Category Archives: science

Atoms can be in two places at once

A Jan. 20, 2015 news item on Nanowerk offers a brief history of quantum mechanics,

Can a penalty kick simultaneously score a goal and miss? For very small objects, at least, this is possible: according to the predictions of quantum mechanics, microscopic objects can take different paths at the same time. The world of macroscopic objects follows other rules: the football always moves in a definite direction. But is this always correct? Physicists of the University of Bonn have constructed an experiment designed to possibly falsify this thesis. Their first experiment shows that Caesium atoms can indeed take two paths at the same time.

Almost 100 years ago physicists Werner Heisenberg, Max Born und Erwin Schrödinger created a new field of physics: quantum mechanics. Objects of the quantum world – according to quantum theory – no longer move along a single well-defined path. Rather, they can simultaneously take different paths and end up at different places at once.

A Jan. 20, 2015 Universität Bonn (University of Bonn) press release, which originated the news item, describes both the experiment and the thought process which led to the experiment,

At the level of atoms, it looks as if objects indeed obey quantum mechanical laws. Over the years, many experiments have confirmed quantum mechanical predictions. In our macroscopic daily experience, however, we witness a football flying along exactly one path; it never strikes the goal and misses at the same time.

“There are two different interpretations,” says Dr. Andrea Alberti of the Institute of Applied Physics of the University of Bonn. “Quantum mechanics allows superposition states of large, macroscopic objects. But these states are very fragile, even following the football with our eyes is enough to destroy the superposition and makes it follow a definite trajectory.”

But it could also be that footballs obey completely different rules than those applying for single atoms. “Let us talk about the macro-realistic view of the world,” Alberti explains. “According to this interpretation, the ball always moves on a specific trajectory, independent of our observation, and in contrast to the atom.”

In collaboration with Dr. Clive Emary of the University of Hull in the U.K., the Bonn team has come up with an experimental scheme that may help to answer this question. “The challenge was to develop a measurement scheme of the atoms’ positions which allows one to falsify macro-realistic theories,” adds Alberti.

The physicists describe their research in the journal “Physical Review X:” With two optical tweezers they grabbed a single Caesium atom and pulled it in two opposing directions. In the macro-realist’s world the atom would then be at only one of the two final locations. Quantum-mechanically, the atom would instead occupy a superposition of the two positions.

“We have now used indirect measurements to determine the final position of the atom in the most gentle way possible,” says the PhD student Carsten Robens. Even such an indirect measurement (see figure) significantly modified the result of the experiments. This observation excludes – falsifies, as Karl Popper would say more precisely – the possibility that Caesium atoms follow a macro-realistic theory. Instead, the experimental findings of the Bonn team fit well with an interpretation based on superposition states that get destroyed when the indirect measurement occurs. All that we can do is to accept that the atom has indeed taken different paths at the same time.

“This is not yet a proof that quantum mechanics hold for large objects,” cautions Alberti. “The next step is to separate the Caesium atom’s two positions by several millimetres. Should we still find the superposition in our experiment, the macro-realistic theory would suffer another setback.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Ideal negative measurements in quantum walks disprove theories based on classical trajectories by Carsten Robens, Wolfgang Alt, Dieter Meschede, Clive Emary, und Andrea Alberti. Physical Review X, 20.1.2015 (DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevX.5.011003)

This is an open access paper,

Part-time job at the Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology (SCWIST)

The Vancouver-based Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology (SCWIST) has a part-time, contract position available. From the SCWIST Coordinator – MS Infinity Program job page,

The Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology (SCWIST) is a non-profit association that promotes, encourages and empowers women and girls in science, engineering and technology. Ms Infinity programs introduce girls to exciting career options and female role models in science and technology. Conferences and workshops with fun filled activities bring science alive. Girls are introduced to jobs from all areas of science and get the support they need when deciding how to take their interest in science further with e-mentor and role model programs.

POSITION OVERVIEW & KEY RESPONSIBILITIES

Title: Coordinator – MS Infinity Program
Type: Part-time contract (12 – 18 hours per week)
Start: ASAP
Application deadline: January 20, 2015
Reports to: Director of Outreach
Time Commitment:  This is a 6-month contract, to be renewed based on grant funding

Coordination and promotion of ms infinity programming:

  • Volunteer recruitment and management
  • Volunteer training, development and communication (quarterly e-newsletter)
  • Preparation of promotional material and marketing of the program
  • Organization of and communication with the ms infinity committee
  • Communication with workshop/ event/ conference organizers
  • Promotion of ms infinity offerings to SCWIST members
  • Assistance in workshop, event and conference organization
  • Research of new workshop and event possibilities to extend the reach of ms infinity
  • Development of new educational workshops
  • Grant application, reporting and budget management

Coordination of the e-mentoring program:

  • Program administration
  • Recruitment of mentors and mentees
  • Organization of discussion topics

Qualifications:

  • A degree in science or education
  • Experience in informal science education and program coordination
  • Positive, enthusiastic attitude
  • Ability to present the Society well in the science learning and promotion community
  • Strong organizational and communication skills
  • Self-motivated with attention to detail
  • Experience in event organization and management, as well as experience managing budgets
  • Excellent knowledge in MS Office and social media tools

Additional application information is on the job page.

An effective, affordable bedbug (detection and monitoring) solution from Simon Fraser University (Vancouver, Canada)

According to the Simon Fraser University (SFU) Dec. 22, 2014 news release (on EurekAlert but dated as Dec. 23, 2014 and on ScienceDaily as a Dec. 24, 2014 news item) a new solution for detecting and monitoring bedbugs will be on the market next year (2015) and I imagine that if it’s as effective and affordable as they claim huge sighs of relief and much shouting of joy will accompany the product launch (Note: Links have been removed),

The world owes a debt of gratitude to Simon Fraser University biologist Regine Gries. Her arms have provided a blood meal for more than a thousand bedbugs each week for five years while she and her husband, biology professor Gerhard Gries, searched for a way to conquer the global bedbug epidemic.

Working with SFU chemist Robert Britton and a team of students, they have finally found the solution—a set of chemical attractants, or pheromones, that lure the bedbugs into traps, and keep them there.

This month, after a series of successful trials in bedbug-infested apartments in Metro Vancouver, they have published their research, Bedbug aggregation pheromone finally identified, in Angewandte Chemie, a leading general chemistry journal.

They’re working with Victoria-based Contech Enterprises Inc. to develop the first effective and affordable bait and trap for detecting and monitoring bedbug infestations. They expect it to be commercially available next year.

The news release describes the research issues in more detail,

“The biggest challenge in dealing with bedbugs is to detect the infestation at an early stage,” says Gerhard, who holds an NSERC-Industrial Research Chair in Multimodal Animal Communication Ecology.

