.”

    At Duke, leaders, students, faculty and staff recognize the need to create inclusive environments in STEM fields. In its current academic strategic plan, Duke makes bolstering research and education in STEM fields a top priority and calls for more women to be involved in leading that charge.

    “We’re trying to shine a light on science and technology in general,” said Duke Provost Sally Kornbluth, a cell biologist. “But within that effort is a focus on diversifying our workforce and faculty cohort.”

    Working for Change

    Rochelle Newton has four decades of experience working in information technology. Photo by Justin Cook.

    Rochelle Newton was a teenager in the 1970s when she began working with computers, feeding trays of punch cards into hulking contraptions that produced a fraction of the computing power of today’s smartphones.

    During her time in information technology, Newton, now senior systems and user services manager for the Duke University School of Law, has seen a head-spinning amount of technological change.

    The rate of change for women in the field, however, has been slower.

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, while women make up 46.9 percent of the nation’s labor force, they hold 25.5 percent of jobs in computer and mathematical occupations, up slightly from 24.8 percent a decade ago. At Duke, women hold 32.5 percent of positions in information technology, down from 33.5 percent a decade ago.

    Duke’s Office of Information Technology is trying to expand the range of voices in technology with intern programs that draw students from underrepresented populations, and through “Diversify IT,” a program providing networking and educational opportunities for IT professionals from all backgrounds.

    “If women represent half the population, they’re also half of the people using technology,” said Tracy Futhey, Duke’s vice president and chief information officer. “If the technologies they’re using are overwhelmingly designed by men, without involvement from women, they’re likely not going to be as welcoming, usable or interesting as technologies designed with a broader set of perspectives at the table.”

    Stories like Newton’s illustrate gradual progress in the field.

    Newton was the only woman or person of color at her first job decades ago in Virginia, where she said co-workers played mean-spirited pranks.

    “It was really hard, but I was stubborn,” Newton said. “I was going to persevere no matter what.”

    As technology advanced, so did Newton’s career. After earning multiple degrees, Newton joined Duke’s staff in 2008. Here, Newton completed professional development programs, such as the Duke Leadership Academy, and became an in-demand speaker on diversity in tech, all while earning a doctorate in higher education administration.

    Now, she’s creating the community she lacked earlier in her career with an informal group called “Techs and Collaborators.” The diverse collection of Duke IT professionals meets monthly, discussing upcoming projects and other topics. The group’s guiding principle is inclusiveness.

    “I don’t care what color you are, what gender you are, come to the table and bring what you can,” Newton said.

    Showing the Way

    Early in her career in mathematics, Ingrid Daubechies drew inspiration from the women who charted the same path before her. Photo by Justin Cook.

    Ingrid Daubechies grew up in Belgium where public education was segregated by gender. It wasn’t until she studied physics in college that she ran into anyone questioning a woman’s place in science.

    “I knew I was good at it,” said Daubechies, the James B. Duke Professor of Mathematics and Electrical and Computer Engineering. “I didn’t see it as an indictment of me, but of them.”

    Still, as she began a career in academia, even she experienced self-doubt.

    Daubechies worried her outgoing demeanor might be out of place among faculty. But once she met Irina Veretennicoff, a successful Belgian quantum mechanics professor who had a warm, gregarious personality, Daubechies’ concerns were silenced.

    Likewise, when Daubechies wondered if motherhood would conflict with her career, her fears were eased when she met acclaimed mathematician and mother of four Cathleen Morawetz.

    “As soon as I met one example, it was enough to show me it’s possible,” Daubechies said.

    Women who have successfully navigated STEM careers often carry the aspirations of those who hope to follow. That’s why developing strong female role models among the STEM faculty is a Duke priority.

    In “Together Duke,” the Academic Strategic Plan released in 2017, the university said it would “aggressively recruit and support women and underrepresented minorities in STEM fields.”

    Provost Sally Kornbluth said a key part of the initiative is bringing in elite female faculty members – like Daubechies, who came to Duke from Princeton in 2011 – to inspire students. Research has shown that women with female professors perform better in introductory STEM classes and are more likely to earn STEM degrees than those with male professors.

    So the presence of accomplished scientists such as Trinity College of Arts & Sciences Dean Valerie Ashby, a chemist, and department chairs such as chemistry’s Katherine Franz, evolutionary anthropology’s Susan Alberts and statistical science’s Merlise Clyde, looms large.

    “I would like women students to see many successful women role models so they can picture themselves being successful scientists one day,” Kornbluth said.

    Paying it Forward

    Duke students from FEMMES (Females Excelling More in Math, Engineering and Science) help middle school students with science experiments. Photo by Justin Cook.

    On a recent Saturday, laughter spilled from some classrooms in the otherwise empty Physics Building on campus. Middle-school-aged girls and Duke undergraduates clustered around tables, creating exothermic and endothermic reactions with water, baking soda and calcium chloride.

    For Duke sophomore Megan Phibbons, part of FEMMES – Females Excelling More in Math Engineering and Science, the student-run organization that hosted the event – hearing the girls’ happy voices was a thrill.

    “It’s really easy to get talked over when you’re a young girl,” said Phibbons, a FEMMES executive board member. “Here, nobody gets talked over. It’s a supportive environment.”

    While Duke staff and faculty are tackling the issue of female underrepresentation in STEM fields, Duke’s students are, too.

    FEMMES is one of several student groups aimed at broadening the network of science-minded women both at Duke and beyond. That’s important because, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, women received 57.2 percent of all bachelor’s degrees during the 2016-17 academic year but 35.7 percent of those degrees are in STEM fields.

    Founded at Duke in 2006, FEMMES engages girls with STEM fields through fun and functional activities led by college students. The program has expanded to other universities and now organizes after school, weekend and summer programs.

    “It sets an example of ‘I can do this, too,’” Duke senior and FEMMES Co-President Carolyn Im said. “It shows that there are women pursuing these things, and if you want to do it, you can.”

