All posts by crparks3@gmail.com

NRMN/Kat Milligan-Myhre

“I’m hoping that [NRMN] continues for a while,” says Dr. Kat Milligan-Myhre, believing it will increase the amount of tenured professors from under-represented groups in STEM.

Milligan-Myhre is an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Alaska Anchorage, and was excited when the NIH scored the R15 grant application she submitted in February to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. That enthusiasm paled in comparison to the feeling she had when she was informed in early December that the grant she had resubmitted in October had been awarded.

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Grassroots Science Detectives Solve Arsenic Mystery

In 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) added the Iron King Mine Humboldt Smelter Superfund site in Dewey-Humboldt, Arizona, to its National Priorities List. Concerned if they could safely eat vegetables grown in their gardens, local citizens met with EPA officials. To answer that question, the medically underserved and low-income community received help from Monìca Ramìrez-Andreotta — then a doctoral student and a Superfund Research Program training fellow at the University of Arizona. But instead of taking the matter entirely in her hands, Ramìrez-Andreotta coordinated and collaborated with residents to analyze local arsenic levels and the potential risk to the vegetable gardeners in what would become the Gardenroots project.

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Feb. 20, 1962: First American Orbits Earth

REPRINTED FROM SPACENEWS
Originally posted: 19 February 2008

WASHINGTON — By the end of 1961 the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union had heated up.

In August of that year, the Soviets sent up their second orbital flight, with Cosmonaut Gherman Titov aboard, while the United States had completed just two suborbital flights. Feeling the pressure, NASA decided to advance its flight schedule by dropping a third planned suborbital flight and instead accelerating its upcoming orbital mission.

That was good news for John Glenn, who had been disappointed to be picked to be the third U.S. astronaut in space behind Alan Shepard and Virgil “Gus” Grissom. Glenn may not have been the first U.S. astronaut in space, but the affable pilot became the first U.S. astronaut to orbit the Earth after his Mercury capsule, dubbed Friendship 7, launched Feb. 20, 1962, from Cape Canaveral, Fla., aboard an Atlas rocket.

Glenn was a Marine fighter pilot who flew 59 combat missions during World War II and 63 combat missions during the Korean War. He also had served as a test pilot and as an advanced flight training instructor. In July 1957, Glenn achieved fame for setting a transcontinental flight time record by flying from Los Angeles to New York in three hours and 34 minutes.
In April 1959, Glenn was among the seven U.S. astronauts selected to launch into space for Project Mercury. The “Mercury Seven” also included Shepard, Grissom, Wally Schirra, Scott Carpenter, Donald “Deke” Slayton and Gordon Cooper.

NASA’s original plan was to have an open call to select astronauts for Project Mercury, but U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower made the decision to use military test pilots instead.

The Mercury Seven were assigned to the Space Task Group based in Hampton, Va.

Over the next few years the group received training in various simulations, parabolic flights, pressure suits, survival skills and communications. They also took academic courses including space science, engineering and physiology. The astronauts were assigned areas of specialty to help design the Mercury capsule.
Glenn was responsible for the layout of the cockpit.

“The astronauts’ specialty assignments had some direct affect on the redesign of the Mercury suit, cockpit layout and the capsule hatch and window systems,” the NASA History Web site said.

Glenn’s flight originally was scheduled for December 1961, but inclement weather and technical problems with the capsule resulted in a series of launch delays. Finally, his Friendship 7 capsule was launched into space the following February.

Aside from a minor error that kept the capsule out of its proper orbital attitude for 38 seconds, the launch and the early part of them flight were nominal.

Glenn noted a dust storm over Africa’s west coast, the electric lights of two cities – Perth and Rockingham, Australia – and the quick onset of sunrise and sunset.

But at the end of the first orbit, Glenn lost control of an attitude control jet, which meant the capsule became like a car with its wheel alignment out of balance, the NASA History Web site said.

