News and Updates

09/13/2013

Two of only five research projects funded from a 2013 National Science Foundation Frontiers in Earth Systems Dynamics (NSF-FESD) grant program are led by, or have primary researchers from ASU.

ASU is the lead institution in a project investigating why Earth’s atmosphere changed from one nearly devoid of oxygen to its current oxygen-rich state. Lead investigator and President’s Professor Ariel Anbar is a professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Other ASU researchers include David Bell, Ed Garnero, Hilairy Hartnett, Allan McNamara, Tom Sharp, Dan Shim and Everett Shock – all part of the School of Earth and Space Exploration – along with Sheri Klug Boonstra (director of the ASU Mars Education Program) and English professor Mark Hannah.

The second project looks at the geology of paleolakes in eastern Africa to study ancient climate change and ultimately what that might tell us about how climate affected the development of human ancestors. This research is led by the University of Arizona with lead ASU researchers Chris Campisano, research associate with the Institute of Human Origins and assistant professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, and Kaye Reed, research associate with the Institute of Human Origins and professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change. Campisano and Reed are joined by Ramon Arrowsmith, professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

This is the second set of grants for the NSF-FESD program, which is awarding $28 million to five projects focusing on “high risk, high return” research. The goals of the FESD program are to foster an interdisciplinary and multiscale understanding of the interplay among and within the subsystems at work on Earth and to catalyze research in geoscience areas poised for major advances.

The dynamics of Earth system oxygenation

Today, the breathable air we enjoy consists of 21 percent oxygen, in the form of the molecule O2. However, that was not always the case. During the first half of Earth’s history, O2 was nearly absent from the atmosphere and oceans. Then, some 2.45 billion years ago, the level of atmospheric oxygen began to rise – referred to as the “Great Oxidation Event” (GOE).

In the past decade, Anbar and his team have narrowed down the exact timing of this transition to the modern, O2-rich environment. This new $5 million, five-year project, supported by a research team consisting of investigators from five institutions – ASU, MIT, UC Riverside, U. Washington and U. Maryland – will focus on solving the mystery of what caused the rise of atmospheric O2.

“To go from a planet nearly devoid of oxygen at the surface to one that has abundant oxygen is one of the most remarkable transformations that earth has undergone,” said Anbar, a biogeochemist. “It paved the way for our form of life. It’s embarrassing, but we don’t understand why it happened. We don’t even have a solid community consensus as to the cause.”

Anbar’s team will refine and test a number of hypotheses proposed in the past decade.

“Many textbooks say that the rise of oxygen was due to the evolution of photosynthesis. It’s true that photosynthesis is a necessary condition to build up an O2-rich atmosphere, but it’s not sufficient. That’s because over geologic time, the O2 produced by biology is consumed by reactions with rocks and volcanic gases that come from the Earth’s O2-poor interior. So the amount of O2 in the atmosphere doesn’t just depend on biology. It depends on the solid Earth,” explains Anbar.

In their attempt to solve the mystery, Anbar and his researchers will integrate models of atmospheric chemistry, records of Earth's surface O2 history developed from inorganic and organic geochemical proxies, laboratory calibrations of these proxies, geochemical analyses of samples from the lithosphere and mantle, seismic reconstructions of Earth's interior structure, geodynamic models of mantle mixing and evolution, thermodynamic calculations and findings from mineral physics experiments.

In short, this isn’t a one-man job.

Earth system dynamics and its role in human evolution in Africa

Understanding the relationship between Earth history and human evolution is an enduring challenge of broad scientific and public interest. Scientists studying the effect of ancient climate change and human evolution have had to depend on local, but incomplete terrestrial records, or analysis of deep ocean cores collected a considerable distance from where major hominin fossils – the ancient remains of human ancestors – have actually been found.

The Hominin Sites and Paleolakes Drilling Project (HSPDP), funded in part by the NSF-FESD award, comprises a multinational research effort with researchers led by Andrew Cohen of the University of Arizona, ASU and 22 other institutions that will help scientists to better understand the dynamics that link climatic and evolutionary histories. The total continuing grant award will be nearly $4.8 million, with $1.2 million as ASU’s portion of the funding.

After over eight years of planning, five sites have been identified in Kenya and Ethiopia that are in close proximity and geologically and chronologically related to time periods critical to human evolution over the last four million years. Two of the Kenyan sites were successfully drilled in the summer of 2013 with funding from other sources.

“Correlations between environmental change and human evolutionary history have often been made with very broad strokes and assume that global climate changes affected all of eastern Africa and in similar ways,” said Campisano, scientific project manager for the HSPDP. “Obtaining these high-resolution, high-sensitivity records documenting when and how environmental fluctuations impacted the landscapes where human ancestors lived is the necessary first step to test a variety of current hypotheses of human evolution.”