“This trap will help landlords, tenants, and pest-control professionals determine whether premises have a bedbug problem, so that they can treat it quickly. It will also be useful for monitoring the treatment’s effectiveness.”

It’s a solution the world has been waiting for.

Over the last two decades the common bedbug (Cimex lectularius), once thought eradicated in industrialized countries, has reappeared as a global scourge. These nasty insects are infesting not just low-income housing but also expensive hotels and apartments, and public venues such as stores, movie theatres, libraries and even public transit.

And while these blood-sucking pests were previously not considered a carrier of disease, scientists have recently discovered they can transmit the pathogen that causes Chagas disease, which is prevalent in Central and South America. Yet until now, tools for detecting and monitoring these pests have been expensive and technically challenging to use.

The news release also provides a backgrounder describing the research process,

The Gries’ began their research eight years ago when Gerhard, who is internationally renowned for his pioneering work in chemical and bioacoustic communication between insects, began searching for pheromones that could lure and trap bedbugs.

Regine worked with him, running all of the lab and field experiments and, just as importantly, enduring 180,000 bedbug bites in order to feed the large bedbug colony required for their research. She became the unintentional “host” because, unlike Gerhard, she is immune to the bites, suffering only a slight rash instead of the ferocious itching and swelling most people suffer.

The Gries’ and their students initially found a pheromone blend that attracted bedbugs in lab experiments, but not in bedbug-infested apartments. “We realized that a highly unusual component must be missing—one that we couldn’t find using our regular gas chromatographic and mass spectrometric tools,” says Gerhard.

That’s when they teamed up with Britton, an expert in isolating and solving the structure of natural products, and then synthesizing them in the lab. He used SFU’s state-of-the-art NMR [nuclear magnetic resonance] spectrometers to study the infinitesimal amounts of chemicals Regine had isolated from shed bedbug skin, looking for the chemical clues as to why the bedbugs find the presence of skin so appealing in a shelter.

It was like looking for a needle in a haystack.

After two years of frustrating false leads, Britton, his students and the Gries duo finally discovered that histamine, a molecule with unusual properties that eluded identification through traditional methods, signals “safe shelter” to bedbugs. Importantly, once in contact with the histamine, the bedbugs staid put whether or not they have recently fed on a human host.

Yet, to everyone’s disbelief, neither histamine alone nor in combination with the previously identified pheromone components effectively attracted and trapped bedbugs in infested apartments. So Regine began analyzing airborne volatile compounds from bedbug faeces as an alternate source of the missing components.

Five months and 35 experiments later, she had found three new volatiles that had never before been reported for bedbugs. These three components, together with two components from their earlier research and, of course, histamine, became the highly effective lure they were seeking.

Their research isn’t over yet, however. They continue to work with Contech Enterprises to finalize development of the commercial lure—which means Regine is still feeding the bedbugs every week. “I’m not too thrilled about this,” admits Regine, “but knowing how much this technology will benefit so many people, it’s all worth it.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the research paper,

Bed Bug Aggregation Pheromone Finally Identified by Regine Gries, Prof. Robert Britton, Michael Holmes, Huimin Zhai, Jason Draper, and Prof. Gerhard Gries. Angewandte Chemie International Edition DOI: 10.1002/anie.201409890 Article first published online: 21 DEC 2014

© 2014 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim

This article is behind a paywall.

For anyone curious about Contech (this project’s industry partner), here’s more from the company’s About Contech page,

Contech was founded in 1987 as a small, Canadian company dedicated to designing, manufacturing, and marketing innovative and environmentally-friendly products for the pet and garden industries. Over the years, we have grown our selection – through acquisitions and mergers with like-minded organizations – to add a range of products for Christmas, forestry, agriculture and pest management markets.

The acquisitions of Pherotech International in 2008 and green pest management pioneer, Tanglefoot in 2009, helped to solidify our commitment to providing unique and convenient products to the growing non-toxic pest management market.  In 2011, we purchased three additional companies:  G&B Pet Products, Christmas Mountain Manufacturing and Rainforest Sprinklers, adding additional pet products, Christmas tree stands and accessories, and a water-saving line of sprinklers to the mix.

While still headquartered in Victoria, British Columbia (BC), our growing company oversees an amazing science and innovation team at its Vancouver, BC location, a world-class operations and production group at the original Tanglefoot building in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a Christmas products production facility in Perth Andover, New Brunswick and a pet sales office in Vista, California.

Through our growth, Contech has maintained a dedication to serving the needs of our customers at all levels of our organization. Our customer service team (made up of real people) responds to phone and online enquiries in real time, our in-house marketing professionals are committed to helping grow the businesses of our retail partners, and our sales representative are the direct link to retailers and distributors.

Deux Seurats: one (was an artist) and one (is an inquiry into scientifically sound alternatives to animal testing)

It must have been a moment of artistic madness which led to naming one of the European Union’s biggest projects dedicated to finding alternatives to animal testing, SEURAT-1. (Note: [1] All references used for this post are listed at the end. [2] There is a full disclosure statement after the references.)

Georges Seurat, a French post-impressionist painter, left no record that he was ever concerned with animal testing although he could be considered the ‘patron saint of pixels’ due to paintings which consist of dots rather than strokes.

Le Cirque (1891) by Georges Seurat in the Musée d'Orsay [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH; downloaded from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Georges_Seurat_019.jpg

Le Cirque (1891) by Georges Seurat in the Musée d’Orsay [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH; downloaded from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Georges_Seurat_019.jpg

Still, the idea of painstakingly constructing a picture dot by dot seems curiously similar to the scientific process where years of incremental gains in knowledge and understanding lead to new perspectives on the world around us. In this case, the change of perspective concerns the use of animals in testing for toxicological effects of medications, cosmetics, and other chemical goods intended for humans.

Animal testing dates back to back to the third and fourth centuries BCE (before the common era) although the father of vivisection, Galen, a Greek physician, doesn’t make an appearance until 2nd-century CE in Rome. More recently, we have an Arab physician, Avenzoar (Ibn Zuhr), in 12th-century Moorish Spain to thank for introducing animal experimentation as a means of testing surgical procedures.

The millenia-old practice of animal testing, surgical or otherwise, has presented a cruel conundrum. The tests have been our best attempt to save human lives and reduce human misery, albeit, at the cost of the animals used in the tests.

