Star trek emblem]
The Movement of Tree Sap Analyzed
(Jan. 4, 2011) — Scientists at Carlos III University of Madrid (UC3M) used a 3D modeling to analyze the mechanisms used to by trees to transport water in their interior. The objective: to discover the keys to the movement of sap in order to apply these advances to new hydraulic systems or to suction pumps.
The researchers decided to embark on this study in order to find out which mechanisms are used by plants when they extract water from very dry or somewhat inhospitable land. "In the case of mangrove swamps, for example, the plants are able to extract freshwater from a saltwater environment, despite the fact that the osmotic pressure should make quite the opposite happen," explains Professor José Luis Pérez Díaz, who studies this type of relatively unknown phenomenon as part of a new line of research that the Department of Mechanical Engineering at UC3M has begun.
The objective of the study is to learn what type of mechanism the plants use when extracting the water and transporting it from the roots to the leaves. To do this, the researchers have generated a model that represents the microscopic structure of the trunk of a European beech tree (Fagus sylvatica) in order to study the changes produced when the water moves through its interior; they have published some of the results of their research in a recent issue of the Journal of Biological Physics.
The three-dimensional model created by these UC3M scientists allows them to analyze the transpiration and absorption of the bark of the tree, as well as the pressure in the different types of conduits, such as the phloem or xylem, that transport fluids inside the trunk. The first is a vascular tissue that carries sugars and other synthesized nutrients from the organs that produce them to the organs where they are consumed and stored, in both upward and downward directions. Xylem, on the other hand, is different type of tissue that is adapted especially for conveying water upward for the length of the plant; its elements are arranged in longitudinal rows, through more or less continuous sections of conduits.
The main conclusion of this study is that the sap in the trunks of trees is in a pressurized situation. It demonstrates, then, that when the pressure is positive in the conduits of the xylem as well as in those of the phloem, the model expands in the radial direction. However, when the pressure is negative in the xylem and positive in the phloem, which is what is believed to occur during the day, the model contracts in the radial direction. "Our results are not absolutely conclusive yet, but they set us on a path to continue our study and to find out more about these processes," says Professor Pérez Díaz.
This line of research could have interesting applications for hydraulic systems or devices for water extraction, for example. "Currently -- the expert points out -- there is no water suction pump capable of raising water more than ten meters at normal atmospheric pressure, but a sequoia tree can raise water to a height of 100 meters, which I think means that anything we can learn from plants is going to be of great interest to people working in this field," he concludes.
water cycle picture]
Dr Hook / When your in love with a beautiful woman
For some of us joining starfleet could possibly be for different reasons, I for one certainly know what a number one is, I know sir, we want it now...
picture of Jonathan Frakes ''it's a huge job sir...']
Star fleet admiralty emblem]
Dr Hook / Sexy eyes
New Hubble Photos Show Eerie Green Space Cloud
Date: 10 January 2011 Time: 03:46 PM ET
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope is helping to demystify one of the strangest objects in space — a huge, glowing, green blob of gas floating near a spiral galaxy.
Hubble has uncovered delicate filaments of gas and a pocket of young star clusters in the giant object, which is known as Hanny's Voorwerp ("Hanny's Object" in Dutch). Hubble's new photos provide the sharpest view yet of Hanny's Voorwerp, researchers said, and reveal a star-birthing region in the object.
"The star clusters are localized, confined to an area that is over a few thousand light-years wide," study leader William Keel, of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, said in a statement. "The region may have been churning out stars for several million years. They are so dim that they have previously been lost in the brilliant light of the surrounding gas."
Keel presented his team's results today (Jan. 10) at the winter meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle.
Citizen science comes up big
The new Hubble discoveries are the latest finds in an ongoing probe of Hanny's Voorwerp, which is named for Hanny van Arkel. Van Arkel, a Dutch schoolteacher, discovered the ghostly structure in 2007 while participating in the online Galaxy Zoo project.
Galaxy Zoo enlists the public to help classify more than a million galaxies catalogued in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. The project has expanded to include the Hubble Zoo, in which the public is asked to assess images of tens of thousands of galaxies from the Hubble Space Telescope.