Campisano, Reed and Arrowsmith will lead the scientific team in the Northern Awash River Valley in the Afar region of Ethiopia, close to where the 3.2 million year old fossil skeleton, Australopithecus afarensis, popularly known as “Lucy,” was discovered in 1974 by Institute of Human Origins founding director Don Johanson. They will assess the environmental record in the lake system that was active adjacent to the riverine landscape in which the animals lived.

(Nikki Cassis & Julie Russ)

Photo: A rough outline of the abundance of O2 in the atmosphere through time, in term of the percent of the present atmosphere ("PAL"). Today, about 20 percent of the atmosphere is O2. During the first half of Earth's history, before the Great Oxidation Event, it is generally thought that O2 was only present in trace amounts. Anbar and other scientists are trying to figure out when O2 first appeared, and how its abundance varied over time. Photo by: Figure modified after Kump, 2008 (modified by Sue Selkirk, ASU).

09/13/2013

The border region of southern Arizona and Sonora, Mexico faces the sustainability challenges of a semi-arid climate that experiences long periods of water scarcity. Economic, social and political cooperation will be required for the neighboring states to ensure the viability of their water resources in the future, says Arizona State University engineer Enrique Vivoni.

To help foster such collaboration, Vivoni established the U.S. Mexico Border Water and Environmental Sustainability Training program (UMB-WEST) in 2012. It is supported through 2014 by funding from the National Science Foundation’s International Research Experiences for Students program.

Vivoni is an associate professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, and in the School of Earth and Space Exploration in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

This summer, the program brought together 11 ASU students and 13 students from three Mexican universities (the Universidad de Sonora, the Instituto Tecnologico de Sonora and the Universidad Autonoma de Ciudad Juarez), along with 14 faculty members from ASU and other universities to gain a deeper understanding of the water scarcity problem in the Arizona-Sonora border region.

The group included professors and students in the fields of civil and environmental engineering, geology, ecology, agriculture, environmental science and global health.

Lessons in water conflicts

Their endeavor started with a week at ASU, where students spent time “organizing travel logistics, getting to know each other, preparing equipment and familiarizing themselves with the state of Sonora and the current water infrastructure,” explains Nolie Pierini, an ASU engineering doctoral student.

In the second week, students traveled to Mexico to learn about a major ongoing water dispute in Hermosillo, the largest city in Sonora and the state’s capitol, which has experienced significant population growth in the past decade. To meet the city’s increasing water demand, officials constructed a 162-kilometer-long aqueduct to transfer water from the Yaqui River Basin, a major supplier of water, to agricultural users in Ciudad Obregon.

“It's a commonly seen water conflict between industrial water users and agricultural water users,” says Matthew Thompson, who is pursuing a master’s degree in civil engineering at ASU. “The problem is amplified in the case of Sonora because they are in an area with significant drought and not enough water to meet everyone’s needs.”

Hydrology field studies

Students visited both Hermosillo and Ciudad Obregon, and heard discussions and presentations from those on both sides of the water debate. They took field trips to an aqueduct, a dam and reservoir, a hydroelectric power plant and a water treatment plant – all parts of water infrastructure in the state of Sonora.

After a week of tours and presentations from water policymakers and stakeholders, the students traveled to the nearby rural city of Rayón for a week of hydrology field research.

One research project, led by David Gochis, a scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., involved attaching radiosonde sensors to large helium weather balloons to track various atmospheric conditions at altitudes as high as 20 kilometers (65,600 feet) at various times of the day. The radiosonde measures temperature, humidity and pressure in the atmosphere, data that is sent directly to a laptop computer and then used to create an atmospheric model that tracks monsoon-season weather dynamics and patterns.

Another project, led by Agustin Robles-Morua, a professor at the Instituto Tecnologico de Sonora and a former postdoctoral researcher at ASU, surveyed people living in Rio San Miguel about water use practices, water quality and the impacts of new infrastructure.

Seth Morales, an ASU senior civil engineering major who is fluent in Spanish, was able to lead his group as they learned about different perspectives of water management and the water-use practices of specific users in the Rio San Miguel area near the town of Rayón.

ASU student Thompson, who worked with a team to install a weir (a barrier placed in a channel to enable measurement of water discharge) in a small stream, says he liked the hands-on aspect of the project. “It was gratifying to go to a remote, cool area and to use our hands to get a job done,” he says.

Seeing impact of research

Ara Ko, an ASU engineering doctoral student supervised by Vivoni, worked with water plant pressure chambers under the direction of Instituto Tecnologico de Sonora faculty member Enrico Yepez. Ko says she liked learning about semi-arid plant dynamics and exploring a climate and an ecosystem that is extremely different from her hometown in Korea.