Social discomfort over animal-testing is rising internationally and thankfully, it looks like animal testing is in decline as alternatives and improvements (animal physiology is not perfectly equivalent to human physiology) are adopted. Alternatives and improvements have made possible actions such as the

  • European Union’s (EU) March 2013 ban on the sale of animal-tested cosmetics from anywhere in the world; there was an earlier 2009 ban on the sale of animal-tested cosmetics from anywhere in the EU,
  • China’s July 2014 announcement that animal-testing for cosmetics produced domestically is no longer required,
  • Israel’s 2013 ban on importing and marketing of cosmetics tested on animals,
  • India’s bans on cruel animal testing in India’s laboratories (2013) and on importing animal-tested cosmetics (Oct. 2014)

There are also a number of outstanding (as of December 2014) legislative proposals regarding animal-testing and cosmetics in countries such as Australia, Brazil, Taiwan, New Zealand, and the US.

However, cosmetics are only one product type among many, many chemical products. For example, medications, which rely on animal-testing for safety certification. Despite recent victories, the process of dismantling the animal-testing systems in place is massive, complex, and difficult even with support and encouragement from various government agencies, civil society groups, scientists, and various international organizations.

Well-entrenched national and international regulatory frameworks make animal testing mandatory prior to releasing a product into the marketplace. Careful thought, assurances to policy makers and the general public, and confidence that replacement regimes will be equivalent to the old system to the old system of animal-testing are necessary.

Strangely, assuring even sophisticated thinkers can prove surprisingly difficult, David Ropeik, a former Director of Communications for Harvard University’s Center for Risk Analysis and currently an international consultant and speaker on risk analysis, wrote in a Sept. 2014 post for The Big Think about the EU’s 2013 ban on cosmetics testing on animals,

But people use lotions and toothpastes and deodorants and perfumes repeatedly. We  expose ourselves everyday to hundreds of human-made chemicals, and some of those substances, which also fall under the European ban on animal testing for cosmetics, have the potential to do deeper damage, like cancer, or reproductive damage to the developing fetus. And there are no reliable replacement tests for those serious outcomes.

This now-banned animal testing for the systemic risks from repeated exposure to these everyday products was also a source of important information on the health effects of industrial chemicals generally. Results from cosmetic testing become part of the library of what we know about how industrial chemicals might harm us, no matter what products they’re in.

So the European community has eliminated a way for science to study the risk of industrial chemicals…because it feels right to consider the rights of animals. [emphasis mine] We have done what feels right, but in the process, without realizing it, we have made it harder to figure out how to keep ourselves safe.

Ropeik doesn’t substantiate his comment about the EU community acting from ‘feelings’ or discuss how current alternatives are inferior to animal testing or offer data about how this ban has made the earth a more dangerous place for humans. Meanwhile, more jurisdictions are limiting or eliminating testing of cosmetics on animals while an international competition which has already developed new techniques is underway to find yet more alternatives. SEURAT-1 the main European Union project, designed to carry out a set of scientific inquiries to facilitate the transition to animal testing alternatives where possible. It is organized around seven interlinked projects (or borrowing from Georges, seven dots):

  •  SCR&Tox (Stem Cells for Relevant efficient extended and normalized TOXicology): Stem cell differentiation for providing human-based organ specific target cells to assay toxicity pathways in vitro
  • Hepatic Microfluidic Bioreactor (HeMiBio): Developing a hepatic microfluidic bioreactor to mimick the complex structure and function of the human liver (liver-on-a-chip)
  • Detection of endpoints and biomarkers for repeated dose toxicity using in vitro systems (DETECTIVE): Identifying and investigating human biomarkers in cellular models for repeated dose in vitro testing
  • Integrated In Silico Models for the Prediction of Human Repeated Dose Toxicity of COSMetics to Optimise Safety’ (COSMOS): Integrating and delivering of a suite of computational tools to predict the effects of long-term exposure to chemicals in humans based on in silico calculations
  • Predicting long term toxic effects using computer models based on systems characterization of organotypic cultures (NOTOX): Developing systems biological tools for organotypic human cell cultures suitable for long term toxicity testing and the identification and analysis of pathways of toxicological relevance
  • Supporting Integrated Data Analysis and Servicing of Alternative Testing Methods in Toxicology (ToxBank): Data management, cell and tissue banking, selection of “reference compounds” and chemical repository
  • Coordination of projects on new approaches to replace current repeated dose systemic toxicity testing of cosmetics and chemicals (COACH): Cluster level coordinating and support action or this could be called, Administration

As SEURAT-1 nears its sunset date in 2015 (it is a five-year, 50M Euro project started in 2011), there are successes to celebrate. For example, Emma Davies in her article titled, Alternative test data publicly available; ToxBank data warehouse (Sept. 4, 2014 for Chemical Watch) notes that ToxBank, includes data from SEURAT-1’s “gold” standard reference compounds which have documented liver, kidney, and cardio toxicity. As well, data sets from a comprehensive 2012 liver toxicity study supplied by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (the EU’s research hub and laboratory) have been added. ToxBank has also negotiated with Open TG-Gates, a Japanese toxicogenomics data resource and with ToxCast and Tox21, two US high-throughput screening programmes to add their data to the ToxBank data warehouse. Meanwhile, the warehouse’s data is publicly available on request.

COSMOS, the other data-oriented member of the SEURAT-1 cluster, should provide a good starting point for in silico studies (computer simulations) as it now boasts information on some 19,000 cosmetics-related substances, including toxicity data for more than 12,000 studies according to Davies’ article, Critical toxicity pathways at heart of Seurat-1 follow on (Sept. 11, 2014 for Chemical Watch).

While we can take Ropeik’s point that animal testing has been an important element in ensuring drug and chemical safety, the move to limit or ban animal testing for cosmetics has been over 50 years in the making and this current wave of regulatory changes has been approached cautiously. There may be some unforeseen consequences both good and bad to these bans on animal testing but to remain mired in the procedures and processes of the past is to deny an improved future for humans and the animals we have used for testing.

References

Pointillism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pointillism

History of animal testing

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternatives_to_animal_testing

2013 EU ban ban on animal testing for cosmetics

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-21740745

http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/archive/sectors/cosmetics/animal-testing/index_en.htm

More legislation on cosmetics testing

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Testing_cosmetics_on_animals

India ban

http://www.hsi.org/news/press_releases/2014/10/animal-tested-cosmetics-import-ban-india-101414.html

China ban

http://www.care2.com/causes/its-official-china-ends-mandatory-animal-testing-for-cosmetics.html

EU 2013 one year later

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/monica-engebretson/celebrating-the-first-ann_b_4994028.html

David Ropeik’s credentials and resistance to eliminating animal-testing

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Ropeik

http://utility.prod.bigthink.com/risk-reason-and-reality/the-ban-on-animal-testing-morally-right-emotionally-appealing-but-dangerous

SEURAT-1

http://www.seurat-1.eu/

Cluster projects

http://www.seurat-1.eu/pages/cluster-projects.php

Emma Davies, Sept. 4, 2014 article (not behind a paywall)

http://chemicalwatch.com/21061/alternative-test-data-publicly-available

Emma Davies, Sept. 11, 2014 article  (behind a paywall)

http://chemicalwatch.com/register?o=21147&productID=1

Reference to cosmetics ban being over 50 years in the making

https://www.nc3rs.org.uk/the-3rs

The principles of the 3Rs (Replacement, Reduction and Refinement) were developed over 50 years ago as a framework for humane animal research.

