News Archives: March, 2019

Representative Maxine Bell Presented with Honorary Jean’ne M. Shreeve NSF EPSCoR Research Excellence Award

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The Idaho Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) Committee presented the first ever honorary Jean'ne M. Shreeve NSF EPSCoR Research Excellence Award to longtime Idaho EPSCoR Committee member and State Representative, Maxine Bell. The honorary award recognizes Bell’s longstanding support for high quality scientific research at Idaho’s universities and her extraordinary leadership at the State level.

EPSCoR is a federal program that originated at the National Science Foundation (NSF) to partner with states that have historically received smaller amounts of federal research and development funds to enhance science and engineering research and education across the U.S.

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DDT in Alaska meltwater poses cancer risk for people who eat lots of fish

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Children in Alaska whose diet includes a lot of fish from rivers fed by the Eastern Alaska Mountain Range may have a long-term elevated risk for cancer because of insecticides — including DDT — in the meltwater.

Even with low levels of organochlorine pollutants (OCPs) in glacial meltwater, the risk of cancer for youth and adults who rely on fish as a staple of their diet is above the Environmental Protection Agency’s threshold limit, says Kimberley Miner, research assistant professor at the University of Maine Climate Change Institute.

The risk to children exposed to DDT and hexachlorocyclohexane accumulated in fish is significantly higher than it is for adults, though, because of their size and lifetime exposure.

As Alaskan glaciers melt in the warming climate, Miner says the gradual release of these OCPs may continue to elevate watershed concentrations above the current level.

The findings are in the article “A screening-level approach to quantifying risk from glacial release of organochlorine pollutants in the Alaskan Arctic” in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology.

There are 1,655 families in the larger Yukon interior region and 508 families within the Tanana River watershed. Miner recommends that people who eat large amounts of fish (more than 20 pounds per year or 6 ounces per week) in these and other Arctic areas be a priority for future research about risks from glacial meltwater pollution.

Health risks from drinking Jarvis Glacier meltwater are negligible for adults and children at this time, she found.

Miner and UMaine colleagues Karl Kreutz, Shaleen Jain and Seth Campbell, as well as University of Alaska, Fairbanks researcher Anna Liljedahl, conducted this first-ever OCP risk assessment for people in the Arctic.

They analyzed Jarvis Glacier ice cores and meltwater collected in summer 2016 and spring 2017.

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UNH Researchers Find Unexpected Impact of Hurricanes on Puerto Rico’s Watershed

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Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have found unprecedentedly high levels of nitrate, an essential plant nutrient, in streams and watersheds of Puerto Rico for a year after two consecutive major hurricanes in 2017. This high amount of nitrate may have important climate change implications that could harm forest recovery and threaten ecosystems along Puerto Rico’s coastline by escalating algal blooms and dead zones.

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Clemson University breakthrough in self-healing materials detailed in journal Science

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The cost of making plastics, paints, coatings for cell phone screens and other materials that heal themselves like skin could be dramatically reduced thanks to a breakthrough that a Clemson University team detailed in the latest edition of the journal Science.

Marek Urban and his team wrote about how they were able to give self-healing qualities to polymers that are used in relatively inexpensive commodities, such as paints, plastics and coatings. The next step is to go from making small amounts in a lab to producing large quantities.

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University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers have reported the first experimental evidence of epigenetics in the single-celled organisms known as archaea.

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University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers have found revolutionary evidence that an evolutionary phenomenon at work in complex organisms is at play in their single-celled, extreme-loving counterparts, too.

Species most often evolve through DNA mutations inherited by successive generations. A few decades ago, researchers began discovering that multicellular species can also evolve through epigenetics: traits originating from the inheritance of cellular proteins that control access to an organism’s DNA, rather than genetic changes.

Because those proteins can respond to shifts in an organism’s environment, epigenetics resides on the ever-thin line between nature and nurture. Evidence for it had emerged only in eukaryotes, the multicellular domain of life that comprises animals, plants and several other kingdoms.

But a series of experiments from Nebraska’s Sophie Payne, Paul Blum and colleagues has shown that epigenetics can pass along extreme acid resistance in a species of archaea: microscopic, single-celled organisms that share features with both eukaryotes and bacteria.

The team reported its findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Payne and Blum authored the study with Samuel McCarthy, doctoral student in biological sciences; doctoral alumnus Tyler Johnson; and alumna Erica North.

The researchers received support from the National Science Foundation.

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UNR scientists find causes of firenado in deadly Carr Fire

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A destructive fire-generated vortex – a massive stream of rising, spinning, smoke, ash and fire – that topped out at 17,000 feet above the earth, accelerated the Carr Fire that killed eight people and devastated a widespread area in the Redding, California region in July 2018. The vortex, a little-observed atmospheric phenomena, was spinning with the power of a class three tornado, which earned it the name of Firenado.

Atmospheric scientist in the University of Nevada, Reno Department of Physics Neil Lareau has authored a paper in the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters documenting the rare firenado, finding a number of factors that combined at just the right time and place to catalyze the deadly fire. These observations may help forecasters and scientists identify – and potentially warn – for future destructive fire-generated vortices.

Co-authors of the article are Nicholas Nausler of the NOAA/NWS/NCEP Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma and John Abatzoglou from the Department of Geography at University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho.

