Laser-Treated Cork Absorbs Oil for Carbon-Neutral Ocean Cleanup

WASHINGTON, DC, April 23, 2024 – Oil spills are deadly disasters for ocean ecosystems. They can have lasting impacts on fish and marine mammals for decades and wreak havoc on coastal forests, coral reefs, and the surrounding land. Chemical dispersants are often used to break down oil, but they often increase toxicity in the process.

In Applied Physics Letters, by AIP Publishing, researchers from Central South University, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev used laser treatments to transform ordinary cork into a powerful tool for treating oil spills.

They wanted to create a nontoxic, effective oil cleanup solution using materials with a low carbon footprint, but their decision to try cork resulted from a surprising discovery.

“In a different laser experiment, we accidentally found that the wettability of the cork processed using a laser changed significantly, gaining superhydrophobic (water-repelling) and superoleophilic (oil-attracting) properties,” author Yuchun He said. “After appropriately adjusting the processing parameters, the surface of the cork became very dark, which made us realize that it might be an excellent material for photothermal conversion.”

“Combining these results with the eco-friendly, recyclable advantages of cork, we thought of using it for marine oil spill cleanup,” author Kai Yin said. “To our knowledge, no one else has tried using cork for cleaning up marine oil spills.”

“Oil recovery is a complex and systematic task, and participating in oil recovery throughout its entire life cycle is our goal.”

—Yuchun He

Read the full story at AIP.


Apollo 11 Astronaut Speaks about the Moon Landing and Why Space Matters Today

Collins: Keeping Earth in View Doesn’t Require a Spacecraft

On July 24, 1969, the Apollo 11 crew with Commander Neil Armstrong, Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, and Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin splashed down in the Pacific Ocean after achieving the first lunar landing. (NASA)

Earth Day 2019:

This year marks the 50th anniversary of mankind’s first landing on the moon, on July 20, 1969. 

While Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were on the moon taking “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”, Michael Collins’ job was to fly around the moon and pick them up again before coming back to earth.

Astronaut Collins spoke at the National Press Club Apr. 15 to recount his role in the Apollo 11 mission with Armstrong and Aldrin. He was interviewed by Marvin Kalb, and they discussed not only the 1969 mission but today’s Mars mission planning, competition in space, militarization and privatization of space technology, and what space exploration means for people, politics, and the human race.

The full livestreamed video is available at the National Press Club.

Aldrin stands beside the lunar module strut and probe. (NASA)

Aldrin poses for a portrait. (NASA)

Aldrin’s boot and footprint in lunar soil. (NASA)

This photograph of the Lunar Module at Tranquility Base was taken by Neil Armstrong during the Apollo 11 mission, from the rim of Little West Crater on the lunar surface. Armstrong’s shadow and the shadow of the camera are visible in the foreground. When he took this picture, Armstrong was clearly standing above the level of the Lunar Module’s footpads. Darkened tracks lead leftward to the deployment area of the Early Apollo Surface Experiments Package (EASEP) and rightward to the TV camera.  This is the furthest distance from the lunar module traveled by either astronaut while on the moon. (NASA)

Full panoramic image of the lunar module at tranquility base. (NASA)

The lunar module approaches the command module for docking, with earthrise in the background. (NASA)

Crescent earth image taken on the Apollo 11 return trip. (NASA)

Earthrise viewed from lunar orbit prior to landing on the moon. (NASA)

Lunar module inspection after undocking. (NASA)

Apollo 11 Mission Page

NASA History: Apollo 11

Listen to “One small step…” audio at NASA.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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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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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.


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.


A Delicate Dance between East and West

This BBC report live from Kirkenes in the High North of Norway talks about Russia-NATO relations, hundreds of refugees on bicycle entering Norway, the firing of an editor reporting on cross-border relations, and points to an uncertain but hopeful future for Arctic border life in a place called a test of east-west relations.