Johns Hopkins Centre for Alternatives to Animal Testing (CAAT)

Resource list (http://caat.jhsph.edu/resources/) includes (and more):

Full disclosure: (1) SEURAT-1 paid for my flight, lodging, and attendance at WC9, the 9th World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences. (2) I have written about alternatives to animal testing prior to any knowledge of SEURAT-1.

Could there be a quantum internet?

We’ve always had limited success with predicting future technologies by examining current technologies. For example, the Internet and World Wide Web as we experience them today would have been unthinkable for most people in the 1950s when computers inhabited entire buildings and satellites were a brand new technology designed for space exploration not bouncing communication signals around the planet. That said, this new work on a ‘quantum internet’ from Eindhoven University of Technology is quite intriguing (from a Dec. 15, 2014 news item on Nanowerk),

In the same way as we now connect computers in networks through optical signals, it could also be possible to connect future quantum computers in a ‘quantum internet’. The optical signals would then consist of individual light particles or photons. One prerequisite for a working quantum internet is control of the shape of these photons. Researchers at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) and the FOM foundation  [Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter] have now succeeded for the first time in getting this control within the required short time.

A Dec. 15, 2014 Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) press release, which originated the news item, describes one of the problems with a ‘quantum internet’ and the researchers’ solution,

Quantum computers could in principle communicate with each other by exchanging individual photons to create a ‘quantum internet’. The shape of the photons, in other words how their energy is distributed over time, is vital for successful transmission of information. This shape must be symmetric in time, while photons that are emitted by atoms normally have an asymmetric shape. Therefore, this process requires external control in order to create a quantum internet.

Optical cavity

Researchers at TU/e and FOM have succeeded in getting the required degree of control by embedding a quantum dot – a piece of semiconductor material that can transmit photons – into a ‘photonic crystal’, thereby creating an optical cavity. Then the researchers applied a very short electrical pulse to the cavity, which influences how the quantum dot interacts with it, and how the photon is emitted. By varying the strength of this pulse, they were able to control the shape of the transmitted photons.

Within a billionth of a second

The Eindhoven researchers are the first to achieve this, thanks to the use of electrical pulses shorter than nanosecond, a billionth of a second. This is vital for use in quantum communication, as research leader Andrea Fiore of TU/e explains: “The emission of a photon only lasts for one nanosecond, so if you want to change anything you have to do it within that time. It’s like the shutter of a high-speed camera, which has to be very short if you want to capture something that changes very fast in an image. By controlling the speed at which you send a photon, you can in principle achieve very efficient exchange of photons, which is important for the future quantum internet.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Dynamically controlling the emission of single excitons in photonic crystal cavities by Francesco Pagliano, YongJin Cho, Tian Xia, Frank van Otten, Robert Johne, & Andrea Fiore. Nature Communications 5, Article number: 5786 doi:10.1038/ncomms6786 Published 15 December 2014

This is an open access paper.

ETA Dec. 16, 2014 at 1230 hours PDT: There is a copy of the Dec. 15, 2014 news release on EurekAlert.

Solving an iridescent mystery could lead to quantum transistors

iridescence has fascinated me (and scores of other people) since early childhood and it’s fascinating to note that scientists seems almost as enchanted as we amateurs are. The latest bit of ‘iridescent’ news comes from the University of Michigan in a Dec. 5, 2014 news item on ScienceDaily,

An odd, iridescent material that’s puzzled physicists for decades turns out to be an exotic state of matter that could open a new path to quantum computers and other next-generation electronics.

Physicists at the University of Michigan have discovered or confirmed several properties of the compound samarium hexaboride that raise hopes for finding the silicon of the quantum era. They say their results also close the case of how to classify the material–a mystery that has been investigated since the late 1960s.

A Dec. 5, 2014 University of Michigan news release, which originated the news item, provides more details about the mystery and the efforts to resolve it,

The researchers provide the first direct evidence that samarium hexaboride, abbreviated SmB6, is a topological insulator. Topological insulators are, to physicists, an exciting class of solids that conduct electricity like a metal across their surface, but block the flow of current like rubber through their interior. They behave in this two-faced way despite that their chemical composition is the same throughout.

The U-M scientists used a technique called torque magnetometry to observe tell-tale oscillations in the material’s response to a magnetic field that reveal how electric current moves through it. Their technique also showed that the surface of samarium hexaboride holds rare Dirac electrons, particles with the potential to help researchers overcome one of the biggest hurdles in quantum computing.

These properties are particularly enticing to scientists because SmB6 is considered a strongly correlated material. Its electrons interact more closely with one another than most solids. This helps its interior maintain electricity-blocking behavior.

This deeper understanding of samarium hexaboride raises the possibility that engineers might one day route the flow of electric current in quantum computers like they do on silicon in conventional electronics, said Lu Li, assistant professor of physics in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and a co-author of a paper on the findings published in Science.

“Before this, no one had found Dirac electrons in a strongly correlated material,” Li said. “We thought strong correlation would hurt them, but now we know it doesn’t. While I don’t think this material is the answer, now we know that this combination of properties is possible and we can look for other candidates.”

The drawback of samarium hexaboride is that the researchers only observed these behaviors at ultracold temperatures.

Quantum computers use particles like atoms or electrons to perform processing and memory tasks. They could offer dramatic increases in computing power due to their ability to carry out scores of calculations at once. Because they could factor numbers much faster than conventional computers, they would greatly improve computer security.

In quantum computers, “qubits” stand in for the 0s and 1s of conventional computers’ binary code. While a conventional bit can be either a 0 or a 1, a qubit could be both at the same time—only until you measure it, that is. Measuring a quantum system forces it to pick one state, which eliminates its main advantage.

Dirac electrons, named after the English physicist whose equations describe their behavior, straddle the realms of classical and quantum physics, Li said. Working together with other materials, they could be capable of clumping together into a new kind of qubit that would change the properties of a material in a way that could be measured indirectly, without the qubit sensing it. The qubit could remain in both states.

While these applications are intriguing, the researchers are most enthusiastic about the fundamental science they’ve uncovered.

“In the science business you have concepts that tell you it should be this or that and when it’s two things at once, that’s a sign you have something interesting to find,” said Jim Allen, an emeritus professor of physics who studied samarium hexaboride for 30 years. “Mysteries are always intriguing to people who do curiosity-driven research.”