Glenn was forced to override the automatic control system – the Mercury capsules were designed to be primarily automated spacecraft – for manual control. He was able to maintain control but could not complete some of his observational assignments, and piloting manually meant the rate of fuel consumption increased.

However, the next reported problem was more serious. A landing-system monitor signaled to the ground that the capsule’s heat shield was not locked into place, meaning it was only being held in place by the overlying retro-rocket package. Without Mercury’s heat shield, the capsule would disintegrate during re-entry – along with Glenn.

After weighing their options, officials at the control center decided that instead of ejecting the retro-rocket package after readying the landing gear as is typically done, they would keep it in place and thus maintain the heat shield, the NASA History Web site said.

Mercury chief designer Maxime Faget approved of that course of action, as long as the retro-rockets were exhausted; any leftover fuel probably would ignite upon re-entry, the NASA History Web site said.

Although not immediately informed of the perceived danger, Glenn became suspicious of a problem when tracking stations kept asking him if his landing-bay deploy switch was turned off, the NASA History Web site said.

“We are recommending that you leave the retro package on during the entire re-entry,” the control center said, according to the 1963 U.S. National Archives documentary film “The John Glenn Story.”

During re-entry Glenn saw the retro-pack breaking into pieces and thought it was the heat shield and that he would be next, according to the NASA History Web site.

Fortunately, he was wrong. Glenn splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean safely after the nearly five-hour flight.

The heat shield was later found to have been locked firmly into place – its sensor simply had malfunctioned.

Untangling fibril formation and dissociation in Parkinson’s disease

Prions are a type of protein gone wrong. The complex three-dimensional structure of a prion’s progenitor protein has been altered, somehow causing it to no longer function as expected. Worse, the malformation of these progenitor proteins into prions causes them to aggregate into amyloid plaques that can result in a disease state. Prions are responsible for an odd sort of protein-caused infectious neurodegenerative diseases like Mad Cow disease and scrapie in livestock.

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What now for science?

What follows is a reprinting of the editorial penned by AAAS CEO Rush Holt originally printed in the Nov. 17 edition of Science found here.

 

Rush Holt

Chief Executive Officer of AAAS and Executive Publisher of the Science journals

Faced with the uncertainty of what the 2016 U.S. presidential election means for science, we may find some reassurance in understanding that the health of the nation’s scientific enterprise depends on much more than the attitudes of the particular person who is president. We must not forget that members of Congress and other national, state, local, and international officials also make policy and collectively constitute a considerable force that is in many ways more influential than the president alone. There is now important work to do ensuring that all citizenry, including the president, understand the powerful benefits of science and that decisions made with scientific input are more likely to succeed.

As the nation readies for a transition in leadership, an immediate question for most scientists is federal funding for government science agencies in the coming years. Here, there is actually less uncertainty. Congress, for several years, has been on a “sequestration” path that, without a substantial turnover in Congress’s majorities (as there was not), will reduce the fraction of the budget for discretionary funding, which includes science funding. The election thus preserves a trend whose reversal might have been hoped for, but was always unlikely.

A truer uncertainty is the role of science advice in the new administration. President-elect Trump’s wish to drive economic progress and thereby improve people’s lives cannot come about without advancing science, technology, innovation, and an education system that prepares a capable workforce. He would be wise to appoint a science adviser who is a respected scientist or engineer. The adviser should be fully integrated into the most senior decision-making processes not just on topics with an obvious science connection such as infectious-disease response, but on many matters with science and technology embedded, including diplomacy, cybersecurity, agriculture, advanced manufacturing, and resilient infrastructure.

Beyond research funding and science advice, there is much more that determines the health of the scientific enterprise. Will the U.S. join other nations in collaborative research in which there is full access to data and free exchange of researchers? Will scientists be appointed throughout the agencies? Will government scientists be able to speak freely about their research? In regulatory agencies, will accepted scientific findings be given precedence over political influence? Will financial and tax policies reward science-based activities in the private and public sectors? Most important, will the next administration be evidence-based?