Many of the students say learning about the region’s water issues during their first week in Mexico made the research experience more rewarding.

“Research like we did in Rayón can help us learn how to use water more efficiently and can ease future problems in water policy,” Pierini says.

“It was surprising to see how the research, or lack of research, can really have an impact on a whole community,” Morales says.

Along with gaining a renewed appreciation for thorough research, the ASU students say they enjoyed learning about a different culture.

“It was amazing to see people living in the same hot summer climate as in Arizona, but without abundant water resources,” Morales says. “Some homes only have access to water every three days for a two-hour window.”

Cultural connection

Along with making him more appreciative of the quality of water infrastructure in the United States, Morales says the program was a “turning point” for him. The experience led him to decide that hydrosystems engineering is the career path he wants to pursue.

Thompson, a self-proclaimed lover of the hot Sonoran desert climate, says he is glad he had the opportunity to get to know some of his “neighbors to the south.” He enjoyed learning about the government, culture, universities and people in Mexico, and says he was surprised that he formed a bond with people in Mexico, despite the language barrier.

“It definitely forces you out of your comfort zone, which is something that is essential for anyone who wants to learn how to coexist with people from other cultures,” Thompson says.

Adds Morales, “Interaction with another culture opens your mind and impacts the way you view science in general.”

(Rosie Gochnour and Joe Kullman)

Photo: The U.S. Mexico Border Water and Environmental Sustainability Training program established by ASU engineer Enrique Vivoni gathered students from ASU, the Insitituto Tecnológico de Sonora, Universidad de Sonora and Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez to study water challenges in the Arizona-Sonora, Mexico border region.

 

09/12/2013

A story published in the State Press Sept. 12 by Jennifer Cushman highlights the work of a team of ASU researchers using the Murchison Widefield Array, a low-frequency radio telescope which finished construction earlier this year, to scan the earlier universe.

Cosmology professor Judd Bowman, a project scientist for the MWA, said the project aims to look at the cosmic moments after the Big Bang, into a time when the universe was devoid of many of the celestial objects visible today.

According to the article, postdoctoral research associate Daniel Jacobs said "the assumption was that the universe began forming stars and galaxies locally rather than all at once. This would mean that one galaxy forming in one corner of the universe wouldn’t necessarily affect a star or other object forming in the other."

Read the full version of the story "Students, professors peer into cosmic dawn of the universe with new technology"

Image: Danny Jacobs, a post doctorate in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and G. Paul Hudak, content manager of the gallery of scientific exploration, observe the low-frequency radio sky image. This image illustrates everything we know about the low-frequency radio sky, according to Dr. Jacobs. (Photo by Hector Salas Almeida)

09/10/2013

An important discovery has been made concerning the possible inventory of molecules available to the early Earth. Scientists led by Sandra Pizzarello, a research professor at Arizona State University, found that the Sutter’s Mill meteorite, which exploded in a blazing fireball over California last year, contains organic molecules not previously found in any meteorites. These findings suggest a far greater availability of extraterrestrial organic molecules than previously thought possible, an inventory that could indeed have been important in molecular evolution and life itself.

The work is being published in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper is titled, “Processing of meteoritic organic materials as a possible analog of early molecular evolution in planetary environments,” and is co-authored by Pizzarello, geologist Lynda Williams, a reearch professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, NMR specialist Gregory Holland and graduate student Stephen Davidowski, all from ASU.

Coincidentally, Sutter’s Mill is also the gold discovery site that led to the 1849 California Gold Rush. Detection of the falling meteor by Doppler weather radar allowed for rapid recovery so that scientists could study for the first time a primitive meteorite with little exposure to the elements, providing the most pristine look yet at the surface of primitive asteroids.

“The analyses of meteorites never cease to surprise you ... and make you wonder,” explains Pizzarello. “This is a meteorite whose organics had been found altered by heat and of little appeal for bio- or prebiotic chemistry, yet, the very Solar System processes that lead to its alteration seem also to have brought about novel and complex molecules of definite prebiotic interest such as polyethers.”

Pizzarello and her team hydrothermally treated fragments of the meteorite and then detected the compounds released by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. The hydrothermal conditions of the experiments, which also mimic early Earth settings (a proximity to volcanic activity and impact craters), released a complex mixture of oxygen-rich compounds, the probable result of oxidative processes that occurred in the parent body. They include a variety of long chain linear and branched polyethers, whose number is quite bewildering.

This addition to the inventory of organic compounds produced in extraterrestrial environments furthers the discourse of whether their delivery to the early Earth by comets and meteorites might have aided the molecular evolution that preceded the origins of life.

Image: A portion of the asteroidal Sutter's Mill meteorite used in this study.