Allen thought for years that samarium hexaboride must be a flawed insulator that behaved like a metal at low temperatures because of defects and impurities, but he couldn’t align that with all of its other properties.

“The prediction several years ago about it being a topological insulator makes a lightbulb go off if you’re an old guy like me and you’ve been living with this stuff your whole life,” Allen said.

In 2010, Kai Sun, assistant professor of physics at U-M, led a group that first posited that SmB6 might be a topological insulator. He and Allen were also involved in seminal U-M experiments led by physics professor Cagliyan Kurdak in 2012 that showed indirectly that the hypothesis was correct.

“But the scientific community is always critical,” Sun said. “They want very strong evidence. We think this experiment finally provides direct proof of our theory.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the researchers’ latest paper,

Two-dimensional Fermi surfaces in Kondo insulator SmB6 by G. Li, Z. Xiang, F. Yu, T. Asaba, B. Lawson, P. Cai1, C. Tinsman, A. Berkley, S. Wolgast, Y. S. Eo, Dae-Jeong Kim, C. Kurdak, J. W. Allen, K. Sun, X. H. Chen, Y. Y. Wang, Z. Fisk, and Lu Li. Science 5 December 2014: Vol. 346 no. 6214 pp. 1208-1212 DOI: 10.1126/science.1250366

This paper is behind a paywall.

Become a Higgs Hunter (anyone can do it)

The Higgs you’d be hunting is a Higgs boson; the one that was confirmed to worldwide jubilation in 2012. (For anyone not familiar with the Higgs, I have a Dec. 14, 2011 post which provides a introductory video from the US Fermi Lab along with more information.)

Thanks to David Bruggeman and a Nov. 29, 2014 post on his Pasco Phronesis blog I have additional details about this citizen science, aka, crowdsourced science, project,

If you accept the assignment, Higgs Hunters will provide you several particle images from the ATLAS detector at CERN.  Mark any tracks that are off-centre in the images and move on to the next.  The tracks represent decay of exotic particles, particles that could have resulted from the decay of the Higgs boson.

Here’s more from a Science Magazine Nov. 26, 2014 posting (Note: Links have been removed),

Today [Nov. 26, 2014] marks the beginning of your chance to hunt for tiny explosions that could eventually lead to entirely new physics. Head to higgshunters.org to help scientists analyze 25,000 images from CERN’s particle collider, but be warned, you’ll be looking for evidence of the Higgs boson’s death. Some scientists believe that when the Higgs boson decays, it leaves behind other, completely new particles. …

Higgshunters.org has prepared its own video introduction to the project,

For those who prefer text, Higgs Hunters has this to say on its Introductory page,

In 2012, the world of Particle Physics rejoiced with the discovery of the long sought after Higgs boson particle. But this is just the beginning. In our search for answers to the most fundamental questions about the nature of reality, we are looking for your help in finding evidence of new physics beyond our current understanding. Through searching for exotic decays (particles falling apart in unexpected ways) in the Large Hadron Collider’s particle collisions, you can be a part of the next great revolution in Physics. The LHC’s computer programs were not designed to look for these decays, but we are willing to bet that a keen pair of human eyes can. So how about it, are you ready to change our understanding of the world?

On its How you can help page, the Higgs Hunters scientists describe the magnitude of the project and The Zooniverse (a citizen science organization), which is providing the platform for this project Note: Links have been removed,

Particle colliders produce a huge amount of data – so large in fact that the world-wide web was invented at CERN so scientists could share the data with each other to handle it. CERN now has a global computing grid of 170 computing centres in 40 countries trawling through the data, but computers are far from perfect. Unlike the human brain, which is naturally curious and excellent at pattern recognition, computer programs can only find what they have been taught how to find.

The Zooniverse has a rich history of making new discoveries that computers had completely missed (some older members will recall the excitement surrounding ‘Hanny’s Voorwerp’ found by a citizen scientist working on the Galaxy Zoo project). In this spirit, we need your help to look for the weird and wonderful secrets hiding in the LHC data. In doing so, you will also be teaching our computers how to better spot exotic particle events, speeding up the process of future scientific discoveries! To do this Higgs Hunters shows you a combination of simulated and real data. We need to understand what kind of events can be ‘detected’ using this site, and so we include computer-generated data as well as real data. You’ll be told after each classification if it was a simulation.

With your help, we can collectively improve our understanding of the universe. The next new discovery is waiting to be found!

Good luck!

I last mentioned The Zooniverse and citizen science in a Nov. 19, 2014 post about the upcoming American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) 2015 meeting in California. Citizen science will be discussed in presentations at the meeting and also at the  Citizen Science Association’s first conference (which is being held as a pre-AAAS 2015 meeting conference).

December 2014 issue of the Nano Bite (from the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network) features last day (Dec. 1, 2014) to apply for NanoDays 2015 physical kit and a bit about a medieval cleric who* ‘unwove’ light

Depending on your timezone, there are still a few hours left to submit an online application for a NanoDays 2015 physical kit. From a Sept. 15, 2014 posting by Catherine McCarthy for NISENet (Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network),

Apply now for a NanoDays 2015 physical kit!
NanoDays 2015 will be held from March 28 through April 5, 2015. NanoDays is a week of community-based educational outreach events to raise public awareness of nanoscale science, technology and engineering throughout the United States. NanoDays kits are currently in production and will be ready for distribution in early 2015. We invite you to fill out an online application for a physical kit containing all of the materials and resources you need to start planning your community events; applications are due December 1, 2014.

 

We’re in Year 10 of funding for NISE Net, what’s going to happen to NanoDays?

This is the final NanoDays physical kit that will be funded through the current NISE Net award. Beyond 2015, we encourage you to continue to host NanoDays and strengthen local partnerships by using this kit (and any previous kits you have). We’ve set dates for the next five years to promote national participation in NanoDays in the years to come.

Future NanoDays will be held:

  • 2016: March 26-April 3
  • 2017: March 25-April 2
  • 2018: March 31-April 8
  • 2019: March 30-April 7
  • 2020: March 28-April 5

The NISE Network leadership is seeking opportunities to continue NanoDays after 2015, so stay tuned for further information!

Who can participate in NanoDays?
NanoDays kits are intended for use in public events; most host organizations are informal science education institutions and public outreach programs of nanoscience research centers. We invite you and your organization to participate in NanoDays 2015, whether or not you have previous experience with nano-related public outreach activities.

For anyone unfamiliar with the NanoDays programs, the post goes on to provide more details.