Over recent decades, a disturbing trend in the U.S. government has been for ideological assertions to crowd out evidence. This trend accelerated with this year’s campaign in which candidate Trump made statements that were unsubstantiated or contradicted by accepted scientific facts. Will there be members in the new administration who are familiar with the practices and findings of scientific investigation?

What are scientists to do? Certainly at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), following a tradition nearly 170 years old, we will advocate forcefully that science be fully and positively integrated into public policy making. Science need not be politically partisan. Given that the economic and technological benefits of research are appealing to citizens across the political spectrum, science can bridge differences. The openness and directness of scientists’ communication can be unwelcome to politicians, but the scientific community must present its best understanding of relevant evidence clearly, directly, and without condescension. We must make clear that an official cannot wish away what is known about climate change, gun violence, opioid addiction, fisheries depletion, or any other public issue illuminated by research.

This election is said to have been about rejecting the political establishment. We cannot let that mean rejecting established facts. We hope that President Trump will be more grounded in specific facts than was candidate Trump and pay more attention to the process of careful, open vetting of hypotheses and claims.

Grant Writing Coaches Discuss their Experience Teaching NRMN Rising Scientists

As a psychologist, Denise Dillard has made a career of providing mental health care to the Alaskan community she comes from. She teaches the subject as an adjunct at Alaska Pacific University and heads the research department at Southcentral Foundation, a health and wellness provider for Alaska Native and American Indian people living in Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, and nearby villages. But she has seen too few fellow Alaskan Native STEM professionals — she is of Inupiaq heritage — so she jumped at the chance to be a coach for the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) when her long-time mentors and GUMSHOE directors Dedra Buchwald and Spero Manson asked. The GUMSHOE program (or Grantwriting Uncovered: Maximizing Strategies, Help, Opportunities, Experiences) is one of four NRMN models that teach groups of postdocs and early career researchers how to write competitive grants.

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That’s No Space Station: How Mars’ “Death Star” Moon Got its Crater

With its signature crater, the largest of Mars’ two moons, Phobos, is sometimes called the Death Star, calling to mind the “technological terror” prominent in the Star Wars films. The moon has not only spurred the public’s imagination, but that of astrophysicists as well. Many had wondered how the impact that created such a huge crater could have done so without destroying the entire body. At nine kilometers in diameter, the crater, Stickney, takes up a huge amount of the moon’s surface—for scale, the entire moon is only 70 kilometers around.

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Choosing a Lab: Mentor First, Science Second

Sometimes the best way to teach is by example. Personal stories can sometimes be more impactful than lecturing on best practices alone. 

After negative lab experiences while pursuing research careers, Dina Myers Stroud, Research Assistant Professor in the Departments of Physics and Medicine at Vanderbilt University and Executive Director of the Fisk-Vanderbilt Masters to PhD Bridge Program, and Marcela Hernandez, Graduate/STEM Diversity Director at The Ohio State University, both adopted a seemingly counter-intuitive solution: choose the mentor over the science. Now in their administrative roles they’re preaching this gospel to would-be scientists.

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Seawater as a Solar Fuel Cell Source

A team of Japanese and South Korean researchers has pioneered a way to use seawater to obtain hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) instead of using pure water as a solar fuel. Their paper, “Seawater usable for production and consumption of hydrogen peroxide as a solar fuel,” was published in the May 4 edition of Nature Communications. “It is highly desired to utilize the most earth-abundant seawater instead of precious pure water for the practical use of H2O2 as a solar fuel,” the researchers said in the paper.

 

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The Challenge of Hardware Startups

Founding any new business is extremely difficult and more hard work than most people can imagine. Founding a new technology-based business is arguably tougher than that, and founding a tech hardware (rather than software) venture even tougher than that. But perhaps the toughest of all is developing and scaling a technology-based hardware venture in remote areas with scarce resources for the benefit people living in extreme poverty.

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