(Jenny Green)

 

09/09/2013

On Friday morning, bright and early, 77 first year and transfer students left with professors Arjun Heimsath, Kelin Whipple, Everett Shock and several upper class mentors on two charter buses to the Retreat at Tontozona. The incredibly helpful mentors helped our new students settle into their cabins and get oriented around the camp. The campers were joined at lunch time by SSE interim director, Jim Tyburczy, and Tom Sharp. Friday afternoon was spent with the campers getting a better sense of the geology, water resources, and the challenges of balancing development with conservation of natural resources, led by professors Sharp, Whipple, Shock and Heimsath in different groups. Kip Hodges joined by dinner time. After dinner, Tyburczy welcomed the new students to SESE and Tom Fraker, the Executive Director of the Retreat, provided history behind the mission behind the Retreat at Tontozona. Friday evening was choreographed to music, stars and planets by Ric Alling and his fantastic AstroDevil helpers. A bonfire was built by grad student Nathaniel Borneman, who also organized the S'mores!

Saturday morning found the group guided by the enthusiastic and competent Student Rec Center "Team Challenge" folks, led by Andy White. Sincere appreciation to them for guiding over 80 people through creative and fun bonding and team building exercises.

Saturday afternoon was a tour de force of SESE disciplines that was successful thanks to the truly fantastic contributions of several faculty, as well as the continued coordination and logistical help from the upperclass mentors.
* Rogier Windhorst did no less than three consecutive presentations on the Hubble Mission to rapt audiences full of questions.
* Kelin Whipple, with generous help from graduate student Matt Rossi, coordinated and ran the Scavenger Hunt/Orienteering course.
* Ed Stump and Steve Semkin held court with groups of rotating students on the geology, natural history, and physiography of AZ.
* Sara Walker and Everett Shock led an Astrobiology discussion session.
* Paul Scowen and Jenny Patience, with help from Ric and the AstroDevils, guided an observing and remote sensing session up with the array of telescopes.
* Enrique Vivoni helped students understand the water resources, hydrology, and Tonto Creek dynamics more clearly.
* Kip Hodges and Arjun Heimsath, helped by key mentor spotters, led rotating groups of students through a low ropes course.

Saturday dinner was wound down with an overview of the student clubs and the call for a new one focusing on the expanding student interest in Earth and Environmental Studies, especially as related to the sustainability of our natural resources. Another round of star gazing was somewhat thwarted by clouds and rain, but replaced by dance music and karaoke, another round of S'mores at the bonfire, and movies in the dining hall.

On Sunday morning the group enjoyed the rain and focused on engineering system design and cool robotics.
* Sri Saripalli and student Ben Stinnett successfully launched their robotic kite and photographed the human spelling of "SESE!" from on high. They then let students practice rover driving with their remote control model rover.
* Jekan Thanga, our newest faculty member, guided groups on building a mock lander to compete in an egg drop experiment.
* Chris Groppi and his student Kay guided groups on building their own working AM radio with common supplies and no battery.
* Hong Yu demonstrated and discussed how useful origami art is for engineering and space exploration.
* Danny Jacobs (post-doc working with Judd Bowman) was on call with their octocopter, but launch was scuttled by rain.

The entire weekend was photographed and captured with expertise by journalism student Brittany Morris.

Special and immense thanks to our undergraduate mentors who helped immensely with Camp SESE and are also continuing their service with help for the new students throughout the semester:
*** Chloe Antilla, Andrew Bochko, Michael Busch, Obed Cardin, Tom Chilton, Sarah Cronk, Elizabeth Dybal, Joe Kelsey, Janeen Lantry, Rachel Manak, John McCulloch, Ian McLeod, Chad Ostrander, Nate Pimental, Ben Stinnett, Lauren Turner, and Mason Waaler.

The AstroDevils rushing around in the dark to make the scopes work and support Ric's amazing sound-n-light shows at Camp SESE were:

Kristen Bennett, George Che, Prateek Garg, Trey Ingram, Matthew Mosher, Anish Ramaswamy, TJ Slezak, Diane Van Hoy, and Kim Ward-Duong.

Key behind the scenes help came from our amazing administrative team: Becca Dial and Kelli Wall helped guide students with their enrollment; Nikki Cassis did all the Camp registration, ordering of supplies, and roster building; Becky Polley handled the buses and car rental; Rose Petrini helped assemble the Camp SESE gear; Lillie Glenn handled the billing and finances. And a big thanks to Arjun for organizing and coordinating the whole event. A huge round of thanks to them all!

Thank you to our wonderful group of new students, who brought their keen insights, questions and great attitudes to Camp SESE and helped make the weekend truly fantastic.