Here’s more about the upcoming International Year of Light (IYL)  mentioned in my Nov. 7, 2014 post,

What’s Nano about Light?
The United Nations has declared that 2015 is the International Year of Light (IYL) and light-based technologies. This global initiative helps to highlight for the public the importance of light and optical technologies in ones’ everyday life and it’s role in the development of society and the future. Endorsed by the International Council of Science, the International Year of Light 2015 has more than 100 partners from more than 85 countries!

Are you looking for ways to get involved?

There’s this tidbit about a special event featuring the University of Vermont physics department, light, and a local watershed (from the newsletter),

A Bi-Polar Affair Captivates Visitors with EnLIGHTening Nanoscale Science

By Luke Donforth, The University of Vermont

The University of Vermont (UVM) Physics Department and ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center have a long collaborative relationship, through which the NISE Network has provided an excellent framework to help strengthen and deepen. Although an institution of formal learning, UVM values and contributes to informal education in the surrounding community.

Recently, the UVM Physics Department and ECHO received a NISE Net mini-grant to develop a daylong event outside the purview of NanoDays. ECHO focuses on the Lake Champlain watershed, and the Physics Department wanted to show how basic science is a useful tool for investigating, understanding, and caring for the lake and world around us. Light, and specifically polarization, gave us a unifying theme to bring a number of activities and concepts to ECHO. Visible light, something most museum visitors have experience with, has wavelengths in the hundreds of nanometers. This provides a comfortable entry point to familiarize visitors with “nano,” and from there we can highlight how interacting with light at the length scale of its wavelength allows us to investigate both light and the world around us.

….

Polarization, the orientation of components of light, provides a tool with uses ranging from telling the time of day to monitoring invasive species in Lake Champlain. As an example of the later, Professor J. Ellen Marsden (an ichthyologist with UVM’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources and long-time ECHO collaborator) supplied samples of larval zebra mussels from Lake Champlain. Zebra mussels, an invasive species actively monitored in the lake, are more easily distinguished and detected earlier with the thoughtful application polarized light.

We’re going to be hearing a lot more about light as we gear up for 2015. Meanwhile, you can read the entire December 2014 issue of the Nano Bite here.

In keeping with my previous comment, there’s this bit about a medieval cleric who helped us to understand light and optics. From a Nov. 27, 2014 posting by Michael Brooks, on the Guardian science blog, concerning his recent participation in a Festival of Humanities event held at the medieval Durham Cathedral,

Robert Grosseteste was a medieval pioneer of science. And, despite having died in 1253, the good bishop is up for an award on Thursday night [Nov. 27, 2014]. The shortlist for the Times Higher Education’s 2014 Research Project of the Year includes the researchers from Durham University who laid on last week’s activities in the cathedral’s Chapter House and Deanery, and they openly describe Grosseteste as one of their collaborators.

They made this clear in a paper they published in the prestigious journal Nature Physics in July. The scientists are re-examining Grosseteste’s work, and finding he made contributions to the field of optics that have yet to be assimilated into the canon of science. So they’ve come on board to help complete the record.

Grosseteste’s insight into the physics of rainbows has, for instance, enabled the researchers in the Ordered Universe collaboration to create a new co-ordinate system for colour. Anyone who has tried to calibrate a computer monitor knows that we now talk in terms of hue (a particular ratio of red, green and blue), saturation and brightness. Examination of Grosseteste’s writings has inspired an equally valid rainbow-based colour system.

It is based on the angle through which sunlight is scattered by the water drops, the “purity” of the medium – related to the size of the water drops – and the distance of the sun above the horizon. Grosseteste’s three-dimensional scheme outlines what Durham physicist Tom McLeish calls “the space of all possible rainbows”.

Here’s an image of a rainbow over Durham Cathedral,

 Rainbow over Durham Cathedral by StephieBee [downloaded from https://www.flickr.com/photos/visitengland/galleries/72157625178514241/]


Rainbow over Durham Cathedral
by StephieBee [downloaded from https://www.flickr.com/photos/visitengland/galleries/72157625178514241/]

Here’s where you can find more of StephieBee‘s work.

Sadly, GrosseTeste did not win top prize but I’m sure if he were still around, he’d say something like, “It was an honour to be nominated and I thank God.” As for the Festival of Humanities (Being Human), there’s more here about its 2014 inaugural year.

*Changed ‘on’ to ‘who’ in headline on Dec. 2, 2014.

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) 2015 meeting in San Jose, CA from Feb. 12 -16, 2014

The theme for the 2015 American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting is Innovations, Information, and Imaging and you can find the program here. A few of the talks and presentations caught my eye and I’m starting with the plenary lectures as these reflect, more or less, the interpretation of the theme and set the tone for the meeting.

Plenary lectures

President’s Address
Thursday, 12 February 2015: 6:00 PM-7:30 PM

Dr. Gerald Fink’s work in genetics, biochemistry, and molecular biology has advanced our understanding of gene regulation, mutation, and recombination. He developed a technique for transforming yeast that allowed researchers to introduce a foreign piece of genetic material into yeast cells and study the inheritance and expression of that DNA. [emphasis mine] The technique, fundamental to genetic engineering, laid the groundwork for the commercial use of yeast as biological factories for manufacturing vaccines and other drugs, and set the stage for genetic engineering in all organisms. Fink chaired a National Research Council Committee that produced the 2003 report Biotechnology Research in an Age of Terrorism: Confronting the Dual Use Dilemma, recommending practices to prevent the potentially destructive application of biotechnology research while enabling legitimate research. …

I did not include Dr.Fink’s many, many professional attributes but rest assured Dr. Fink has founded at least one research group, received many professional honours, and has multiple degrees.

Back to the plenary lectures,

Daphne Koller: The Online Revolution: Learning Without Limits
Plenary Lecture
Friday, 13 February 2015: 5:00 PM-6:00 PM

Dr. Daphne Koller is the Rajeev Motwani Professor in the Department of Computer Science at Stanford University and president and co-founder of Coursera, an online education platform. Her research focus is artificial intelligence and its applications in the biomedical sciences. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Koller completed her Ph.D. at Stanford under the supervision of Joseph Halpern and performed postdoctoral research at University of California, Berkeley. She was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2004 and was awarded the first ACM-Infosys Foundation Award in Computing Sciences. She co-authored, with Nir Friedman, a textbook on probabilistic graphical models and offered a free online course on the subject. She and Andrew Ng, a fellow Stanford computer science professor, launched Coursera in 2012. Koller and Ng were recognized on the 2013 Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world.