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Duke Campus

    Younger than most other prestigious U.S. research universities, Duke University consistently ranks among the very best. Duke’s graduate and professional schools — in business, divinity, engineering, the environment, law, medicine, nursing and public policy — are among the leaders in their fields. Duke’s home campus is situated on nearly 9,000 acres in Durham, N.C, a city of more than 200,000 people. Duke also is active internationally through the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore, Duke Kunshan University in China and numerous research and education programs across the globe. More than 75 percent of Duke students pursue service-learning opportunities in Durham and around the world through DukeEngage and other programs that advance the university’s mission of “knowledge in service to society.”

  • richardmitnick 9:11 am on April 29, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: A computer re-use program at UNSW, A model for sustainability innovation that we demonstrated at UNSW, , “Enactus UNSW had a focus on social entrepreneurship”, Charlotte Wang, Edge Environment, Environmental engineering, Student startup eReuse Inc, , Women in STEM   

    From University of New South Wales: Women in STEM-” Computer says go: from e-waste entrepreneur to environmental engineer” Charlotte Wang 

    U NSW bloc

    From University of New South Wales

    29 Apr 2019
    Lachlan Gilbert

    Charlotte Wang. Picture: Edge Environment.

    UNSW alumna Charlotte Wang was initially hesitant about doing a degree in environmental engineering, but since helping to launch a computer re-use program at UNSW, she has never looked back.

    When Charlotte Wang first got involved with student startup eReuse Inc. – a program aiming to reduce e-waste in the environment – she didn’t realise it would inform the path her studies and career would eventually take.

    Charlotte, a UNSW alumna who completed her degree in environmental engineering in 2017, now works as a sustainability adviser at an up-and-coming sustainability consultancy, Edge Environment.

    She says working on the eReuse project enabled her to see everything she was learning in engineering in a new light.

    “To be honest, I may not have found a path in engineering if I hadn’t worked on this project,” Charlotte says of eReuse.

    “I really came to appreciate the skillset I gained from studying environmental engineering and I found my path through discovering that I could be an engineer and focus on less traditional engineering problems like environmental degradation and social inequality.”

    eReuse aims to “turn 21st Century trash into refurbished donatable treasure” by salvaging old computers destined for landfill to be refurbished and donated to socio-economically disadvantaged groups in the community. It is the first program of its kind to be run in an Australian university setting.

    Charlotte was lead author on a research paper titled “Social and intuitional factors affecting sustainability innovation in universities: A computer re-use perspective”, published recently in the Journal of Cleaner Production. The paper examined the work the group did in establishing a system and process for computer re-use at the university while providing community groups with functional, refurbished computers.


    Between 2014 and 2017, the group donated more than 100 computers to such groups. Recipients of the machines included the Junction Neighbourhood Centre Maroubra, Mission Australia (Surry Hills), Barnados Australia and even an overseas client in the African Youth Initiatives Centre in Ghana.

    Initially the program was born out of a student society called Enactus that Charlotte joined earlier in her studies at UNSW.

    “Enactus UNSW had a focus on social entrepreneurship,” she says.

    “It helped me to see the link between my engineering knowledge, and the business world and its associated frameworks and skill sets, of which I had little to no knowledge.

    “I learned vital skills about how to create and run a business from it – which has really helped me as a consultant and in my sustainability career, as my work is often focused on change management in large businesses.”

    Valuable experience

    Charlotte says her honours thesis, which she devoted to the eReuse program, and the recently published paper gave her an understanding of the steps needed to make organisations shift to more sustainable pathways.

    “What was captured in the study was a model for sustainability innovation that we demonstrated at UNSW, which can be applied to other organisations, particularly complex organisations such as multinational businesses and government departments.

    “What I mean by sustainability innovation is the shift of both culture and operations onto a model that better addresses social, economic and environmental aspects in a systematic way,” she says.

    In her present work, Charlotte is modelling the life-cycle environmental impacts of products like concrete and trains, to help manufacturers understand and communicate the environmental impact of their supply chain and processes.

    “I’m also working on implementing sustainability on major infrastructure projects, like Sydney Metro Northwest and Inland Rail (Parkes to Narromine package),” she says.

    Back to uni

    Looking ahead, Charlotte can imagine a return to tertiary education, but on the other side of the lectern.

    “I would love to be an academic and introduce a more self-conscious strain to engineering education,” she says.

    “As engineers, we work with models and modelling techniques all the time, yet we don’t seem to teach young engineers to be reflective about the ‘model’ or ‘system’ called society and the body politic that we’re a part of.

    “As engineers, we should be considering the place of engineering in society, how technology affects both our culture and the environment, and the impact engineering advice and recommendations makes within decision-making in large organisations and in politics. I think this would go a long way to addressing our current sustainability problems.”

    Emerging discipline

    Charlotte says she originally had doubts about environmental engineering because she left school with a background in humanities, while jobs in this emerging area did not appear as well defined as traditional engineering jobs.

    “Originally, I found environmental engineering so daunting because I hadn’t studied science past Year 10 and suddenly I needed to study physics, chemistry and biology/ecology at a university level,” she says.

    “I was also worried about finding a job with an environmental engineering degree because it’s such a new discipline. A lecturer in my school, Stephen Moore, helped me understand what it means to be an environmental engineer and helped me transfer from civil to environmental engineering.

    “Looking back, I realise that it’s actually exciting to have an environmental engineering degree because it’s an emerging field and there isn’t really one definition for what it is.

    “And you get to help define it by the way you choose to use it.”

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    U NSW Campus

    Welcome to UNSW Australia (The University of New South Wales), one of Australia’s leading research and teaching universities. At UNSW, we take pride in the broad range and high quality of our teaching programs. Our teaching gains strength and currency from our research activities, strong industry links and our international nature; UNSW has a strong regional and global engagement.