In the new study, researchers report that Hubble's cameras have uncovered star birth in a region of Hanny's Voorwerp that faces the spiral galaxy IC 2497, which is about 650 million light-years from Earth.
Radio observations had previously shown an outflow of gas from the galaxy's core. The new Hubble images reveal that the galaxy's gas is interacting with a small region of Hanny's Voorwerp, which is collapsing and forming stars. The youngest stars are a couple of million years old, researchers said.
An active galactic core
Recent X-ray observations had revealed why Hanny's Voorwerp caught the eye of astronomers in the first place. IC 2497's active core produced a quasar — a powerful beacon of light powered by a black hole — researchers said.
The quasar shot a broad beam of light in the direction of Hanny's Voorwerp, illuminating the gas cloud. Its bright green color comes from glowing oxygen, according to researchers.
"We just missed catching the quasar, because it turned off no more than 200,000 years ago, so what we're seeing is the afterglow from the quasar," Keel said. "This implies that it might flicker on and off, which is typical of quasars, but we've never seen such a dramatic change happen so rapidly."
The quasar's outburst also may have cast a shadow on Hanny's Voorwerp, giving the illusion of a gaping hole about 20,000 light-years wide in the object, researchers said. Hubble images reveal sharp edges around the apparent opening, suggesting that an object close to the quasar may have blocked some of the light.
A rough life for IC 2497
Other studies have revealed that Hanny's Voorwerp is not an island in space. Rather, it's part of a twisting rope of gas about 300,000 light-years long that wraps around the galaxy, researchers said.
The only optically visible part of the rope is Hanny's Voorwerp, which stretches from 44,000 light-years to 136,000 light-years from the galaxy's core.
The quasar, the outflow of gas that instigated the star birth and the long rope of gas point to a rough life for IC 2497, researchers said.
"The evidence suggests that IC 2497 may have merged with another galaxy about a billion years ago," Keel said. "The Hubble images show in exquisite detail that the spiral arms are twisted, so the galaxy hasn't completely settled down."
A recently dimmed quasar
In Keel's scenario, the galactic merger expelled the long streamer of gas from IC 2497 and funneled gas and stars into the center, which fed the black hole. The engorged black hole then powered the quasar, which launched two cones of light. One light beam illuminated part of the gas cloud, which is now called Hanny's Voorwerp.
About a million years ago, the researchers think, shock waves produced glowing gas near the galaxy's core and blasted it outward. The outburst may have triggered star formation in Hanny's Voorwerp. Then, less than 200,000 years ago, the quasar dropped in brightness by 100 times or more, leaving an ordinary-looking core.
New images of the galaxy's dusty core from Hubble show an expanding bubble of gas blown out of one side of the core, perhaps evidence of the sputtering quasar's final gasps. The expanding ring of gas is still too small for ground-based telescopes to detect, according to researchers.
"This quasar may have been active for a few million years, which perhaps indicates that quasars blink on and off on timescales of millions of years, not the 100 million years that theory had suggested," Keel said. He added that the quasar could light up again if more material is dumped into the black hole.
RELEASE : 11-007
Dr Hook / Sharing the night together
New Microscopy Tracks Molecules in Live Tissue at Video Rate; Scientists Push SRS Microscopy to New Levels of Spatial, Temporal Precision
(Dec. 2, 2010) — A novel type of biomedical imaging, made possible by new advances in microscopy from scientists at Harvard University, is so fast and sensitive it can capture "video" of blood cells squeezing through capillaries.
Researchers led by Harvard's Brian G. Saar, Christian W. Freudiger, and X. Sunney Xie describe the work in the journal Science.
The new technique, based on stimulated Raman scattering (SRS), makes a complementary partner to MRI, widely used to capture static images of organs, tumors, and other large structures. For the first time, SRS microscopy makes possible label-free chemical movies, with streaming footage at the subcellular level, catching video of proteins, lipids, and water within cells.