David Baker: Post-Evolutionary Biology: Design of Novel Protein Structures, Functions, and Assemblies

Plenary Lecture

Saturday, 14 February 2015: 5:00 PM-6:00 PM

Dr. David Baker is a biochemist and computational biologist whose research focuses on the prediction and design of macromolecular structures and functions. He is the director of the Rosetta Commons, a consortium of labs and researchers that develop the Rosetta biomolecular structure prediction and design program, which has been extended to the distributed computing project Rosetta@Home and the online computer game Foldit. He received his Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of California, Berkeley and completed postdoctoral work in biophysics at University of California, San Francisco. Baker has received numerous awards in recognition of his work, including the AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize; the Sackler International Prize in Biophysics; the Overton Prize from the International Society of Computational Biology; the Feynman Prize from the Foresight Institute; and the Centenary Award from the Biochemical Society. He is an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[emphasis mine]

I found the mention of the Foresight Institute (a nanotechnology organization founded by Eric Drexler and Christine Petersen) quite interesting. The title of Baker’s presentation certainly brings to mind, synthetic biology.

Back to the plenary lectures,

Neil Shubin: Finding Your Inner Fish
Plenary Lecture
Monday, 16 February 2015: 8:30 AM-9:30 AM

Dr. Neil Shubin is a paleontologist and evolutionary biologist who researches the origin of animal anatomical features. He has done field work in Greenland, Africa, Asia, and North America. One of his discoveries, Tiktaalik roseae, has been described as the “missing link” between fish and land animals. He has also done important work on the developmental biology of limbs, and he uses his diverse fossil findings to devise hypotheses on how anatomical transformations occurred by way of genetic and morphogenetic processes. He is a fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He earned a Ph.D. in organismic and evolutionary biology from Harvard University. Shubin’s popular science book Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body was adapted for a PBS documentary series in 2014.

Here are a few presentations from the main program; this first one is a ‘conference within a conference’,

Citizen Science 2015, Day One
Pre-registration required
Wednesday, 11 February 2015: 8:30 AM-5:00 PM

Citizen science is a partnership between everyday people and professional scientists to investigate pressing questions about the world. Citizen Science 2015 invites anyone interested in such collaborations to participate in a two-day pre-conference before the AAAS Annual Meeting. All involved in any aspect of citizen science are welcome, including researchers, project leaders, educators, evaluators, designers and makers, volunteers, and more–representing a wide variety of disciplines. Join people from across the field of citizen science to discuss designing, implementing, sustaining, evaluating, and participating in projects. Share your project innovations and questions. Citizen Science 2015 is the inaugural conference and gathering of the newly formed Citizen Science Association (CSA). For additional information, including Citizen Science Conference registration, visit www.citizenscienceassociation.org.

Revolutionary Vision: Implants, Prosthetics, Smart Glasses, and the Telescopic Contact Lens
Friday, 13 February 2015: 8:00 AM-9:30 AM

According to the World Health Organization, 285 million people are estimated to be visually impaired worldwide. Age-related macular degeneration alone is the leading cause of blindness among older adults in the western world. These facts leave no question as to why the brightest minds in science and engineering are setting their sights on vision through new electronics, retinal prosthesis, wearable technologies, and even telescopic contact lenses. Researchers are bringing into focus novel electronics such as systems on plastic, which are deformable and implantable, zero-power, and wireless and have numerous applications for sight and vision. Retinal prosthesis combined with video goggles pulsing near-infrared light, meanwhile, have restored up to half of normal acuity in rats. This symposium showcases and demos the latest prototypes tackling form as well as function: smart glasses with novel display architecture that make them small and light while maintaining an optimal field of view. These breakthroughs not only help subjects see but also hold promise for noninvasive continuous monitoring of eye health. Scientists will reveal the first-ever telescopic contact lens, which magnifies 2.8 times and offers hope for millions suffering from macular degeneration and seeking alternatives to bulky glasses and invasive surgery. These advances reveal the great promise that science holds for the visually impaired — truly a sight to behold.
Organizer:
Megan Williams, swissnex
Co-organizers:
Christian Simm, swissnex
and Melanie Picard, swissnex
Moderator:
Christian Simm, swissnex
Speakers:
Daniel Palanker, Stanford University
Restoration of Sight with Photovoltaic Subretinal Prosthesis
Eric Tremblay, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL)
Smart Glasses and Telescopic Contact Lenses for Macular Degeneration
Giovanni Antonio Salvatore, ETH Zurich
The Next Technological Leap in Electronics

Celebration of 2015: The International Year of Light
Friday, 13 February 2015: 8:30 AM-11:30 AM

In recognition that light-based science and technologies play a critical role in our daily lives, the United Nations passed a resolution declaring 2015 the International Year of Light. The UN resolution states that “applications of light science and technology are vital for existing and future advances in medicine, energy, information and communications, fiber optics, astronomy, agriculture, archaeology, entertainment, and culture.” Hundreds of science and engineering organizations across the globe signed on in support of the International Year of Light 2015 and will be raising awareness of light-based science and technology throughout the year. This symposium brings together speakers from diverse fields to illustrate the many sectors that are influenced by optics and photonics.
Organizer:
Martha Paterson, The Optical Society (OSA)
Co-organizers:
Anthony Johnson, University of Maryland
and Phil Bucksbaum, Stanford University
Moderator:
Anthony Johnson, University of Maryland
Speakers:
Elizabeth Hillman, Columbia University
Optics in Neuroscience
Warren Warren, Duke University
Applying Nonlinear Laser Microscopy to Melanoma Diagnosis and Renaissance Art Imaging
Uwe Bergmann, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
X-Ray Laser Research: Lighting Our Future
Alan Eli Willner, University of Southern California
Optical Communications
Christopher Stratas , Flextronics
LED Lighting and Energy Efficiency
R. Rox Anderson, Harvard Medical School
Lasers in Medicine

I last mentioned the upcoming International Year of Light in a Nov. 7, 2014 post about the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISENet) newsletter. For anyone who has difficulty connecting nano with light, remember the Lycurgus Cup (Sept. 21, 2010 post) infused with gold and silver nanoparticles and which appears either green or red depending on how the light is shone?

Back to the programme,

The Future of the Internet: Meaning and Names or Numbers?
The Future of Computing
Friday, 13 February 2015: 10:00 AM-11:30 AM

Information-centric networking (ICN) is a new, disruptive technology that holds the promise of eliminating many of the internet’s current technical shortcomings. The idea is based on two simple concepts: addressing information by its name rather than by its location, and adding computation and memory to the network, especially at the edge. The implications for network architects are far reaching and offer both elegant solutions and perplexing implementation challenges. The field of ICN research is active, including hundreds of projects at leading academic, industrial, and government laboratories around the world. This session will explore the motivations and current state-of-the-art in ICN research from multiple perspectives and approaches. The speakers in this session have contributed to every facet of the internet’s evolution since its inception.
Organizer:
Glenn T. Edens, PARC Xerox
Co-Organizer:
J.J. Garcia-Luna-Aceves, University of California, Santa Cruz
Speakers:
Vinton Cerf, Google Inc.
Digital Vellum
David Oran, Cisco Systems
Information-Centric Networking: Is It Ready for Prime Time? Will It Ever Be?
Glenn T. Edens, PARC Xerox
Information-Centric Networking: Towards a Reliable and Robust 21st Century Internet

It seems odd that the speakers come from industry/business exclusively.