    In developing new ideas and promoting lasting knowledge we are creating an academic environment where outstanding students and scholars from around the world can be inspired to excel in their programs of study and research. Partnerships with both local and global communities allow UNSW to share knowledge, debate and research outcomes. UNSW’s public events include concert performances, open days and public forums on issues such as the environment, healthcare and global politics. We encourage you to explore the UNSW website so you can find out more about what we do.

  • richardmitnick 1:57 pm on April 13, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , EHT reveals image of Messier 87, Katie Bouman-Harvard Smithsonian Observatory for Astrophysics-headed to Caltech, , Women in STEM   

    From The New York Times: Women in STEM-“How Katie Bouman Accidentally Became the Face of the Black Hole Project” 

    New York Times

    From The New York Times

    April 11, 2019
    Sarah Mervosh

    As the first-ever picture of a black hole was unveiled this week, another image began making its way around the internet: a photo of a young scientist, clasping her hands over her face and reacting with glee to an image of an orange ring of light, circling a deep, dark abyss.

    The first image of a black hole, Messier 87 Credit Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, via NSF 4.10.19

    It was a photo too good not to share. The scientist, Katie Bouman, a postdoctoral fellow who contributed to the project, became an instant hero for women and girls in STEM, a welcome symbol in a world hungry for representation.

    Katie Bouman-Harvard Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. Headed to Caltech.

    Public figures from Washington to Hollywood learned her name. And some advocates, familiar with how history can write over the contributions of women, quickly moved to make sure she received the recognition she deserved.

    Katie Bouman of Harvard Smithsonian Observatory for Astrophysics, headed to Caltech, with EHT hard drives from Messier 87

    In their eagerness to celebrate her, however, many nonscientists on social media overstated her role in what was a group effort by hundreds of people, creating an exaggerated impression as the photo was shared and reshared.

    As Dr. Bouman herself was quick to point out, she was by no means solely responsible for the discovery, which was a result of a worldwide collaboration among scientists who worked together to create the image from a network of radio antennas.

    The project, led by Shep Doeleman, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, was the work of more than 200 researchers. About 40 of them were women, according to Harvard’s Black Hole Initiative.

    “There are women involved in every single step of this amazing project,” said Sara Issaoun, 24, a graduate student at Radboud University in the Netherlands who worked on the research. “As a woman in STEM myself, it’s good to have role models out there who young girls and young boys can look up to.”

    But Ms. Issaoun warned against a “lone-wolf success” narrative. “The diversity and group effort and the breadth of our collaboration, I think, is worth celebration,” she said.

    To capture the image of a black hole — a mysterious phenomenon long thought to be unseeable — the scientists used eight radio observatories across the globe to observe the galaxy on and off for 10 days in April 2017. Then they embarked on the painstaking effort to process enormous amounts of data and map it into an image.

    Dr. Bouman, who will soon become an assistant professor at the California Institute of Technology, indeed played a significant role in the imaging process, which involved researchers breaking up into teams to map the data and compare and test the images they created.

    While she led the development of an algorithm to take a picture of a black hole, an effort that was the subject of a TED Talk she gave in 2016, her colleagues said that technique was not ultimately used to create this particular image.

    After the burst of publicity spread her smiling face across Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and news sites around the globe, Dr. Bouman did not initially respond to requests for comment Thursday. In a Facebook post, she said: “No one algorithm or person made this image. It required the amazing talent of a team of scientists from around the globe.”

    “It has been truly an honor,” she added, “and I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to work with you all.”

    In a text message late Thursday night, Dr. Bouman said that she had to turn her phone off because she was getting so many messages. “I’m so glad that everyone is as excited as we are and people are finding our story inspirational,’’ she wrote. “However, the spotlight should be on the team and no individual person. Focusing on one person like this helps no one, including me.”

    Other women on the project also celebrated this week as years of hard work were finally made public.

    “Honestly, it was a dream come true,” Sandra Bustamante, a telescope instrumentalist who worked on the project, said in an interview this week.

    Feryal Ozel, an astronomy and astrophysics professor at the University of Arizona who was on the science council for the project, first published a paper on black hole imaging in 2000. She called the unveiling “a sweet moment that’s been a long time in the making.”

    In an interview on Thursday, Dr. Ozel said that it was exciting to see people interested in the role of women in science, but she highlighted the contributions of other women and men. That included one of her male graduate students, who took multiple trips to the South Pole, where one of the telescopes was located.

    “I think giving credit to any single individual — whether this is a woman or man, young or old — harms the collaboration,” she said.

    Penn Sheppard, who works with Girls Inc., an organization that empowers young women and offers after-school programming to support girls learning in science, technology, engineering and math, said that Dr. Bouman’s story resonated in an industry in which women are underrepresented — and in a world in which their scientific contributions have historically gone unacknowledged.

    “It was an opportunity to see an accomplished woman play a significant role, and being acknowledged in that role,” she said. “That’s significant because girls and young boys are starting to see that women are scientists — not just you can be, but you are.”

    Ms. Issaoun said she also wanted to celebrate the success of a diverse collaboration of scientists, but she said she understood why the photo of Dr. Bouman went viral.

    “We love this photo too, because she looks so happy,” said Ms. Issaoun, who said she got shivers when she saw the image of a black hole. “I think her expression really captures how we all felt when we first saw it.”

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

  • richardmitnick 6:44 pm on April 11, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Female Scientist Wrote the Algorithm that Made the Black Hole Picture Possible", , , Women in STEM   

    From Science Times: Women in STEM- “Female Scientist Wrote the Algorithm that Made the Black Hole Picture Possible” Katie Bouman 

    Science Times

    From Science Times

    Introducing Katie Bouman, the MIT graduate who led the development of the algorithm that helped make the photo of a black hole possible. Bouman, 29, who has a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering, worked with more than 200 scientists, over a three-year span, directing the verification of images and the selection of image parameters as they took the “sparse and noisy data” from a series of telescopes to construct an image of a black hole-which has never been done before.