"When we started this project 11 years ago, we never imagined we'd have an amazing result like this," says Xie, professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard. "It took MRI more than 30 years to reach patients, but we're already looking forward with great anticipation to applications of SRS microscopy in hospitals. It's now clear that stimulated Raman scattering will play an important role in the future of biological imaging and medical diagnostics."
Xie says SRS microscopy could aid, and speed, surgery to remove tumors and other lesions. Surgeons must now send excised samples for histological analysis -- a process that takes about 20 minutes -- while a patient waits on the operating table. SRS microscopy provides equivalent insights through real-time scanning.
Xie's team has already used SRS microscopy to track migration of medications in skin, shedding new light on the absorption of topical drugs. In conjunction with endoscopy, the technique can also view three-dimensional sections of tissue, layer by layer.
"Previous SRS microscopy captured only about one image per minute, far too slow for use in live animals or humans," Xie says. "We were able to speed the collection of data by more than three orders of magnitude, attaining video-rate imaging."
Because SRS microscopy works by detecting the intrinsic vibrations in chemical bonds between atoms, it doesn't require intrusive fluorescent labeling. An optical technique, it compliments MRI, whose depth of penetration is better suited to imaging organs and other large objects deep within the body.
The current work greatly improves detection of signals -- backscattered by tissues in the body -- by rearranging photodetectors to surround a small aperture through which a beam of light is directed at the tissue being examined. Using this approach, the scientists were able to collect and analyze almost 30 percent of the laser light directed at a biological sample, a more than 30-fold increase over previous SRS microscopy.
Scientists currently use a variety of techniques to view biomolecules, but most have significant limitations that are sidestepped by SRS microscopy. Labeling with green fluorescent protein (GFP) provides sharp images, but the bulky protein can perturb delicate biological pathways, overwhelming smaller biomolecules. Conventional infrared (IR) microscopy has low spatial resolution and requires desiccated samples, while spontaneous Raman microscopy requires high laser power and long integration times, limiting use in live specimens. Coherent anti-Stokes Raman scattering (CARS) microscopy, pioneered by Xie's own group, lacks the contrast to image most molecules beyond lipids.
Saar, Freudiger, and Xie's co-authors are Gary R. Holtom of Harvard's Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology and Jay Reichman and C. Michael Stanley of Chroma Technology in Bellows Falls, Vt. Their work was funded by Boehringer Ingelheim Fonds, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health.
Dr Hook / Years from now
Starfleet planetary science emblem]
NASA's Kepler Mission Discovers Its First Rocky Planet
WASHINGTON -- NASA's Kepler mission confirmed the discovery of its first rocky planet, named Kepler-10b. Measuring 1.4 times the size of Earth, it is the smallest planet ever discovered outside our solar system.
The discovery of this so-called exoplanet is based on more than eight months of data collected by the spacecraft from May 2009 to early January 2010.
"All of Kepler's best capabilities have converged to yield the first solid evidence of a rocky planet orbiting a star other than our sun," said Natalie Batalha, Kepler's deputy science team lead at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and primary author of a paper on the discovery accepted by the Astrophysical Journal. "The Kepler team made a commitment in 2010 about finding the telltale signatures of small planets in the data, and it's beginning to pay off."
Kepler's ultra-precise photometer measures the tiny decrease in a star's brightness that occurs when a planet crosses in front of it. The size of the planet can be derived from these periodic dips in brightness. The distance between the planet and the star is calculated by measuring the time between successive dips as the planet orbits the star.
Kepler is the first NASA mission capable of finding Earth-size planets in or near the habitable zone, the region in a planetary system where liquid water can exist on the planet's surface. However, since it orbits once every 0.84 days, Kepler-10b is more than 20 times closer to its star than Mercury is to our sun and not in the habitable zone.
Kepler-10 was the first star identified that could potentially harbor a small transiting planet, placing it at the top of the list for ground-based observations with the W.M. Keck Observatory 10-meter telescope in Hawaii.
Scientists waiting for a signal to confirm Kepler-10b as a planet were not disappointed. Keck was able to measure tiny changes in the star's spectrum, called Doppler shifts, caused by the telltale tug exerted by the orbiting planet on the star.