BBC Assignment on Kirkenes


UNT library opens creative “Factory” with 3-D printing, scanning, robotics, Google Glass

“The Factory has eight printers for standard printing needs and a large format printer; a Raspberry Pi, a computer no larger than a credit card that plugs into a television and keyboard and can be used for spreadsheets, word processing, gaming and playing high-definition video; Arduino, a tool used to create computers that take input from a variety of switches or sensors and control lights, motors and other physical outputs; cameras and photographic equipment; and Google Glass, an optical device that can be used to record videos and photographs from a first person perspective…”

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Mr. Universe. Lonely Hearts and Einstein in Love: The Personal Side of Science

Mr. Universe. Lonely Hearts and Einstein in Love: The Personal Side of Science is a feature-length profile of former New York Times science editor and now self-dubbed “cosmic correspondent” Dennis Overbye. It details Overbye’s development as a science writer, his adventures at CERN, and his experience intimately covering the scientists behind major discoveries in cosmology from Alan Sandage to the Higgs Boson.

Read the full article (PDF).


Masters of the Universe and other characters from the heart of Texas in July


In blistering Texas summer heat, the Mayborn Tribe gathers each summer in north Texas to talk about the craft, learn from each other and soak up the spirit of nonfiction writing.

This year’s event was centered around Narratives on the Cutting Edge, Writing about Science, Technology, Medicine and Innovation. Last year’s event dealt with digging into the past to bring historical narratives to life.
Both were rich themes with space to explore, share insight and dig into the down-and-dirty of nonfiction. In the middle of three days of mayhem, there’s a suit-and-tie (or boots and jeans, depending on how Texan you are) Literary Lights Dinner and Mayborn awards program, just a few ticks from rivaling the Pulitzers.

The Mayborn contest has categories in newspaper, essay, manuscript, and
reported narrative, hand-crafted trophies, $12,000 in cash prizes, competitors from nearly every major American newspaper and winners from as far away as New Zealand. This year’s Literary Lights included a live auction of signed first-editions of Larry McMurtry’s books and an online auction of tens of other signed first-editions of Mayborn speakers-past as a celebration of the tenth anniversary 2014 Mayborn Litearary Nonfiction Conference. Continue reading


“You can’t breathe in air with 7,000 micrograms of sulfur dioxide.”

[Image: The nickel smelting plant in Nikel, Russia located just over the Norwegian border produces pollution that has been a problem for northern Norwegians for decades and is nearly six times the amount of pollution produced in all of Norway. Photo by Amelia Jaycen.]

Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology on Tuesday told representatives of “MMC” Norilsk Nickel of the planned decommissioning some of Nikel plant rundown facilities by 2016 and reorganization of metallurgical production at the Monchegorsk plant, which must be upgraded and modernized, the ministry said in a press release yesterday. Monchegorsk is owned by the same company and located some two-hour drive south of Murmansk on the Kola Peninsula.

The program involves modernization and renovation of all stages of processing and consolidation of smelting and refining capacity to a more modern venue including technological upgrading and expansion of refinery at Monchegorsk during 2016-2017. Capital investments in the program total more than 50 billion rubles, the release says.

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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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Minister of fisheries goes king crab fishing on Fish Nation tour

[Images & slideshow by Amelia Jaycen]

Minister of Fisheries Elisabeth Aspaker went on her first king crab fishing trip in Bugøynes Saturday for the conclusion of Fish Nation, a five-week seafood tour up the Norwegian coast to celebrate the rich variety of fish products available in Norway. At each stop along the way from Oslo to Kirkenes, Bergen-based chef and owner of Lysverket restaurant Christopher Haatuft studied and prepared local seafood while the Fish Nation team interviewed local fishermen and documented the towns, people, food and recipes.

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Thin Line Film Fest expands with 100 films, music, photo contest coming soon

[Image: Josh Butler outside the Campu Theater marquee. Photo by Amelia Jaycen]

When Josh Butler took an energetic leap of faith toward his dream, he didn’t exactly land on his feet. It was more like a really bummed film junkie who landed in bankruptcy court. Staring at the floor he shook his head, “Why! Why did we just have to have limos for all the filmmakers?”

Making the great Texas film festival was going to take more than spastic enthusiasm, but Butler learned his lesson: Don’t spend money you don’t have. The festival and the nonprofit he created to run it, Texas Filmmakers Association, survived intact while he swallowed a $40,000 debt. But since that 2007 Thin Line Film Fest left him broke, the festival has nearly doubled its revenue each year.

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