    “We developed ways to generate synthetic data and used different algorithms and tested blindly to see if we can recover an image. We didn’t want to just develop one algorithm. We wanted to develop many different algorithms that all have different assumptions built into them. If all of them recover the same general structure, then that builds your confidence,” Bouman said. “No matter what we did, you would have to bend over backwards crazy to get something that wasn’t this ring.”

    “No one of us could’ve done it alone. It came together because of lots of different people from many backgrounds,” Bouman added. “I’d like to encourage all of you to go out and help push the boundaries of science, even if it may at first seem as mysterious to you as a black hole,”

    Since the release of the black hole picture, social media have fallen in love with Bouman’s story along with her picture. That comes with thanks to her alma mater for being super supportive and also giving credit, where credit is due. MIT posted a picture of Bouman alongside a picture of Margaret Hamilton-the MIT grad that essentially put man on the moon-as an homage to groundbreaking science by way of female scientists.

    Katie Bouman and Margaret Hamilton

    Bouman, herself, also had a hand in this viral frenzy, she posted a picture to her own Facebook page showing her utter excitement as the picture she created of the black hole was being restored. The caption read: Watching in disbelief as the first image I ever made of a black hole was in the process of being reconstructed.

    (Photo : Katie Bouman Facebook)

    Bouman gives a brief description of exactly how the picture came to life. She says, “If all [pictures captured by the telescopes] produce a very similar-looking image, then we can start to become more confident that the image assumptions we’re making are not biasing this picture that much,” Bouman added, “This is a little bit like giving the same description to three different sketch artists from all around the world. If they all produce a very similar-looking face, then we can start to become confident that they’re not imposing their own cultural biases on the drawings. One way we can try to impose different image features is by using pieces of existing images. So we take a large collection of images, and we break them down into their little image patches. We then can treat each image patch a little bit like pieces of a puzzle. And we use commonly seen puzzle pieces to piece together an image that also fits our telescope measurements.”

    Bouman is now teaching; she accepted a Visiting Associate position in the Computing and Mathematical Sciences department at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

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  • richardmitnick 3:00 pm on April 5, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Coronal rain, , Emily Mason, Helmet streamers, , , , , Women in STEM   

    From NASA Goddard Space Flight Center: Women in STEM “Unexpected Rain on Sun Links Two Solar Mysteries” Emily Mason 

    NASA Goddard Banner
    From NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

    April 5, 2019

    Miles Hatfield
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

    For five months in mid 2017, Emily Mason did the same thing every day. Arriving to her office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, she sat at her desk, opened up her computer, and stared at images of the Sun — all day, every day. “I probably looked through three or five years’ worth of data,” Mason estimated. Then, in October 2017, she stopped. She realized she had been looking at the wrong thing all along.

    Mason, a graduate student at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., was searching for coronal rain: giant globs of plasma, or electrified gas, that drip from the Sun’s outer atmosphere back to its surface. But she expected to find it in helmet streamers, the million-mile tall magnetic loops — named for their resemblance to a knight’s pointy helmet — that can be seen protruding from the Sun during a solar eclipse. Computer simulations predicted the coronal rain could be found there. Observations of the solar wind, the gas escaping from the Sun and out into space, hinted that the rain might be happening. And if she could just find it, the underlying rain-making physics would have major implications for the 70-year-old mystery of why the Sun’s outer atmosphere, known as the corona, is so much hotter than its surface. But after nearly half a year of searching, Mason just couldn’t find it. “It was a lot of looking,” Mason said, “for something that never ultimately happened.”

    Mason searched for coronal rain in helmet streamers like the one that appears on the left side of this image, taken during the 1994 eclipse as viewed from South America. A smaller pseudostreamer appears on the western limb (right side of image). Named for their resemblance to a knight’s pointy helmet, helmet streamers extend far into the Sun’s faint corona and are most readily seen when the light from the Sun’s bright surface is occluded. Credits: © 1994 Úpice observatory and Vojtech Rušin, © 2007 Miloslav Druckmüller

    The problem, it turned out, wasn’t what she was looking for, but where. In a paper published today in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, Mason and her coauthors describe the first observations of coronal rain in a smaller, previously overlooked kind of magnetic loop on the Sun. After a long, winding search in the wrong direction, the findings forge a new link between the anomalous heating of the corona and the source of the slow solar wind — two of the biggest mysteries facing solar science today.

    How It Rains on the Sun

    Observed through the high-resolution telescopes mounted on NASA’s SDO spacecraft, the Sun – a hot ball of plasma, teeming with magnetic field lines traced by giant, fiery loops — seems to have few physical similarities with Earth.


    But our home planet provides a few useful guides in parsing the Sun’s chaotic tumult: among them, rain.

    On Earth, rain is just one part of the larger water cycle, an endless tug-of-war between the push of heat and pull of gravity. It begins when liquid water, pooled on the planet’s surface in oceans, lakes, or streams, is heated by the Sun. Some of it evaporates and rises into the atmosphere, where it cools and condenses into clouds. Eventually, those clouds become heavy enough that gravity’s pull becomes irresistible and the water falls back to Earth as rain, before the process starts anew.

    On the Sun, Mason said, coronal rain works similarly, “but instead of 60-degree water you’re dealing with a million-degree plasma.” Plasma, an electrically-charged gas, doesn’t pool like water, but instead traces the magnetic loops that emerge from the Sun’s surface like a rollercoaster on tracks.