"The discovery of Kepler 10-b is a significant milestone in the search for planets similar to our own," said Douglas Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Although this planet is not in the habitable zone, the exciting find showcases the kinds of discoveries made possible by the mission and the promise of many more to come," he said.
Knowledge of the planet is only as good as the knowledge of the star it orbits. Because Kepler-10 is one of the brighter stars being targeted by Kepler, scientists were able to detect high frequency variations in the star's brightness generated by stellar oscillations, or starquakes. This analysis allowed scientists to pin down Kepler-10b's properties.
There is a clear signal in the data arising from light waves that travel within the interior of the star. Kepler Asteroseismic Science Consortium scientists use the information to better understand the star, just as earthquakes are used to learn about Earth's interior structure. As a result of this analysis, Kepler-10 is one of the most well characterized planet-hosting stars in the universe.
That's good news for the team studying Kepler-10b. Accurate stellar properties yield accurate planet properties. In the case of Kepler-10b, the picture that emerges is of a rocky planet with a mass 4.6 times that of Earth and with an average density of 8.8 grams per cubic centimeter -- similar to that of an iron dumbbell.
Ames manages Kepler's ground system development, mission operations and science data analysis. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., managed Kepler mission development.
Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo., developed the Kepler flight system and supports mission operations with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore archives, hosts and distributes the Kepler science data.
Kepler is NASA's 10th Discovery Mission and is funded by NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters. For more information about the Kepler mission, visit:
It's terrific learning that the possibilities for building cities on other planets and terraforming [stimulating an atmospheric condition] planets is a near occurance, obviously the technicalities of travelling into deep space with protection from space plasma [the possibilities of radiation] still pose an evolutionary issue to be grappled with, but, certainly space vehicles exist that would be capable of doing the job utilising the method of travel we have available which is combustion propulsion, generally some sort of explosive reactive fuel. I personally believe magnetism beaming via teleportation to be the next sensible and sustainable way of long space travelling particularly because of the need to not refuel with basic liquid applications.
Dr Hook / Sleeping late
dinosaur haunts wizards picture]
refractive index measurement picture]
refractive index measurement picture]
refractive index measurement picture]
United federation broadcasting]
Dr Hook / I don't wanna be alone
NASA Launches Innovative Approach to Solve Old Challenges
NASA field centers participated in a pilot program recently called NASA@Work to facilitate internal problem solving and communication across the agency. The goal of NASA@Work is to leverage the breadth and depth of NASA technical expertise by offering solutions to challenges that exist in currently funded NASA projects. InnoCentive Co., hosted the pilot program in coordination with NASA Johnson Space Station and the HQs Office of the Chief Technologist's Partnerships, Innovation and Commercial Space Program. Jan Aikins served as the "Center Champion" for NASA Ames Research Center and coordinated NASA Ames' participation in this pilot program with the Center Chief Technologist’s Office led by John Hines.
All field centers followed a process established by InnoCentive to develop, refine, and select challenges. An award system also was implemented to recognize contributors. NASA Ames submitted five challenges for consideration. Three of the challenges were selected for further development during the InnoCentive@Work In-person Training and Challenge Workshop held at NASA Johnson. Finalized challenges from all field centers were posted on the InnoCentive website, https://nasa.innocentive.com/. Over the course of several weeks, participants from around the agency submitted potential solutions to the posted challenges. A summary of each of the three selected NASA Ames challenges and a sampling of their respective solutions are listed below.
Challenge 1 Overview: "NASA InternSpace"
NASA Ames is considering developing a customized social networking and new media communications platform for use by NASA interns, mentors, and managers. Suggestions are being sought for what functionality such a site should have in order to make it applicable to all of NASA following its trial period at NASA Ames.
