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NSF's Rules of Life

Wed, 09/04/2019 - 3:00am
NSF documentary about working toward a better life for everyone by solving the riddle of predicting phenotype

New way for bridges to withstand earthquakes: Support column design

Wed, 09/04/2019 - 3:00am

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Bridges make travel faster and more convenient, but, in an earthquake, these structures are subject to forces that can cause extensive damage and make them unsafe. Now civil and environmental engineer Petros Sideris of Texas A&M University is leading a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded research project to investigate the performance of hybrid sliding-rocking (HSR) columns. HSR columns provide the same support as conventional bridge infrastructure columns but are more earthquake-resistant. HSR columns are a series of individual concrete segments held together by steel cables that allow for controlled sliding and rocking. This allows the columns to shift without damage, while post-tensioning strands ensure that at the end of an earthquake the columns are pushed back to their original position. Conventional bridges are cast-in-place monolithic concrete elements that are strong but inflexible. Structural damage in these bridge columns, typically caused by a natural disaster, often forces a bridge to close until repairs are completed. But bridges with HSR columns can withstand large earthquakes with minimal damage and require minor repairs, likely without bridge closures. Such infrastructure helps with post-disaster response and recovery and can save thousands in taxpayer dollars. In an earthquake, HSR columns provide "multiple advantages to the public," Sideris said. "By preventing bridge damage, we can maintain access to affected areas immediately after an event for response teams to be easily deployed, and help affected communities recover faster. In mitigating losses related to post-event bridge repairs and bridge closures, more funds can be potentially directed to supporting the recovery of the affected communities." According to Joy Pauschke, NSF program director for natural hazards engineering, "NSF invests in fundamental engineering research so that, in the future, the nation's infrastructure can be more resilient to earthquakes, hurricanes, and other forces of nature."

Image credit: Texas A&M University

Virtual 'UniverseMachine' sheds light on galaxy evolution

Wed, 09/04/2019 - 3:00am

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How do galaxies such as our Milky Way come into existence? How do they grow and change over time? The science behind galaxy formation has long been a puzzle, but a University of Arizona-led team of scientists is one step closer to finding answers, thanks to supercomputer simulations. Observing real galaxies in space can only provide snapshots in time, so researchers who study how galaxies evolve over billions of years need to use computer simulations. Traditionally, astronomers have used simulations to invent theories of galaxy formation and test them, but they have had to proceed one galaxy at a time. Peter Behroozi of the university's Steward Observatory and colleagues overcame this hurdle by generating millions of different universes on a supercomputer, each according to different physical theories for how galaxies form. The findings challenge fundamental ideas about the role dark matter plays in galaxy formation, the evolution of galaxies over time and the birth of stars. The study is the first to create self-consistent universes that are exact replicas of the real ones -- computer simulations that each represent a sizeable chunk of the actual cosmos, containing 12 million galaxies and spanning the time from 400 million years after the Big Bang to the present day. The results from the "UniverseMachine," as the authors call their approach, have helped resolve the long-standing paradox of why galaxies cease to form new stars even when they retain plenty of hydrogen gas, the raw material from which stars are forged. The research is partially funded by NSF's Division of Physics through grants to UC Santa Barbara's Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics and the Aspen Center for Physics.

Image credit: NASA/ESA/J. Lotz and the HFF Team/STScI

A new way to measure how water moves

Wed, 09/04/2019 - 3:00am

The National Science Foundation: Creating knowledge to transform our future

Wed, 09/04/2019 - 3:00am
The National Science Foundation: Creating knowledge to transform our future

NSF's Listening to the Arctic

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 3:00am
NSF documentary about the race against nature to understand and meet the challenges of the rapidly changing Arctic

New sensors to monitor storm surge on bridges

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 3:00am
New sensors to monitor storm surge on bridges

Technique uses magnets, light to control and reconfigure soft robots

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 3:00am

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National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded researchers from North Carolina State and Elon universities have developed a technique that allows them to remotely control the movement of soft robots, lock them into position for as long as needed and later reconfigure the robots into new shapes. The technique relies on light and magnetic fields. "By engineering the properties of the material, we can control the soft robot's movement remotely; we can get it to hold a given shape; we can then return the robot to its original shape or further modify its movement; and we can do this repeatedly. All of those things are valuable, in terms of this technology's utility in biomedical or aerospace applications," says Joe Tracy, a professor of materials science and engineering at NC State and corresponding author of a paper on the work. In experimental testing, the researchers demonstrated that the soft robots could be used to form "grabbers" for lifting and transporting objects. The soft robots could also be used as cantilevers or folded into "flowers" with petals that bend in different directions. "We are not limited to binary configurations, such as a grabber being either open or closed," says Jessica Liu, first author of the paper and a Ph.D. student at NC State. "We can control the light to ensure that a robot will hold its shape at any point."

Image credit: Jessica A.C. Liu

Scientists recover the first genetic data from an extinct bird in the Caribbean

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 3:00am

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Scientists have recovered the first genetic data from an extinct bird in the Caribbean, thanks to the remarkably preserved bones of a Creighton's caracara in a flooded sinkhole on Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas. Studies of ancient DNA from tropical birds have faced two formidable obstacles. Organic material quickly degrades when exposed to heat, light and oxygen. And birds' lightweight, hollow bones break easily, accelerating the decay of the DNA within. But the dark, oxygen-free depths of a 100-foot blue hole known as Sawmill Sink provided ideal preservation conditions for the bones of Caracara creightoni, a species of large carrion-eating falcon that disappeared soon after humans arrived in the Bahamas about 1,000 years ago. Florida Museum of Natural History researcher Jessica Oswald and her colleagues extracted and sequenced genetic material from the 2,500-year-old C. creightoni femur. Because ancient DNA is often fragmented or missing, the team had modest expectations for what they would find –- maybe one or two genes. But instead, the bone yielded 98.7% of the bird's mitochondrial genome, the DNA most living things inherit from their mothers. The mitochondrial genome showed that C. creightoni is closely related to the two remaining caracara species alive today: the crested caracara and the southern caracara. The three species last shared a common ancestor between 1.2 and 0.4 million years ago. "This project enhanced our understanding of the ecological and evolutionary implications of extinction, forged strong international partnerships, and trained the next generation of researchers," says Jessica Robin, a program director in National Science Foundation's Office of International Science and Engineering, which funded the study.

Image credit: Florida Museum photo by Kristen Grace

4 awesome discoveries you probably didn't hear about this week -- Episode 32

Sat, 08/31/2019 - 3:00am
4 awesome discoveries you probably didn't hear about this week -- Episode 32

Preparing Technicians for the Future of Work

Fri, 08/30/2019 - 3:00am
Silver Buckshot: A micro-credentials approach to training and education

NSF Science Now: Episode 65

Fri, 08/30/2019 - 3:00am
NSF Science Now: Episode 65