    Coronal rain, like that shown in this movie from NASA’s SDO in 2012, is sometimes observed after solar eruptions, when the intense heating associated with a solar flare abruptly cuts off after the eruption and the remaining plasma cools and falls back to the solar surface. Mason was searching for coronal rain not associated with eruptions, but instead caused by a cyclical process of heating and cooling similar to the water cycle on Earth.
    Credits: NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory/Scientific Visualization Studio/Tom Bridgman, Lead Animator

    At the loop’s foot points, where it attaches to the Sun’s surface, the plasma is superheated from a few thousand to over 1.8 million degrees Fahrenheit. It then expands up the loop and gathers at its peak, far from the heat source. As the plasma cools, it condenses and gravity lures it down the loop’s legs as coronal rain.

    Mason was looking for coronal rain in helmet streamers, but her motivation for looking there had more to do with this underlying heating and cooling cycle than the rain itself. Since at least the mid-1990s, scientists have known that helmet streamers are one source of the slow solar wind, a comparatively slow, dense stream of gas that escapes the Sun separately from its fast-moving counterpart. But measurements of the slow solar wind gas revealed that it had once been heated to an extreme degree before cooling and escaping the Sun. The cyclical process of heating and cooling behind coronal rain, if it was happening inside the helmet streamers, would be one piece of the puzzle.

    The other reason connects to the coronal heating problem — the mystery of how and why the Sun’s outer atmosphere is some 300 times hotter than its surface. Strikingly, simulations have shown that coronal rain only forms when heat is applied to the very bottom of the loop. “If a loop has coronal rain on it, that means that the bottom 10% of it, or less, is where coronal heating is happening,” said Mason. Raining loops provide a measuring rod, a cutoff point to determine where the corona gets heated. Starting their search in the largest loops they could find — giant helmet streamers — seemed like a modest goal, and one that would maximize their chances of success.

    She had the best data for the job: Images taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, a spacecraft that has photographed the Sun every twelve seconds since its launch in 2010. But nearly half a year into the search, Mason still hadn’t observed a single drop of rain in a helmet streamer. She had, however, noticed a slew of tiny magnetic structures, ones she wasn’t familiar with. “They were really bright and they kept drawing my eye,” said Mason. “When I finally took a look at them, sure enough they had tens of hours of rain at a time.”

    At first, Mason was so focused on her helmet streamer quest that she made nothing of the observations. “She came to group meeting and said, ‘I never found it — I see it all the time in these other structures, but they’re not helmet streamers,’” said Nicholeen Viall, a solar scientist at Goddard, and a coauthor of the paper. “And I said, ‘Wait…hold on. Where do you see it? I don’t think anybody’s ever seen that before!’”

    A Measuring Rod for Heating

    These structures differed from helmet streamers in several ways. But the most striking thing about them was their size.

    “These loops were much smaller than what we were looking for,” said Spiro Antiochos, who is also a solar physicist at Goddard and a coauthor of the paper. “So that tells you that the heating of the corona is much more localized than we were thinking.”

    Mason’s article analyzed three observations of Raining Null-Point Topologies, or RNTPs, a previously overlooked magnetic structure shown here in two wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet light. The coronal rain observed in these comparatively small magnetic loops suggests that the corona may be heated within a far more restricted region than previously expected. Credits: NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory/Emily Mason

    While the findings don’t say exactly how the corona is heated, “they do push down the floor of where coronal heating could happen,” said Mason. She had found raining loops that were some 30,000 miles high, a mere two percent the height of some of the helmet streamers she was originally looking for. And the rain condenses the region where the key coronal heating can be happening. “We still don’t know exactly what’s heating the corona, but we know it has to happen in this layer,” said Mason.

    A New Source for the Slow Solar Wind

    But one part of the observations didn’t jibe with previous theories. According to the current understanding, coronal rain only forms on closed loops, where the plasma can gather and cool without any means of escape. But as Mason sifted through the data, she found cases where rain was forming on open magnetic field lines. Anchored to the Sun at only one end, the other end of these open field lines fed out into space, and plasma there could escape into the solar wind. To explain the anomaly, Mason and the team developed an alternative explanation — one that connected rain on these tiny magnetic structures to the origins of the slow solar wind.

    In the new explanation, the raining plasma begins its journey on a closed loop, but switches — through a process known as magnetic reconnection — to an open one. The phenomenon happens frequently on the Sun, when a closed loop bumps into an open field line and the system rewires itself. Suddenly, the superheated plasma on the closed loop finds itself on an open field line, like a train that has switched tracks. Some of that plasma will rapidly expand, cool down, and fall back to the Sun as coronal rain. But other parts of it will escape – forming, they suspect, one part of the slow solar wind.

    Mason is currently working on a computer simulation of the new explanation, but she also hopes that soon-to-come observational evidence may confirm it. Now that Parker Solar Probe, launched in 2018, is traveling closer to the Sun than any spacecraft before it, it can fly through bursts of slow solar wind that can be traced back to the Sun — potentially, to one of Mason’s coronal rain events.

    NASA Parker Solar Probe Plus named to honor Pioneering Physicist Eugene Parker

    After observing coronal rain on an open field line, the outgoing plasma, escaping to the solar wind, would normally be lost to posterity. But no longer. “Potentially we can make that connection with Parker Solar Probe and say, that was it,” said Viall.

    Digging Through the Data

    As for finding coronal rain in helmet streamers? The search continues. The simulations are clear: the rain should be there. “Maybe it’s so small you can’t see it?” said Antiochos. “We really don’t know.”

    But then again, if Mason had found what she was looking for she might not have made the discovery — or have spent all that time learning the ins and outs of solar data.

    “It sounds like a slog, but honestly it’s my favorite thing,” said Mason. “I mean that’s why we built something that takes that many images of the Sun: So we can look at them and figure it out.”


    IRIS Spots Plasma Rain on Sun’s Surface

    NASA IRIS spacecraft, a spacecraft that takes spectra in three passbands, allowing us to probe different layers of the solar atmosphere

    And the Blobs Just Keep on Coming

    See the full article here.


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation’s largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe.

