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Insects in Freezing Regions Have a Protein that Acts Like Antifreeze

From the Journal: Journal of Chemical Physics

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 2, 2019 — The power to align water molecules is usually held by ice, which affects nearby water and encourages it to join the ice layer — to freeze too. But in the case of organisms living in freezing habitats a particularly powerful antifreeze protein is able to overpower the grip ice has on water and convince water molecules to behave in ways that benefit the protein instead.

In the latest study this week in The Journal of Chemical Physics, from AIP Publishing, scientists are taking a closer look at the molecular structure of the antifreeze protein to understand how it works. Lead author Konrad Meister at Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research in Germany and his colleagues have traveled to the coldest places on Earth, including the Arctic and Antarctic, to collect antifreeze proteins from different sources. The protein they are examining in this study is the most active antifreeze protein on record, and it comes from a beetle in Northern Europe called Rhagium mordax.

“The antifreeze proteins have one side that is uniquely structured, the so-called ice-binding site of the protein, which is very flat, slightly hydrophobic and doesn’t have any charged residues,” Meister said. “But how this side is used to interact with ice is obviously very difficult to understand if you can’t measure an ice-protein interface directly.”

Now, for the first time, these unique biomolecules have been adsorbed to ice in the laboratory to get a closer look at the mechanisms that guide the interaction when antifreeze proteins are in contact with ice.

The researchers found that the protein’s corrugated structure, which holds channels of water in place, means that when these proteins touch ice, instead of freezing, the water molecules are altered to have a different hydrogen bond structure and orientation.

“Molecular-scale information is the key to understanding the function or the working mechanism of antifreeze proteins, and if we know that, then we can start making something cool that we as a society can benefit from.”

—Konrad Meister

Read the full story at AIP.


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Coated optical fibers as opto-mechanical sensors

New model details Brillouin scattering interactions between light and sound waves in polyimide-coated fiber for detecting liquids outside the cladding boundary.

Since light carried by optical fibers cannot reach outside the inner core, it is difficult to use these cheap and flexible tools for the analysis of surrounding media. Fortunately, the same fibers also support the transfer of ultrasonic waves, and the interactions between light and sound waves can be exploited for probing the properties of liquids outside the protective coating.

Building on their previous research, Diamandi et al. extended their model of these light-ultrasound opto-mechanical sensors to include polyimide-coated fibers, which are readily available commercially. The coating gives the fiber some protection, and at the same time provides connectivity for the ultrasonic waves that actually perform the sensing task.

In their experiment, spectra of interaction between light and ultrasound were measured for stretches of fibers in air, ethanol and water. To push the experiment further, spatial mapping of liquids was carried out over a mile-long fiber that was coated in polyimide for its entire length.

Read the full story at AIP Scilight.


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Astronomy Team Brings Data to “Instrument: One Antarctic Night”

From discovering the rings of Supernova 1987A during his time at the European Southern Observatory (Garching‚ Germany) to pioneering supernova spectropolarimetry in Texas‚ Lifan Wang has followed his passion for cosmology around the world. Wang is the director of the Chinese Center for Antarctic Astronomy  (CCAA) responsible for design and deployment of two robotic telescopes to Antarctica – the Chinese Small Telescope ARray (CSTAR) and three Antarctic Survey Telescopes (AST3). Working remotely‚ Wang and collaborators obtained hundreds of thousands of observations of the night sky above the South Pole.

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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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BBC’s Discovery Podcast Features Sonified Star Data

The soundtrack of the BBC World Service Discovery podcast episode “Sounds of Space: Deep Space” uses data from CSTAR telescopes that has been sonified, or made audible, as part of the data-sound project, INSTRUMENT: One Antarctic Night, an interactive artwork under development by a team of national and international artists, scientists, and Antarctic researchers (including the author).

The BBC segment features the techno-musical beat of pulsars spinning and other audio data from across the universe alongside NASA Voyager recordings, Carl Sagan’s message to deep space lifeforms, and interviews with several scientists working to understand deep space.

INSTRUMENT:One Antarctic Night is an interactive artwork that will use 287,800 images of the universe captured by the CSTAR robotic telescope in Antarctica to help people experience and understand data. The installation will allow participants to interact with telescope data through remixing it into sonic and visual creations – a video and musical jam session occurring in the gallery, on large scale displays, on mobile devices, and online simultaneously.

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Embodied Information Behavior, Mixed Reality, and Big Data

Professor Ruth West, together with two students and a University of Tasmania collaborator, published in the proceedings of the SPIE, The Engineering Reality of Virtual Reality 2015. West presented the paper to an enthusiastic audience at the conference held in San Francisco Feb. 8-12, 2015, followed by a lively question-and-answer session.

The paper “Embodied Information Behavior, Mixed Reality and Big Data” is a snapshot of the current renaissance in virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality technology and the promissory contexts in which those systems are developed.

Written with two xREZ Art + Science Lab students – psychology senior Max Parola and journalism graduate student Amelia Jaycen – the study outlines the process of innovation as it unfolds in developers’ laboratories and the consumer marketplace, where a narrative about a hybrid physical-digital future affects how the Internet of Things will become a part of our human lives.

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IPCC Climate Change Report makes a strong case for change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Nov. 2 issued its Synthesis Report – a combination three IPCC Working Group reports, which IPCC says are “the most comprehensive assessment of climate change ever undertaken.”

The report is the joint effort of 800 lead authors, almost 1,000 more supporting authors and a combination of 30,000 scientific papers. The report “distills and integrates the findings” and provides information critically important for policymakers, IPCC says.

But David Malakoff poses the pertinent question in his article in Science magazine: “whether the new IPCC report can help overcome the political and economic obstacles that have blocked major movement of reducing emissions.”

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Barents Summer School brings researchers face-to-face with local leaders

[Image: Students and local leaders in the Barents Summer School in Kirkenes, Norway. Credit: Amelia Jaycen]

Twenty-four Ph.D. students including Norwegian, Russian, Finnish and Swedish students, some of them representing the Sami population, and one student from Hong Kong gathered to establish international collaborative relationships and learn about conducting epidemiological research: Studies of disease patterns, causes and effects over time.

The one-week course centered around human health issues in the cross-border Barents region. Students who attended are researchers in a variety of subjects ranging from suicides among indigenous populations to the effects of pollution on infants born to exposed mothers.

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Researchers track West Nile Virus, study mosquito species

[Image: Amelia Jaycen]

University of North Texas Regents Professor of Biological Sciences Dr. James Kennedy is conducting his twelfth year of mosquito sampling and testing for West Nile Virus (WNV) in cooperation with the City of Denton, and this year is the first year samples are analyzed at UNT as well as sent to the Texas Department of Health State Services.

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