 

08/29/2013

For millions of years after the Big Bang, there were no stars, or even galaxies to contain stars. During these “Cosmic Dark Ages,” neutral hydrogen gas dominated the universe. When clouds of primordial hydrogen gas started to collapse from gravity, they became stars. The infant stars’ nuclear reactions emitted ultraviolet radiation, stripping the surrounding hydrogen atoms of their lone electrons, making them ionized.

This launched the Epoch of Reionization, when young stars burned away the neutral hydrogen, creating pockets of ionized hydrogen around the first cosmic objects. However, this chapter of the universe’s life story is largely blank. We don’t know how long it took the first stars to form, or even when they began to do so.

Using radio telescopes, scientists from ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration are working with a multinational team to probe deep into our universe’s mysterious formative eons, searching for answers to fundamental questions about this time period.

“We know a lot about the Big Bang, we know a lot about how the universe started and a lot about how the universe looks today, but for most of the first billion years we have almost no observations,” says Judd Bowman, an assistant professor in the school.

Bowman is the project scientist for the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA), one of two low-frequency radio telescopes attuned to the unique redshift wavelength that neutral hydrogen emits. The other is the Precision Array to Probe the Epoch of Reionization (PAPER), which SESE postdoctoral fellow Danny Jacobs works on, along with the MWA.

Unlike most radio telescopes, both PAPER and the MWA are not dishes, like the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Large Array (VLA).

“Normally, when you’re building a radio telescope, you’re building a dish,” says Jacobs. “Waves come in and bounce to a central point, which focuses your field of view very tightly on the sky.”

PAPER and the MWA are comprised of many separate, small antennae arranged in groups, providing a broad view of the sky. Jacobs compares the function of MWA and PAPER to wide-angle camera lenses. Dish telescopes like the VLA are more like standard or zoom lenses that can focus on one area very accurately.

Both arrays function similarly to cameras, as well. Just like light hits a digital camera’s sensor to create an image, radio waves hit the arrays in different places with different intensities, giving researchers a “picture” of where those signals come from and, consequently, an idea of how the first bubbles of ionized hydrogen formed.

To pick up the faint signals from the Epoch of Reionization, both arrays have been constructed in very remote locations. PAPER’s 128 antennas are spread across the Karoo desert in South Africa. The MWA consists of more than 2,000 elements located in Western Australia’s outback.

“The reason we go there is to minimize radio frequency interference. Anything from phones, computers and lights generate radio interference that swamps our signal,” says Jacobs. “It’s so bad we have to go to the most remote parts of the world and our telescopes still detect satellites and planes, and reflections from meteors.”

Hydrogen’s rest wavelength (the distance it takes for the wave’s shape to repeat itself) is 21 centimeters. However, both arrays are tuned to much longer wavelengths. Due to the expansion of the universe, radio waves from hydrogen during Cosmic Dawn are stretched out to multiple meters by the time they reach Earth.

Both MWA and PAPER are stepping-stones to a larger project called the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array (HERA), a massive radio telescope that will be capable of observing the cosmic processes that led to the universe as we see it today.

But even the basic components of those processes remain in question. Did stars form first, or galaxies, or black holes? HERA will help determine which was the inaugural celestial body.

“It’s a chicken or egg problem,” says Bowman. “All of those things today show up in the same place. Our Milky Way is one of billions of known galaxies and it contains billions of stars, and at its center is a supermassive black hole. So today, we see all of these objects interacting together. But which came first?“

Determining the incipient object will also shed light on everything that followed it. The first stars and galaxies would have had a tremendous influence on the neutral gas around them, altering the formation process of the next generation of objects. Understanding these effects is just as important as finding the objects themselves.

“Did the first objects make it easier or harder for more stars to form?” asks Bowman. “Did they make it so only big galaxies were able to survive through time, or did they allow little galaxies to thrive and grow?”

Such far-reaching, fundamental questions require a huge effort from people all over the world. ASU’s contribution alone comes from researchers and students of all levels from SESE, Physics and the joint Cosmology Initiative.

“When a project gets to the scale we’re talking about, with hundreds of antennas, the science is very hard, the analysis is very hard, you have to draw on the resources of the entire community to make it happen,” says Bowman.

Actually, MWA and PAPER are competing projects. The most effective methods and processes from each telescope will be carried over to HERA when construction begins next year.

“But we’re one team when it comes to the next generation,” says Bowman. “It’s an interesting form you see in science a lot, where competitors can be collaborators at the same time.”

The difficulty and complexity of this long-term project is actually what most interests Bowman, who began work on the MWA when he was a grad student at MIT in 2005.

“What’s exciting to me is working on a project that is hard, a project that takes time and real effort,” says Bowman. “I want to see something that’s never been seen before, I want to learn something that’s important to the history of our universe.”