    Named for American rocketry pioneer Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the center was established in 1959 as NASA’s first space flight complex. Goddard and its several facilities are critical in carrying out NASA’s missions of space exploration and scientific discovery.

    NASA/Goddard Campus

  • richardmitnick 1:35 pm on April 5, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , GISAXS-grazing-incidence small-angle x-ray scattering, NSLS-II synchrotron, Polymer self-assembly, Samantha Nowak, Women in STEM   

    From Brookhaven National Lab: Women in STEM- “Samantha Nowak: From CFN User to CFN Postdoc” 

    From Brookhaven National Lab

    April 5, 2019
    Ariana Tantillo

    The chemist first came to Brookhaven Lab in 2017 as a graduate student user of the Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN) [below] and has since returned to do postdoctoral research in polymer self-assembly

    Polymer chemist Samantha Nowak recently joined Brookhaven Lab’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials as a postdoctoral researcher studying polymer self-assembly. Here, she holds silicon wafers containing block copolymer thin films. In front of her is a plasma etch tool, which she uses to remove the domains of one of the “blocks,” or polymers, in the block copolymer. This removal is part of a process that helps Nowak better see the nanoscale self-assembled patterns (using a scanning electron microscope) formed by the block copolymer.

    When Samantha Nowak was growing up, her grandmother would complain about how she could not get her nail polish off. At the time, pure acetone—the solvent that dissolves nail polish—was not widely available. Nowak’s grandfather, a polymer chemist, would bring the “magic” nail polish remover home from his lab, explaining how solubility works. Nowak also vividly remembers her grandfather dropping metal salts into solution as she watched them rapidly crystallize to form interesting structures.

    Despite her interest in science, Nowak was set on being a lawyer up until the end of high school, when her honors chemistry teacher told her about The College of New Jersey’s forensic chemistry program that her daughter was enrolled in.


    Nowak, a big fan of the television series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, figured a career in forensic chemistry would allow her to combine her dual interests in science and law. But after declaring chemistry in her first semester at the College of New Jersey, Nowak decided that forensic chemistry was not for her. She decided to continue the general chemistry track, receiving her bachelor’s degree in 2014, with an interdisciplinary concentration in law and society.

    After graduating, Nowak entered a PhD program in chemistry at the University of Maryland (UMD), College Park, where she joined the Sita Research Group and began synthesizing and studying a new class of self-assembling materials called sugar-polyolefin conjugates.

    Self-assembly refers to the ability of certain molecules to spontaneously organize into ordered structures—such as spheres, cylinders, and lamellae (sheets)—as they try to achieve their lowest-energy state.

    “In general, block copolymer self-assembly relies on a chemical incompatibility between two different types of polymers, or “blocks,” linked together by chemical bonds,” explained Nowak. “In my PhD group, we were trying to overcome some of the limitations of block copolymer self-assembly—including the difficulty in obtaining very small feature sizes—by switching out one of the blocks with a sugar. For the other block, we used a low-molecular-weight polyolefin, which is a polymer made out of hydrogen and carbon (hydrocarbon). An extremely high incompatibility exists between the hydrophilic (water-loving) sugar and hydrophobic (water-hating) polyolefin, and the sugar molecule is extremely small with respect to the size of a typical block in a block copolymer. Because of these characteristics, there is a higher mobility that enables the reorganization of the polymer chains into multiple self-assembled structures with incredibly small feature sizes, as small as three nanometers.”

    An illustration of the three-dimensional gyroid structure. This geometric configuration is found in butterfly wings and elsewhere in nature.

    For example, the sugar-polyolefin conjugates can self-assemble into stable “gyroids”—infinitely connecting structures with a minimal surface area containing no straight lines—that are lightweight yet extremely strong. These rare and complex nanostructures would be difficult to obtain and stabilize within traditional block copolymer thin films, especially those as thin as needed for electronic and optical devices. But if scientists can access gyroids and other structures with unique geometries (and thus properties), new applications may be enabled.

    Aligned research themes

    In Nowak’s third year, advisor and principal investigator Lawrence Sita contacted Kevin Yager—group leader of Electronic Nanomaterials at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN), a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Sita thought his group’s research on the sugar-polyolefin conjugates could progress even further with Yager’s expertise and the x-ray scattering capabilities available at Brookhaven Lab’s National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) [below], another DOE Office of Science User Facility. At the time, Yager was in the process of developing new equipment and techniques and looking for users for the Complex Materials Scattering (CMS) beamline, which the CFN and NSLS-II operate in partnership.

    “The group’s results were intriguing to me—both because they were able to create very small self-assembled structures, and because their results seemed to violate my expectations for the kinds of structures those materials should form,” said Yager.

    Sita and Nowak wrote and submitted a proposal for beam time at CMS. Their proposal was accepted, and the research Nowak conducted at the beamline ended up becoming a large part of her PhD thesis. In particular, she used a scattering technique called grazing-incidence small-angle x-ray scattering (GISAXS). In GISAXS, a high-energy x-ray beam reflects off of a thin film or substrate at a very shallow angle. The pattern of the scattered x-rays provides information about the size, structure, and orientation of any self-assembled structures within and on the surface.

    Atomic force microscope images of a sugar-polyolefin conjugate ultrathin film (30 nanometers) at room temperature that the Sita Research Group heated to 140 degrees Fahrenheit for different lengths of time: (a) original ultrathin film, (b) after 14 hours, (c) a zoomed-in region corresponding to the white square in (b), (d) after 24 hours, (e) zoomed-in region corresponding to the white square in (d), and (f) after 48 hours. The images reveal how the morphology evolves in response to heating over time. Source: Journal of the American Chemical Society 2017, 139, 5281–5284.

    “The University of Maryland has a lab-scale x-ray source but we would have never discovered all that we did about the behavior of these materials without the in situ studies at NSLS-II,” said Nowak. “Scans that would have taken an hour in our lab only took 10 seconds at NSLS-II. We were able to visualize in real time how the materials responded to changes in temperature, film thickness, and polymer chain length.”