Potential solutions include:
Interactive field center and other location maps
Internship Work Plans and evaluation tools
Internal Instant Messaging
Posting of research and other work opportunities
Challenge 2 Overview: "Low Impact Robotic Sensor Platform for Land Survey"
Many regions of scientific interest are physically/biologically fragile. Because of their fragility, systematic human surveys can damage or destroy the scientific value of such sites. Good results have been obtained using small rovers, but they have limitations, e.g elevating instruments on booms allows sensing over/around obstacles, but leaves the rover unstable in rough terrain and aggravates instrument vibration, motion, and uncertainty in position/orientation. This challenge is seeking brainstorms and "eureka moments" for alternative sensor platforms.
Potential solutions include:
Use of a remote controlled helicopter as a platform
Development of a low-altitude mini-dirigible (lighter-than-air) platform
Active boom/instrument stabilization to reduce motion and vibration
Additional passive stabilization (gel pads, shock absorbers, etc.)
Challenge 3 Overview: "Measuring Gas Concentrations in Microliter Samples"
Micro-fluidic and well-plate technologies are commonly utilized for bioassays, combinatorial chemistry, and cell culture experiments. However, valuable research in space science and biotechnology cannot be accomplished using these technologies without significant improvements in the ability to measure gasses in these system formats. Suggestions are being sought for a new small device www.innocentive.com/
starfleet research emblem]
Dr Hook / A little bit more
Super-Earth Has an Atmosphere, but Is It Steamy or Gassy?
(Dec. 1, 2010) — In December 2009, astronomers announced the discovery of a super-Earth known as GJ 1214b. At the time, they reported signs that the newfound world likely had a thick, gaseous atmosphere. Now, a team led by Jacob Bean (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) has made the first measurements of GJ 1214b's atmosphere. However, the measurements raise as many questions about the planet's atmospheric composition as they answer.
"This is the first super-Earth known to have an atmosphere," said Bean. "But even with these new measurements we can't say yet what that atmosphere is made of. This world is being very shy and veiling its true nature from us."
A super-Earth is a planet up to three times the size of Earth and weighing one to ten times as much. (GJ 1214b is 2.7 times the size of Earth and 6.5 times as massive.) They are likely to be mostly solid (some combination of rock or ices), unlike the hundreds of Jupiter-sized gas giants found to date around distant stars.
Researchers suggested three atmospheric possibilities for GJ 1214b. The most intriguing was a thick blanket of steam vaporized by the nearby star. (This option led to the nickname "waterworld," although it's too hot for an ocean.) The second option was a mini-Neptune with a rocky core surrounded by ices and a hydrogen/helium atmosphere. The third model has no equivalent in our solar system -- a big, rocky world with a soupy mix of gases (mainly hydrogen) recently emitted by volcanoes.
To study the planet's atmosphere, the team observed it when it crossed in front of its star. During such transits, the star's light filters through the atmosphere. Gases absorb the starlight at particular wavelengths, or colors, leaving behind a chemical fingerprint detectable from Earth. Similar observations have found gases like hydrogen and sodium vapor in the atmospheres of distant "hot Jupiters."
"This is the first super-Earth to have its atmosphere analyzed. We've reached a real milestone on the road toward characterizing these worlds," stated Bean.
Commenting on the work, Harvard astronomer David Charbonneau, who is not involved in the recent study but led the team that discovered GJ 1214b, agreed. "In less than 10 years, we've gone from studying the atmospheres of alien worlds like Jupiter, to Neptunes, to super-Earths. Earth-sized worlds are next, although they'll be the most difficult."
The spectrum of GJ 1214b proved to be featureless, which ruled out a cloud-free atmosphere composed primarily of hydrogen. If the atmosphere of GJ 1214b has abundant hydrogen, then it must be cloaked by a thick blanket of clouds (like Venus) or haze (like Saturn's moon Titan). A dense, steamy atmosphere also fits the data.
"It would have to be very dense -- about one-fifth water vapor by volume," explained Bean. "Compared to our Earth, with an atmosphere that's four-fifths nitrogen and one-fifth oxygen with only a touch of water vapor."
The team examined GJ 1214b in the near-infrared region of the spectrum (780 -- 1000 nanometers) using the ground-based Very Large Telescope at Paranal Observatory in Chile. Additional observations in the mid- or far-infrared might finally answer the question: Is the atmosphere of GJ 1214b steamy or gassy?
