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X-Ray Vision: Berkeley’s High-Speed Electrons Fuel Atomic-Scale Science

BERKELEY, California—A group of eager writers attending the World Conference of Science Journalists 2017 stood on an upper platform at Berkeley’s Advanced Light Source (ALS) research lab. Under their feet, electrons raced at nearly the speed of light. Overhead, an iconic domed ceiling—the same ceiling under which Nobel laureate and nuclear scientist Ernest Lawrence invented the cyclotron—endowed a jumbled space full of laboratory pipes and instruments with the airy feel of a giant atrium.

As the journalists enjoyed their visit to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory on 29 October, magnets steered groups of electrons around a giant circle, 200 meters in circumference, and released light at 40 different openings. “Think of the electrons as cars with their headlights on,” said physicist Roger Falcone, director of ALS. “As they drive around, flashes of light come out each of those ports.”

Peering into molecules  

At the ends of each of the 40 light beams—in a range of wavelengths spanning the electromagnetic spectrum from infrared to both soft and hard X-rays—instruments perform experiments that depend on this constant flow of electrons. The relentless light penetrates materials and allows scientists to study the atoms and molecules inside. Each beam can be tuned to a different wavelength to reveal a particular element or molecule. Scientists use the beams to study everything from how the crystallographic structure of a new polymer reflects light rays to how a bacterium breathes in the absence of oxygen.

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From Dinosaurs to Data Networks: Texas and the Arctic in the Anthropocene

“Report from the Top of the World!”

The flier caught my attention immediately. The U.S. Embassy in Oslo and the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Washington, DC wanted to send graduate journalism students to the Norwegian Arctic as part of a new internship program.

I applied because I wanted to gain a global perspective on my research and reporting. Less than a year later, I found myself standing on an empty beach near Bugøynes on the northern coast of Norway, silent except for the call of a distant bird and the lapping of cold water against the shore. Towering overhead were the sharp black rocks and dark islands of the fjords, silhouetted by midnight sun that glowed a soft, radiant white behind a sheet of fog…

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Marvin Minsky, computing pioneer, cognitive scientist, and a founding father of artificial intelligence known for his relentless ambition and forward thinking, died in late January of this year at age 88, leaving a legacy.

Minsky lived his life on the cutting edge of computer technology, trailblazing the path to discovery and embracing humor in his quest to elucidate the mysteries of the human brain in order to make better machines.

He worked alongside collaborators who were also revolutionizing their fields…

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Augmenting NASA’s Mars Simulation for the Health of Astronauts

Eight-thousand, two-hundred feet above sea level on the northern slope of Mauna Loa in a place surrounded by the barren, lava-rock landscape of an abandoned quarry, six scientists are living in isolation for 365 days in a roughly 1,000 sq. ft. dome.

That’s tight quarters. That’s a year stuck in a space not much larger than a racquetball court.

The domed habitat is called HI-SEAS, the Hawai’I Space Exploration Analog and Simulation…

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The Most Pressing Problem in VR

If you’re following VR, you’re probably hearing a lot about presence. But what is it?

The definition is elusive. Presence in virtual environments has been described, measured, and theorized in all kinds of ways. Whether they have dedicated decades of their lives to the subject or they are part of today’s new generation with a fresh take on VR, researchers are still struggling to come up with a unified conception of presence.

As a huge new wave of presence-inducing technologies hits the market this year, for the first time many people will experience presence and broken presence in virtual environments, so understanding what works and doesn’t is important.

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N-ICE: Studying Arctic ice from cradle to grave

[Image: Researchers collect an ice core to measure its temperature and salinity near “RV Lance” during the N-ICE test cruise in February 2014. Photo by Paul Dodd/Norwegian Polar Institute]

When spring 2015 approaches, sun spilling the landscape will find a group of scientists adrift at sea on “RV Lance” – once a top-of-the-line seal hunting boat, now turned research vessel.

On board the ship, an international collection of researchers will watch up-close as the arctic wakes, with instruments tuned not only to wildlife but to the most important creature of them all – the sea ice.

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Climate change study heats up Arctic soil

[Images: Amelia Jaycen]

Students from Russia, U.S., Norway, Germany, Italy, China and U.K. arrived this week in Norilsk, Russia where they will spend two weeks in a field school to assess the effects of permafrost thaw on Russian urban infrastructure.

The student researchers will conduct permafrost research in the field as well as meet with representatives of the Norilsk-Nickel mining company and of local production plants and geological, planning, social and migration services to form a science-based dialogue about problems and solutions.

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Semiconductor Research Corporation funds UNT chemist’s microchip fabrication research

[Image: Dr. Oliver Chyan]

A single microchip can have several billion circuits built into a predetermined design according to its final purpose, whether for an iphone or a laptop.  Creating the chip involves a procedure of about 3,000 different steps, many of which involve chemical coatings, cleanings, and etching processes performed on microscopic electrical parts.

Professor of chemistry Dr. Oliver Chyan has been awarded a grant of nearly $130,000 from the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC) in cooperation with Intel to create and implement new tools for measuring and characterizing plasma-etch-polymers in microchip fabrication.

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Next generation tools aid interdisciplinary genome research

In 1953, James D. Watson and Francis Crick discovered the double-helix structure of the DNA strand –a ribbon of genetic information that lives in each cell of a living organism.   Later, in 1990, a group of organizations including the National Institutes of Health launched  the Human Genome Project, a global collaborative effort to identify all the genes in the human DNA strand.  At that time, the event was heralded as the largest investigative project in modern science, and it took 13 years and nearly $3 billion to yield a complete human genome.

The Human Genome Project completed in 2003 was followed by a variety of other DNA research projects conducted by various organizations.  The widespread study of DNA ushered in a “genomic revolution” characterized by constant technological advances in the fields of genetics and molecular biology.  Nearly a decade later, its momentum is still steady as hundreds of new biological tools amass stores of genomic data.

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UNT polymer engineers partner with industry leader to develop advanced coatings technology

Building contractors across the country may owe certain thanks to UNT plastics engineers over the next few years.  Regents Professor of materials science and engineering Dr. Witold Brostow and his team at the Laboratory of Advanced Polymers and Optimized Materials(LAPOM) just completed their first contract with McKinney, TX based Encore Wire Corporation.

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