    The conjugate materials in this case were made out of cellobiose (a sugar derived from cellulose in plants) and polypropylene with a low molecular weight. From their studies, they learned that increasing the temperature caused several different well-ordered morphologies (structural arrangements) with very tiny feature sizes to emerge in both the bulk material and ultrathin films. By jumping to a specific temperature or slowly increasing the temperature, they could control which morphology they ended up with. And if the polymer chain was too long, the structures that formed were more limited in variety.

    “The results were beyond my expectations,” said Yager. “We were able to measure the ordering of Sam’s materials during annealing—that is, watch them during the process of self-organization. Surprisingly, these materials not only organized but also reorganized into a succession of different configurations as we raised the temperature. This behavior would have been hard to see by any other measurement technique.”

    “When the collaboration began, I was just beginning my research project,” said Nowak. “I didn’t know how useful the technique at NSLS-II would be to build upon the work the group had already done with these materials. But once I learned what GISAXS with a synchrotron source could do, it was perfect.”

    From user to postdoc

    During one of her visits to the NSLS-II for beam time, Yager mentioned to Nowak that he was looking for a postdoctoral researcher at the CFN.

    “I was so impressed by Sam’s diligence and scientific insight that I reached out to her when the CFN had the open postdoc position,” said Yager. “I knew she would continue to do great things if she joined our team.”

    Nowak had all intentions of working for industry immediately following graduation, but the combination of her experience as a user and conversation with Yager changed her mind.

    “Kevin explained the differences between the academic postdoc that I was picturing in my head and a postdoc at a place like the CFN,” said Nowak. “I knew that coming here would open a lot of doors for me.”

    Nowak received her PhD in August 2018 and joined the CFN in October.

    “I love it here,” said Nowak. “The research is interesting, and I’m learning so many new techniques and ideas that I would have not otherwise been exposed to. The environment at the CFN is very collaborative, and I get to meet lots of people who are pursuing very different research projects.”

    Samantha Nowak (front row, left) recently joined the Center for Functional Nanomaterials as a postdoctoral researcher in the Electronic Nanomaterials Group, led by Kevin Yager (back row, second from right).

    The perfect blend

    Under the co-advisement of Yager and CFN Director Charles (Chuck) Black, Nowak is studying self-assembly using thin films of well-established polymers (polystyrene (PS) and poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA)) to create novel “non-native” morphologies (i.e., those that deviate from the bulk morphologies). Mainly, she is blending block copolymers with different intrinsic morphologies—the morphology they prefer to adopt based on the volume fraction, molecular weight, and surface energy of the respective blocks. For example, one block copolymer may form cylindrical nanostructures and the other lamellae. But when the block copolymers are blended, they adopt morphologies that are completely different than those of the individual components.

    After forming block copolymer thin films by spin casting them from solution onto a flat surface, Nowak heats them on a hot plate. Introducing heat provides energy for the block copolymer film to spontaneously order into patterns with nanoscale features. In order to more easily see the structure of the films, Nowak then converts the PMMA domains into an inorganic replica through sequential infiltration synthesis—a chemical method in which a polymer is infused with an inorganic material by exposure to gaseous metal precursors in multiple cycles—and etches away the polymer with oxygen plasma.

    “With this approach, I have better contrast when I look at the films in the scanning electron microscope,” said Nowak.

    Most recently, Nowak has been seeing what happens when she changes the composition of the block copolymer blend. One unexpected result so far was the formation of hexagonally perforated lamellae from cylinder and lamellae block copolymers.

    “This morphology is not very common and is difficult to obtain,” explained Nowak. “There’s a very narrow region of the phase diagram where it is stable, so the fact that we expanded accessibility to this phase is very exciting.”

    In another experiment, Nowak used the same exact blend of block copolymers but changed the surface energy. The result was either a single nanostructure or a combination of line and dot patterns, hexagonally perforated lamellae, and horizontal lamellae. Nowak is also exploring how to chemically pattern substrates as a way to “program” which morphologies appear in particular regions of the substrate. She is in the process of getting training in the cleanroom of the CFN Nanofabrication Facility to perform this patterning.

    “We’re creating new nanostructures from already existing materials,” explained Nowak. “We don’t have to synthesize new types of block copolymers; we can use two easily obtainable ones and broaden what we can do with them.”

    The combination of different nanostructures within a single substrate in a predetermined fashion could expand the range of applications—something that Nowak had not previously thought much about.

    Conventionally, block copolymers self-assemble into a limited range of morphologies, such as spheres and lamellae. But by using appropriate block copolymer blends and a chemically patterned substrate that contains the “instructions” for which morphologies appear where, scientists can significantly expand this range. Nowak, Yager, and other CFN scientists recently obtained four different nanostructures—dots, lines, horizontal lamellae, and hexagonally perforated lamellae—in predetermined regions of a single substrate.

    “As a chemist, I tend to focus on the very specific details of the research,” said Nowak. “That is where my brain is trained to stop. But, Chuck—who I meet with every other week to discuss my research and goals—has helped me broaden my viewpoint. He has me consider how we could use these nanostructures in different ways, how we can benefit society with them. I’ve always been interested in the fundamental science part, but now I’m retraining my mind to see the bigger picture. I’ll need to be able to look beyond my individual research projects for a career in industry.”

    After her postdoc, Nowak plans to enter industry as a polymer chemist. She has not yet decided which industry, but she is currently considering cosmetics or consumer goods.

    “One of my grandfather’s inventions was a way to stabilize color in paints and coatings,” said Nowak. “Before his invention, paint darkened or discolored exponentially faster than paints today. Now almost all paints today have this stabilizer in it. It would be great to follow in my grandfather’s footsteps.”

