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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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Physicist Takes Cues from Artificial Intelligence

NEWPORT NEWS, VA –  In the world of computing, there’s a groundswell of excitement for what is perceived as the impending revolution in artificial intelligence. Like the industrial revolution in the 19th century and the digital revolution in the 20th, the AI revolution is expected to change the way we live and work. Now, Cristiano Fanelli aims to bring the AI revolution to nuclear physics.

Fanelli, who is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is the winner of the 2018 Jefferson Science Associates Postdoctoral Prize for his project to use artificial intelligence to optimize systems for nuclear physics research being carried out at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility.

It’s an exciting time to do nuclear and particle physics research with the artificial intelligence revolution happening now.

—Cristiano Fanelli

Since 2015, Fanelli has been working on GlueX, an experiment that is being carried out as part of the 12 GeV upgrade to Jefferson Lab’s Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility (CEBAF). Scientists in the GlueX collaboration aim to produce and study so-called exotic hybrid mesons. These particles are built of the same stuff as ordinary protons and neutrons: quarks bound together by the “glue” of the strong force. But the glue in these mesons behaves differently and may provide a window into how subatomic particles are built.

The GlueX collaboration is adding a new system to its existing equipment called DIRC, which stands for Detection of Internally Reflected Cherenkov light. The new system will help identify particles that are produced in experiments, such as protons, pions and kaons. This capability will allow researchers to infer the quark flavor content of exotic hybrid and conventional mesons produced in experiments.

The DIRC consists of a complex design of many components that must be aligned precisely for accurate particle identification. Fanelli is working on implementing Bayesian optimization to allow researchers to use computers to more quickly and accurately predict the optimum alignment for the components of the DIRC system.

Read the full story at JLAB.


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From the Seafloor to the Drugstore: Inventor Amy Wright on Marine Natural Products

Those were the glory days. Amy Wright would plop down into the seat inside a giant acrylic dome to be submerged 3,000 feet underwater, with a front-row seat on the wonders far below the waters off the Florida coast. It was Wright’s first job as a chemist. She didn’t know it then, but she was riding a wave that would rise from expeditions in the Johnson-Sea-Link submersible vehicles to the breakthrough inventions in medicine she is known for today.

Days spent diving from a research ship and using robotic equipment on a manned submersible vehicle allowed Wright and her collaborators to travel to underwater vistas in the depths where, over the course of the next few decades, they would collect thousands of samples of marine invertebrates, the source materials for marine natural products.

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Virtual Immersion Goes Beyond the Surface with Underwater Drones

Christine Spiten is the 27 year old co-founder and chief global strategist of Blueye Robotics, a company making underwater drones that connect with your smartphone, tablet, laptop or a pair of goggles to explore the marine environment 150 meters underwater. In an interview for Sea Technology with Spiten just a few hours after she emerged from an underwater adventure in the fjords of Trondheim Norway, where Blueye Robotics is based, I asked her about the company’s debut model, the Pioneer.

We also discussed future development plans and Spiten’s ideas about democratizing access to the ocean to make underwater inspection—whether the hull of a ship, an aquaculture farm, for search-and-rescue, or just for fun—an everyday activity without the need for expensive, heavy equipment or professional crews of divers.

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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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The Dawn of Gallium Oxide Microelectronics

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 6, 2018– Silicon has long been the go-to material in the world of microelectronics and semiconductor technology. But silicon still faces limitations, particularly with scalability for power applications. Pushing semiconductor technology to its full potential requires smaller designs at higher energy density.

“One of the largest shortcomings in the world of microelectronics is always good use of power: Designers are always looking to reduce excess power consumption and unnecessary heat generation,” said Gregg Jessen, principal electronics engineer at the Air Force Research Laboratory. “Usually, you would do this by scaling the devices. But the technologies in use today are already scaled close to their limits for the operating voltage desired in many applications. They are limited by their critical electric field strength.”

Transparent conductive oxides are a key emerging material in semiconductor technology, offering the unlikely combination of conductivity and transparency over the visual spectrum. One conductive oxide in particular has unique properties that allow it to function well in power switching: Ga2O3, or gallium oxide, a material with an incredibly large bandgap.

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Deep Dive into Engineering the World’s Most Advanced ROV System

In August 2017 a research group led by explorer and philanthropist Paul G. Allen used ultra-high-tech underwater equipment to locate the wreckage of the USS Indianapolis, a ship that sank in the final days of WWII after it was struck by Japanese torpedoes. The discovery was made by Mr. Allen’s company, Vulcan Inc., using a new expedition ship it acquired for the purpose of seabed discovery—the RV Petrel.

Petrel was outfitted with cutting-edge technologies, including an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), which uses side-scan sonar to locate objects on the seabed, and a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) for further investigation and video documentation.

While AUVs and ROVs are becoming more common, the USS Indianapolis was discovered at a depth of nearly 6,000 m, and technologies suitable for robust research at great depth can be hard to find.

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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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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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Robotic Telescopes Enable Advanced Antarctic Observations

Antarctica is more like interstellar space than any other place on earth. It is extremely cold‚ dry‚ calm‚ and extra dark with clear seeing to great cosmic distances. As a result‚ a telescope just a few meters tall near the South Pole can make observations as good as larger telescopes at more temperate locations and study the same objects that space satellites can study [1]‚ but at lower cost without sending telescopes into orbit [2]. But installing a telescope in Antarctica is not easy. It requires the use of a giant ice-breaker ship‚ track-wheeled tractors pulling huge storage containers‚ and a crew of woolen boot- and parka-clad “expedition astronomers” [3]. In 2005 a Chinese expedition became the first to reach the peak of the Antarctic ice cap‚ the highest point on the Antarctic Plateau 4093 meters above sea level. It was called Dome Argus‚ now known as Dome A.

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Data Processing: A Discovery Pipeline

The computer scientists working on INSTRUMENT: One Antarctic  Night view programming as an art form. They are also versed in the language of statistics‚ and they provide a valuable translation for the team. Theirs is the task of designing a data engine that allows for both graphic rendering and interaction‚ handling hundreds of thousands of data files to create an immersive art + science experience.

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Data Sounds: The Music of Statistics

INSTRUMENT: One Antarctic Night is a suite of data instruments that use data from hundreds of thousands of stars captured by robotic telescopes in Antarctica. The interactive‚ and immersive aesthetic data experience will provide visitors the opportunity to explore characteristics of the stars seen above the South Pole through responsive sound‚ movement‚ graphics and visualization. To create sound for INSTRUMENT‚ the team is developing new paradigms‚ working in a blended space between practices of data sonification and computer-assisted composition to create a conversation between traditional practices‚ contemporary digital music and working with new mediums‚ new methods‚ and new theories.

The interaction system they are creating will represent the diversity of the dataset with diversity in sound. For instance‚ as they collect statistical metadata about the stars‚ the INSTRUMENT team
determines how to use those statistics to drive the system’s audio‚with human interaction as a medium.

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The Data Wranglers: Cataloging the Night Sky

INSTRUMENT: One Antarctic Night obtained more than one million data files and optical data images of the night sky over the South Pole‚ and the team is building an interactive‚ immersive art + science experience that allows people to interact with star data through sound‚ movement‚ and visuals. To make the data readable‚ the team must map parameters of the data onto various parts of interaction. That means the more data they can obtain about each star‚ the richer the context for the sonification and experience design.

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The Father of Artificial Intelligence: Remembering Marvin Minsky

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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