Comics, Zombies, and Hip-Hop: Leveraging Pop Culture for Science Engagement
Friday, 13 February 2015: 1:00 PM-2:30 PM

Access to quality scientific information is progressively more important in society today. The critical ways information can be used range from increasing scientific literacy and developing the public’s understanding of behaviors that promote health and well-being, to increasing interest in careers in science and success in school — particularly among students traditionally underrepresented in the sciences. Traditional forms of scientific communication — textbooks, talks, and articles in the lay press — succeed at reaching some, but leave many others in the dark. Recent research also indicates that scientists have a narrow view of outreach, mostly considering it as simply giving a talk at a school. However, new forms of culturally relevant engagement for K-12 students are emerging — comic books with rich scientific content that have been demonstrated to increase student engagement, novel workshops (for settings in and out of school) that interweave STEM  exploration with creative writing to build students’ scientific and written literacy, and connecting hip-hop culture and the classroom through rap — while engaging students as co-teachers and translators to help their peers learn science.
Organizer:
Rebecca L. Smith, University of California
Co-Organizer:
Kishore Hari, University of California
Moderator:
Rebecca L. Smith, University of California
Speakers:
Judy Diamond, University of Nebraska State Museum
Engaging Teenagers with Science Through Comics
Julius Diaz Panoriñgan, 826LA
Developing Multiple Literacies with Zombies, Space Exploration, and Superheroes
Tom McFadden, Nueva School
Science Rapping from Auckland to Oakland

Tom McFadden, one of the speakers, has been mentioned here on more than one occasion (most recently in a May 30, 2014 post).

Back to the program,

Citizen Science from the Zooniverse: Cutting-Edge Research with 1 Million Scientists
Friday, 13 February 2015: 1:30 PM-4:30 PM

Citizen science (CS) involves public participation and engagement in scientific research in a way that makes it possible to perform tasks that a small number of researchers could not accomplish alone, makes the research more democratic, and potentially educates the participants. Volunteers simply need access to a computer or tablet to become involved and assist research activities. The presence of massive online datasets and the availability of high-speed internet access provide many opportunities for citizen scientists to work on projects analyzing and interpreting data — especially images — in astronomy, biology, climate science, and other fields. The growing phenomenon of CS has drawn the interest of social scientists who study the efficacy of CS projects, motivations of participants, and applications to industry and policymaking. CS clearly has considerable potential in the era of big data. Galaxy Zoo is an example of a successful CS project; it invites volunteers to visually classify the shapes and structures of galaxies seen in images from optical surveys. The project resulted in catalogs of hundreds of thousands of classified galaxies, allowing for novel statistical analyses and the identification of rare objects. Its popularity led to the Zooniverse, a suite of projects in a diverse and interdisciplinary range of fields. This symposium will demonstrate how CS is becoming a vital tool and highlight the work of a variety of researchers.
Organizer:
Ramin A. Skibba, University of California
Speakers:
Laura Whyte, Adler Planetarium
Introduction to Citizen Science and the Zooniverse
Brooke Simmons, University of Oxford
The Scientific Impact of Galaxy Zoo
Alexandra Swanson, University of Minnesota
Photographing Carnivores with Snapshot Serengeti
Kevin Wood, University of Washington
Old Weather: Studying Historical Weather Patterns with Ship Logbooks
Paul Pharoah, University of Cambridge
Contributing to Cancer Research with Cell Slider
Philip Marshall, Stanford University
Using Space Warps To Find Gravitational Lenses

The Zooniverse has been mentioned here before, most recently in a March 17, 2014 post about the TED 2014 conference held in Vancouver (Canada),

Robert Simpson talked about citizen science, the Zooniverse project, and astronomy.  I have mentioned Zooniverse here (a Jan. 17, 2012 posting titled: Champagne galaxy, drawing bubbles for science and a Sept. 17, 2013 posting titled: Volunteer on the Plankton Portal and help scientists figure out ways to keep the ocean healthy.  Simpson says there are 1 million people participating in various Zooniverse projects and he mentioned that in addition to getting clicks and time from people, they’ve also gotten curiosity. That might seem obvious but he went on to describe a project (the Galaxy Zoo project) where the citizen scientists became curious about certain phenomena they were observing and as a consequence of their curiosity an entirely new type of galaxy was discovered, a pea galaxy. From the Pea Galaxy Wikipedia entry (Note: Links have been removed),

A Pea galaxy, also referred to as a Pea or Green Pea, might be a type of Luminous Blue Compact Galaxy which is undergoing very high rates of star formation.[1] Pea galaxies are so-named because of their small size and greenish appearance in the images taken by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS).

Pea Galaxies were first discovered in 2007 by the volunteer users within the forum section of the online astronomy project Galaxy Zoo (GZ).[2]

Here’s the last presentation I’m featuring in this post and it has a ‘nano’ flavour,

Beyond Silicon: New Materials for 21st Century Electronics
Saturday, 14 February 2015: 8:00 AM-9:30 AM

Silicon Valley gets its name from the element found at the heart of all microelectronics. For decades, pure silicon single crystals have been the basis for computer chips. But as chips become smaller and faster, doubling the number of transistors on integrated circuits every two years in accordance with Moore’s law, silicon is nearing its practical limits. Scientists are exploring radical new materials and approaches to take over where silicon leaves off — from graphene, a honeycombed sheet of carbon just one atom thick, to topological insulators that conduct electricity perfectly on their surfaces and materials that use the electron’s spin, rather than its charge, to store information. Beyond graphene, scientists are investigating relatively new types of two-dimensional materials that have graphene-like structures and are also semiconducting, making them a natural fit for advanced electronics. This session will describe theoretical and experimental progress in materials beyond silicon that hold promise for continued improvement in computer performance.
Organizer:
Glennda Chui, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
Discussant:
Shoucheng Zhang, Stanford University
Speakers:
Stuart S.P. Parkin, IBM Research
Spintronic and Ionitronic Materials and Devices
Joshua Goldberger, Ohio State University
Beyond Graphene: Making New Two-Dimensional Materials for Future Electronics
Elsa Reichmanis, Georgia Institute of Technology
Active Organic and Polymer Materials for Flexible Electronics

There are some very intriguing presentations and one theme not featured here: data visualization (several presentations about visualizing data and/or science can be found). you can explore for yourself, here’s the online program.