Jacobs is also motivated by curiosity.

“I want to live in a world where we can, as a society, ask lots of questions about our world. Whether or not they’re useful shouldn’t matter because we are curious people ... and the more we know about the universe, the better off we are,” says Jacobs.

Both PAPER and MWA are supported by a number of organizations worldwide, including the National Science Foundation, National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Arizona State University, Harvard University, MIT, University of California Berkeley, University of Virginia and University of Washington in the United States, the Raman Research Institute in India and a consortium of universities in Australia and New Zealand.

Photo: An arrangement of Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) elements in the Australian outback. Credit: Natasha Hurley-Walker

(Written by Pete Zrioka, Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development)

 

08/27/2013

As the newest crop of ASU freshmen arrive on campus, and students move into their residence halls and find their first classes, ASU caught up with some of them to find out what's on their minds. Say hello to the latest SESE Sun Devils below! Check out all of ASU's awesome new students at: https://asunews.asu.edu/20130822_gallery_classof2017

Gunnar Ogden is from Scottsdale, Ariz., where he attended Horizon High School. He’ll be majoring in earth and space exploration, and dreams of working at NASA someday.

What other schools did you consider or get accepted to?
“I considered NAU and UA, but ultimately chose ASU.”

Why did you choose ASU?
“I chose ASU because I was somewhat familiar with the campus, because my mother is an alumnus and because the Barrett food was incredible.”

What are you most excited about now that you are at college?
“The independence is what excites me the most. Cliché, yes, but it is absolutely vital to getting the most out of college, or so I have heard.”

Any fears?
“I have no crippling fears. Spiders kinda give me the heebie-jeebies, but that's it.”

Maroon or gold?
“Why not both? Maroon and Gold always need to be together!”


Jorge Olivas is from Sonora, México, where he attended high school at Colegio de Bachilleres del Estado de Sonora, in Hermosillo Sonora, Mexico. He’s the first in his family to go to college and is majoring in geological sciences through the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

What other schools did you consider or get accepted to?
“[I was accepted at] Midwestern State University (Texas), James Madison University (Virginia), The University of Arizona (Arizona).”

Why did you choose ASU?
“It was my dream to study at ASU since the first time I saw the Tempe campus.”

What is your dream?
“To travel and work around the world.”

Any fears?
“Just cobra snakes, but there are not too many around here - I hope so.”

Maroon or gold?
“Maroon.”


Mark Williamson comes to ASU from Truckee Meadows Community College Magnet High School in Reno, Nev., where he accrued 56 college credits during his junior and senior year. He’ll be studying astrobiology at the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

What other schools did you consider or get accepted to?
“I considered and got accepted to Montana State University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.”

Why did you choose ASU?
“I chose ASU because the teacher reviews were the best here, and I could also move close to family.”

What is your dream?
“My dream is to be part of a mission to land a rover on the surface of Europa, an icy moon of Jupiter, and see what we could find beneath the surface.”

What are you most excited about now that you are at college?
“I am mostly excited to take classes that focus on a topic that I am passionate about.”

Maroon or gold?
“Gold, simply because it can only be created from the extraordinarily violent explosion that is the death of a giant star.”


Sawyer Elms is an Arizona native who attended Sandra Day O’Connor High in Happy Valley, Ariz. He’s majoring in earth and space exploration – system design.

Why did you choose ASU?
“ASU is the only school that offers my major program, earth and space exploration; also, my parents are ASU Alumni.”

What is your dream?
“That when people in the future look back on the history of space travel they don’t see my name specifically, but a product that I had a part in making.”

What are you most excited about now that you are at college?
“I'm ready for some classes that are not just basic math and history courses, but specialized ones.”

Any fears?
“The future is unknown, and has always incited fear and wonder inside me.”

 

08/21/2013

The main mass of a rare meteorite that exploded over California’s Sierra foothills in April 2012 will be preserved for current and future scientific discoveries, thanks to the collaborative efforts of five U.S. academic institutions.

It has found a permanent home among: Arizona State University in Tempe, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., American Museum of Natural History in New York City, The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, and the University of California, Davis. Together, the institutions have successfully acquired the biggest known portion of the Sutter’s Mill meteorite.

The meteorite is considered to be one of the rarest types to hit the Earth -- a carbonaceous chondrite containing cosmic dust and presolar materials that helped form the planets of the solar system.

Its acquisition signifies enhanced research opportunities for each institution and ensures that future scientists can study the meteorite for years to come.

“The joint acquisition of this rare and scientifically important meteorite by five major research institutions represents a winning situation for all concerned,” said Meenakshi Wadhwa, director of the Center for Meteorite Studies at ASU. “Each of us is wholly committed to maximizing the scientific value of this meteorite and to preserving and caring for it so that it will be available to future generations of scientists.”