Funding for this work was provided, in part, by the National Science Foundation and the University of Nevada, Reno Research and Innovation Office.

The research article, “The Carr Fire Vortex: A Case of Pyrotornadogenesis?” was published in the American Geophysical Union’s scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters.

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Clemson scientists measure all of the starlight ever produced by the observable universe

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From their laboratories on a rocky planet dwarfed by the vastness of space, Clemson University scientists have managed to measure all of the starlight ever produced throughout the history of the observable universe.

Astrophysicists believe that our universe, which is about 13.7 billion years old, began forming the first stars when it was a few hundred million years old. Since then, the universe has become a star-making tour de force. There are now about two trillion galaxies and a trillion-trillion stars. Using new methods of starlight measurement, Clemson College of Science astrophysicist Marco Ajello and his team analyzed data from NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope to determine the history of star formation over most of the universe’s lifetime.

A collaborative paper titled “A gamma-ray determination of the Universe’s star-formation history” was published Nov. 30 in the journal Science and describes the results and ramifications of the team’s new measurement process.

Other contributing authors on the paper include Kari Helgason of the University of Iceland; Justin Finke of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C.; and Alberto Dominguez, a former postdoctoral researcher in Ajello’s group who is now at the Complutense University of Madrid.

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University of Vermont lab featured in NIH Director's Blog

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In his weekly blog, posted on November 29, 2018, NIH Director Francis Collins writes of the picture shown at the end of this post:

"What looks like a traffic grid filled with roundabouts is nothing of the sort: It’s actually a peek inside a tiny microchamber that models a complex system operating in many of our cells. The system is a molecular transportation network made of the protein actin, and researchers have reconstructed it in the lab to study its rules of the road and, when things go wrong, how it can lead to molecular traffic accidents.

This 3D super-resolution image shows the model’s silicone beads (circles) positioned in a tiny microfluidic-chamber. Suspended from the beads are actin filaments that form some of the main cytoskeletal roadways in our cells. Interestingly, a single dye creates the photo’s beautiful colors, which arise from the different vertical dimensions of a microscopic image: 300 nanometers below the focus (red), at focus (green), and 300 nanometers above the focus (blue). When a component spans multiple dimensions—such as the spherical beads—all the colors of the rainbow are visible. The technique is called 3D stochastic optical reconstruction microscopy, or STORM [1].

The image comes from then-graduate student Andrew Lombardo in the NIH-supported lab of David Warshaw at the University of Vermont, Burlington. Lombardo fashioned the microchamber to study at very close range how motor-like proteins called myosin push cargo along these actin highways. It’s not as straightforward as you might think. Like streets in a busy city, these cellular highways feature intersections, which present a directional and physical challenge for the myosin motors to navigate. And there are no stop lights.

By using STORM, Lombardo could view in 3D how myosin molecular motors push their cargo, piloting “overpasses” and “underpasses” along the actin highway without disengaging or crashing. Creating a 3D actin highway and looking at the transport process with 3D STORM allowed Lombardo and his colleagues to unravel how myosin motors zipped across actin highway intersections, making a straight shot for their destination [2]. These destinations are measured in nanometers, or billionths of a meter.

Although the photo was a finalist in the 2018 Art of Science Image Contest, sponsored by the Biophysical Society, Bethesda, MD, it is much more than a pretty picture. The photo contributes data on important health issues, such as how insulin particles make their way in pancreatic β-cells for secretion into the bloodstream, and how genetic mutations to actin lead to heart failure and even sudden death. Meanwhile, Lombardo has earned his Ph.D., and he’s headed down a new road as a postdoc at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY."

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University of Delaware invention aims to improve battery performance

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Imagine a world where cell phones and laptops can be charged in a matter of minutes instead of hours, rolled up and stored in your pocket, or dropped without sustaining any damage. It is possible, according to University of Delaware Professor Thomas H. Epps, III, but the materials are not there yet.

So, what is holding back the technology?

For starters, it would take more conductive, flexible and lighter-weight batteries, said Epps, who is the Thomas and Kipp Gutshall Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at UD.

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University of Delaware astronomers detect once-in-a-lifetime gamma rays

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In a cluster of some of the most massive and luminous stars in our galaxy, about 5,000 light years from Earth, astronomers detected particles being accelerated by a rapidly rotating neutron star as it passed by the massive star it orbits only once every 50 years.

The discovery is extremely rare, according to University of Delaware astrophysicist Jamie Holder and doctoral student Tyler Williamson, who were part of the international team that documented the occurrence.

Holder called this eccentric pair of gravitationally linked stars a “gamma-ray binary system” and likened the once-in-a-lifetime event to the arrival of Halley’s comet or last year’s U.S. solar eclipse.

The project was led by a team of scientists, including Holder and Williamson, using the VERITAS telescope array at the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory in Arizona, in collaboration with scientists using the MAGIC telescopes at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory located in La Palma, an island of the Canary Islands, Spain. (VERITAS stands for Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array System and MAGIC stands for Major Atmospheric Gamma Imaging Cherenkov telescopes.)

The researchers recently reported their findings in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Funding for this work was provided by the National Science Foundation and NASA.

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