"A lot of people are putting this planet under a microscope," said Bean. "In the next year, we should have some solid answers about what it's truly like."
A paper reporting these results will appear in the Dec. 2nd issue of the journal Nature. Bean's co-authors are Eliza Miller-Ricci Kempton (University of California, Santa Cruz) and Derek Homeier (Institute for Astrophysics, Gottingen).
Dr Hook / Sylvia's mother said
Babies Process Language in a Grown-Up Way
(Jan. 9, 2011) — Babies, even those too young to talk, can understand many of the words that adults are saying -- and their brains process them in a grown-up way.
Combining the cutting-edge technologies of MRI and MEG, scientists at the University of California, San Diego show that babies just over a year old process words they hear with the same brain structures as adults, and in the same amount of time. Moreover, the researchers found that babies were not merely processing the words as sounds, but were capable of grasping their meaning.
This study was jointly led by Eric Halgren, PhD, professor of radiology in the School of Medicine, Jeff Elman, PhD, professor of cognitive science in the Division of Social Sciences, and first author, Katherine E. Travis, of the Department of Neurosciences and the Multimodal Imaging Laboratory, all at UC San Diego. The work is published this week in the Oxford University Press journal Cerebral Cortex.
"Babies are using the same brain mechanisms as adults to access the meaning of words from what is thought to be a mental 'database' of meanings, a database which is continually being updated right into adulthood," said Travis.
Previously, many people thought infants might use an entirely different mechanism for learning words, and that learning began primitively and evolved into the process used by adults. Determining the areas of the brain responsible for learning language, however, has been hampered by a lack of evidence showing where language is processed in the developing brain.
While lesions in two areas called Broca's and Wernicke's (frontotemporal) areas have long been known to be associated with loss of language skills in adults, such lesions in early childhood have little impact on language development. To explain this discordance, some have proposed that the right hemisphere and inferior frontal regions are initially critical for language, and that classical language areas of adulthood become dominant only with increasing linguistic experience. Alternatively, other theories have suggested that the plasticity of an infant's brain allows other regions to take over language-learning tasks if left frontotemporal regions are damaged at an early age.
In addition to studying effects of brain deficits, language systems can be determined by identifying activation of different cortical areas in response to stimuli. In order to determine if infants use the same functional networks as adults to process word meaning, the researchers used MEG -- an imaging process that measures tiny magnetic fields emitted by neurons in the brain -- and MRI to noninvasively estimate brain activity in 12 to 18-month old infants.
In the first experiment, the infants listened to words accompanied by sounds with similar acoustic properties, but no meaning, in order to determine if they were capable of distinguishing between the two. In the second phase, the researchers tested whether the babies were capable of understanding the meaning of these words. For this experiment, babies saw pictures of familiar objects and then heard words that were either matched or mismatched to the name of the object: a picture of a ball followed by the spoken word ball, versus a picture of a ball followed by the spoken word dog.
Brain activity indicated that the infants were capable of detecting the mismatch between a word and a picture, as shown by the amplitude of brain activity. The "mismatched," or incongruous, words evoked a characteristic brain response located in the same left frontotemporal areas known to process word meaning in the adult brain. The tests were repeated in adults to confirm that the same incongruous picture/word combinations presented to babies would evoke larger responses in left frontotemporal areas.
"Our study shows that the neural machinery used by adults to understand words is already functional when words are first being learned," said Halgren, "This basic process seems to embody the process whereby words are understood, as well as the context for learning new words." The researchers say their results have implications for future studies, for example development of diagnostic tests based on brain imaging which could indicate whether a baby has healthy word understanding even before speaking, enabling early screening for language disabilities or autism.
Additional contributors include Matthew K. Leonard, Timothy T. Brown, Donald J. Hagler, Jr., Megan Curran, and Anders M. Dale, all of UC San Diego School of Medicine.
The research was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health.
United Federaton of planets emblem]
Marilyn Monroe picture]