The meteorite formed about 4.5 billion years ago. While it fell to Earth roughly the size of a minivan before exploding as a fireball, less than 950 grams have been found. Its main mass weighs just 205 grams (less than half a pound) and is about the size of a human palm.

The main mass was X-rayed by CT scan at the UC Davis Center for Molecular and Genomic Imaging. This was the first time a meteorite acquisition was CT scanned before its division among a consortium of institutes, allowing prior knowledge of each piece’s contents. Then it was cut into five portions, reflective of each institution’s investment, before being delivered to the institutions.

The portion of the main mass acquired by each institution includes:
• American Museum of Natural History: 34 percent
• Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History: 32 percent
• The Field Museum of Natural History: 16 percent
• Arizona State University: 13 percent
• UC Davis: 5 percent

When the meteorite landed near Sutter’s Mill, the gold discovery site that sparked the California Gold Rush, it spurred a scientific gold rush of sorts, with researchers, collectors and interested citizens scouring the landscape for fragments of meteorite. The institutions that have acquired the main mass were among those that acted on this rare scientific opportunity to gain insights about the origins of life and the formation of the planets.

Several months following the fall of the Sutter’s Mill meteorite, ASU’s Wadhwa learned that the main mass was owned by Robert Haag, a well-known meteorite collector residing in Tucson, Ariz. On speaking with Haag, who has a long-standing interest in meteorites and has previously collaborated with researchers, she found that he was willing to make the meteorite available for sale to research institutions. She then contacted the other four institutions to initiate its joint acquisition.

According to Wadhwa, “The collaborative way in which the five institutions acquired and apportioned this sample, and Bob Haag’s willingness to cooperate with us as we conducted the CT scanning and subdivision, were instrumental in making this acquisition possible.”

Prior to obtaining a portion of the main mass of Sutter’s Mill, ASU had been able to acquire several small fragments of this important meteorite. Laurence Garvie, collections manager in the Center for Meteorite Studies, has been studying the mineralogy and chemistry of this material to understand the formation history of the parent asteroid from which it originated.

ASU’s Center for Meteorite Studies, which currently houses almost 2,000 distinct meteorites, is one of the largest university-based collections in the world. The Center’s mission since its inception in 1961 has been to pursue new knowledge about the origin of our Solar System and planets through studies of meteorites and other planetary materials, and to sharing this knowledge with a broad audience. The acquisition of nearly ~25 grams of the main mass for the Center’s world-class meteorite collection will allow further detailed studies on this important meteorite, not only by ASU researchers but also by other scientists across the globe.

Involvement from the other institutions included:
• UC Davis, located 60 miles west of Sutter’s Mill, provided local outreach and education for meteorite donations, and confirmed for the original discoverer of the meteorite’s main mass that it was carbonaceous chondrite. The university also X-rayed the meteorite and determined its age and chemical composition.
• The Smithsonian Institution cut the mass into five portions.
• The American Museum of Natural History worked closely with UC Davis geology professor Qing-zhu Yin to secure specimens of Sutter’s Mill right after its fall, and performed nondestructive computed tomography (CT) scans of several specimens kindly loaned by their finders. These scans were used to determine the density of several samples to very high accuracy, confirming the type of meteorite represented by Sutter’s Mill.
• The Field Museum of Natural History found several presolar stardust grains in two smaller pieces of Sutter’s Mill donated by private meteorite collector Terry Boudreaux. Presolar stardust grains are the oldest solid samples available to any lab and are essentially time capsules from before the solar system formed 4.6 billion years ago.

More information:
- Download photos of the meteorite mass: http://bit.ly/16XZKn1
- Video: meteorite’s divided portions: http://bit.ly/12mcGU6
- Video: 3-D scan of Sutter’s Mill meteorite fragment: http://bit.ly/17QjUy8

Image:
The main mass of the rare Sutter’s Mill meteorite after the Smithsonian Institution cut it and divided among five academic institutions: the Smithsonian Institution, American Museum of Natural History, The Field Museum of Chicago, Arizona State University and UC Davis. The 205 gram mass is the largest stone recovered from the meteorite that exploded over California’s Sierra foothills in April 2012. Credit: Smithsonian Institution

 

08/09/2013

Two physicists propose Higgs boson ‘portal’ as the source of this elusive entity
 

One of the biggest mysteries in contemporary particle physics and cosmology is why dark energy, which is observed to dominate energy density of the universe, has a remarkably small (but not zero) value. This value is so small, it is perhaps 120 orders of magnitude less than would be expected based on fundamental physics.

Resolving this problem, often called the cosmological constant problem, has so far eluded theorists.