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    BNL Campus

    BNL Center for Functional Nanomaterials



    BNL RHIC Campus

    BNL/RHIC Star Detector


    One of ten national laboratories overseen and primarily funded by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Brookhaven National Laboratory conducts research in the physical, biomedical, and environmental sciences, as well as in energy technologies and national security. Brookhaven Lab also builds and operates major scientific facilities available to university, industry and government researchers. The Laboratory’s almost 3,000 scientists, engineers, and support staff are joined each year by more than 5,000 visiting researchers from around the world. Brookhaven is operated and managed for DOE’s Office of Science by Brookhaven Science Associates, a limited-liability company founded by Stony Brook University, the largest academic user of Laboratory facilities, and Battelle, a nonprofit, applied science and technology organization.

  • richardmitnick 2:01 pm on April 4, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , The mathematical universe, Women in STEM, Yeorgia Kafkoulis   

    From Caltech: Women in STEM -“A Mathematical Universe” Yeorgia Kafkoulis 

    Caltech Logo

    From Caltech



    Even our most reliable ideas about how the universe works break down in certain domains. They can’t account for the weirdness of quantum mechanics or the recursive chaos of fractals. Hungry for answers, many researchers—including one Caltech undergraduate and her faculty mentor—aim to come up with a better explanation.

    Contributing to a grand unified theory ought to be a daunting task. But true to the Caltech spirit, mathematics scholar Yeorgia Kafkoulis thrills at the challenge.

    “The fact that there are so many open questions means that there’s more to explore, more to learn about, and more to question,” says Kafkoulis, a member of the class of 2019.

    Each summer, she joins up with the research team led by Caltech mathematics professor Matilde Marcolli. Kafkoulis’s task is part of an ambitious project: exploring the Swiss-cheese model of cosmology, a recalculation of the fundamental laws of nature.

    Just as a Gantvoort Scholarship has helped underwrite her classroom education, her opportunities as a burgeoning investigator come courtesy of donor funding, in the form of the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF) program.


    “I came to Caltech to learn, but I also came to do research. SURF has opened my eyes to this world of mathematical physics in particular, and also to research in general. It’s a little sneak peek into my future.”

    • Yeorgia Kafkoulis


    Big Cheese

    As Marcolli, Kafkoulis, and colleagues seek to reconcile Einstein’s general relativity with more exotic phenomena, they double-down by questioning Newton’s assumptions.

    His cosmological principle depended upon two things. One, that the rules of physics work the same way anywhere in the universe. Two, that on a large scale, the distribution of matter is about the same everywhere.

    The Swiss-cheese model presents a concept of gravity that removes one of those assumptions. What if matter is not evenly distributed in the universe?

    In this model, you might expect to see a cosmos made of denser stretches and pockets of emptiness—not unlike that holey Alpine cheese. You also might see the beginnings of explanations for the quantum strangeness and fractal chaos that defy the models of Einstein and Newton.

    Marcolli’s team tries out new ideas in this framework and examines the effects of a modified gravity model as the universe expands over time. Elaborating on the notion of a block of cheese, this conception describes spacetime as shaped like a many-dimensioned set of bubbles.

    Kafkoulis is looking for patterns in how those bubbles pack together. The arrangement seems to resemble swirling multifractals.

    “Fractal-like behavior isn’t explained by the standard model,” Kafkoulis explains. “At times, the universe behaves like a fractal—in supernovae, in clusters of stars and galaxies, even in the composition of stars. To describe the universe accurately, you need to explain that fracticality.”

    Awe, Excitement, and Pizza

    Kafkoulis connected with her mentor early, in the first term of her freshman year. The setting was Math 20, a seminar that serves up lectures from different professors and pizza for lunch. Marcolli’s “pizza course” presentation made a big impression.

    “I heard ‘Swiss-cheese model of cosmology,’ and my spider-sense started tingling,” Kafkoulis says. “As I started to get a sense for what Professor Marcolli was talking about, I was like, ‘This is awesome!’ And I mean that in the strict sense of the word. ‘This inspires awe.’”

    By the next week, Kafkoulis was leaving Marcolli’s office with reading materials in hand and a newly forged SURF match that would enrich her Caltech career.

    In the summers, Kafkoulis diligently proves theorems, reads countless papers, and meets with Marcolli each week to compare notes, both one-on-one and as part of her team. Her mentor’s enthusiasm for exploring Kafkoulis’s ideas has stoked her confidence.

    “Professor Marcolli has helped me become a better mathematician and a better scientist,” Kafkoulis says. “She inspires me to jump forward in whatever I’m doing—just dive headfirst into the deep waters. She is, I tell people, what I want to be when I grow up.”

    A Lifelong Fascination

    Kafkoulis remembers her passion for understanding the universe first igniting when she was 5 years old. A public television series about string theory held her transfixed.

    “I would run to my parents and explain what I had seen—even though I didn’t really understand it,” she laughs.

    Academics themselves, her parents encouraged her love of science. And her father, a Caltech PhD, had one suggestion in particular for her future path, leading her far from their home in Miami.

    “What he said made Caltech seem like this utopia, even when I was 5,” she says. “He described it as welcoming and intellectually stimulating. He kept saying: ‘Caltech is not the only place. But it might make a pretty good place for you.’”

    Her eagerness to take on the biggest kinds of research questions suggests that the elder Kafkoulis might have been onto something.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    The California Institute of Technology (commonly referred to as Caltech) is a private research university located in Pasadena, California, United States. Caltech has six academic divisions with strong emphases on science and engineering. Its 124-acre (50 ha) primary campus is located approximately 11 mi (18 km) northeast of downtown Los Angeles. “The mission of the California Institute of Technology is to expand human knowledge and benefit society through research integrated with education. We investigate the most challenging, fundamental problems in science and technology in a singularly collegial, interdisciplinary atmosphere, while educating outstanding students to become creative members of society.”

    Caltech campus

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