Now, two physicists – Lawrence Krauss of Arizona State University and James Dent of University of Louisiana-Lafayette – suggest that the recently discovered Higgs boson could provide a possible “portal” to physics that could help explain some of the attributes of the enigmatic dark energy and help resolve the cosmological constant problem.

In their paper, “Higgs Seesaw Mechanism as a Source for Dark Energy,” Krauss and Dent explore how a possible small coupling between the Higgs particle, and possible new particles likely to be associated with what is conventionally called the Grand Unified Scale – a scale perhaps 16 orders of magnitude smaller than the size of a proton at which the three known non-gravitational forces in nature might converge into a single theory – could result in the existence of another background field in nature in addition to the Higgs field, which would contribute an energy density to empty space of precisely the correct scale to correspond to the observed energy density.

The paper is published on line today (Aug. 9), in Physical Review Letters.

Current observations of the universe show it is expanding at an accelerated rate. But this acceleration cannot be accounted for on the basis of matter alone. Putting energy in empty space produces a repulsive gravitational force opposing the attractive force produced by matter, including the dark matter that is inferred to dominate the mass of essentially all galaxies, but which doesn’t interact directly with light and therefore can only be estimated by its gravitational influence.

Because of this phenomenon and because of what is observed in the universe, it is thought that such ‘dark energy’ contributes up to 70 percent of the total energy density in the universe, while observable matter contributes only 2 to 5 percent, with the remaining 25 percent or so coming from dark matter.

The source of this dark energy and the reason its magnitude matches the inferred magnitude of the energy in empty space currently is not understood, making it one of the leading outstanding problems in particle physics today.

“Our paper makes progress in one aspect of this problem,” said Krauss, a Foundation Professor in Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration and in Physics, and the director of the Origins Project at ASU. “Now that the Higgs boson has been discovered, it provides a possible 'portal' to physics at much higher energy scales through very small possible mixings and couplings to new scalar fields which may operate at these scales.”

“We demonstrate that the simplest small mixing, related to the ratios of the scale at which electroweak physics operates, and a possible Grand Unified Scale, produces a possible contribution to the vacuum energy today of precisely the correct order of magnitude to account for the observed dark energy,” Krauss explained. “Our paper demonstrates that a very small energy scale can at least be naturally generated within the context of a very simple extension of the standard model of particle physics.”

While a possible advance in understanding the origin of dark energy, Krauss said the construct is only one step in the direction of understanding its mysteries.

“The deeper problem of why the known physics of the standard model does not contribute a much larger energy to empty space is still not resolved,” he said.

(Skip Derra)

 

08/07/2013

Hot, squeezed carbon samples provide explanation of where large amounts of carbon reside in Earth’s interior

High pressures and temperatures cause materials to exhibit unusual properties, some of which can be special. Understanding such new properties is important for developing new materials for desired industrial uses and also for understanding the interior of Earth, where everything is hot and squeezed.

A paper in Nature Geoscience highlights a new technique in which small amounts of a sample can be studied while being hot and squeezed within an electron microscope. Use of such a microscopy method permits determination of details down to the scale of a few atoms, including the detection of unexpected atom types or atoms in unexpected places, as within a mineral.

Jun Wu and Peter Buseck, the paper’s authors, both at Arizona State University, conducted the research on campus at the J.M. Cowley Center for High Resolution Electron Microscopy of the LeRoy Eyring Center for Solid State Science. The researchers used tiny containers of carbon, less than one-thousandth the width of a human hair and therefore small enough to fit within high-resolution electron microscopes, to enclose materials similar to those deep within Earth. They then used the electron beam to shrink and thereby squeeze these minuscule capsules. When combined with heating of the samples, new features were observed in the enclosed materials.

“Under such high pressures and temperatures, the materials inside the capsules developed faults that concentrated carbon along them,” explains Buseck, Regents' Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

The Nature Geoscience paper describes the use of this new method to address the important problem of how and where carbon is located within Earth’s interior. Carbon is an essential building block for all forms of life and it also has important effects on climate and climate change through greenhouses gases such as carbon dioxide and carbon tetrahydride, also known as natural gas or methane.

The largest single reservoir for carbon is within Earth’s interior. However, the known hosts for this carbon are believed to be insufficient to explain the amounts present.

Because Earth’s interior (as well as the interiors of other planets) contains vast amounts of materials like those used in the experiments, the scientists conclude that such faults, and the carbon they concentrate, provide a solution to the problem of explaining where large amounts of carbon reside in Earth’s interior.

Wu and Buseck’s experiments also demonstrate a new way of studying materials at high pressure and temperature within an electron microscope, thereby significantly extending the tools available to scientists for examining materials under extreme conditions.

Photo: Jun Wu (left) and Professor Peter Buseck (right)