Category: Science & Technology

Walden Trees Leafing Out Far Earlier Than in Thoreau’s Time

January 13th, 2014 in 2014, Nature, News Releases, Science & Technology 0 comments

 Invasive shrubs better suited to the warming conditions in Concord than native species

For Immediate Release 1/13/14                                                                   

Contact:  Richard Primack, 617-353-2454, cell 857-636-8378, home 617-332-1684 primack@bu.edu

(Boston) – Climate-change studies by Boston University biologists show leaf-out times of trees and shrubs at Walden Pond are an average of 18 days earlier than when Henry David Thoreau made his observations there in the 1850s.  However, not all plants respond in the same way, the result of which is that native species eventually may be threatened and lose competitive advantage to more resilient invasive shrubs such as Japanese barberry, according to a study published in the new edition of New Phytologist.

“By comparing historical observations with current experiments, we see that climate change is creating a whole new risk for the native plants in Concord,” said BU Prof. Richard Primack.  “Weather in New England is unpredictable, and if plants leaf out early in warm years, they risk having their leaves damaged by a surprise frost.  But if plants wait to leaf out until after all chance of frost is lost, they may lose their competitive advantage.”

The study began when Caroline Polgar, a graduate student with Primack, examined Thoreau’s unpublished observations of leaf-out times for common trees and shrubs in Concord in the 1850s, then repeated his observations over the past five springs.

“We started to wonder if all trees and shrubs in Concord are equally responsive to warming temperatures in the spring,” Polgar said.  What she found was surprising.  “All species — no exceptions — are leafing out earlier now than they did in Thoreau’s time,” she said.  “On average, woody plants in Concord leaf out 18 days earlier now.”

In New England, plants have to be cautious about leafing out in the early spring.  If they leaf out too early, their young leaves could suffer from subsequent late frost.  Since leafing-out requirements are thought to be species-specific, the group designed a lab experiment to test the responsiveness of 50 tree and shrub species in Concord to warming temperatures in the late winter and early spring.

For the past two winters, the researchers traveled to Concord and collected leafless dormant twigs from each species, and placed them in cups of water in their lab.  Over the following weeks, they observed how quickly each species was be able produce their leaves in these unseasonably warm lab conditions.

GoodGraph

“We found compelling evidence that invasive shrubs, such as Japanese barberry, are ready to leaf out quickly once they are exposed to warm temperatures in the lab even in the middle of winter, whereas native shrubs, like highbush bluberry, and native trees, like red maple, need to go through a longer winter chilling period before they can leaf out — and even then their response is slow,” says Amanda Gallinat, a second-year graduate student and third author of the paper.

The strength of this study, Gallinat said, is the pairing of observations and experiments.

“Our current observations show that plants in Concord today are leafing out earlier than in Thoreau’s time in response to warm temperatures,” she said.  “However, the experiments show that as spring weather continues to warm, it will be the invasive shrubs that will be best able to take advantage of the changing conditions.”

The spring growing season is of increasing interest to biologists studying the effects of a warming climate, and in coming decades non-native invasive shrubs are positioned to win the gamble on warming temperature, Primack said.  The BU group is adding these findings to a growing list of advancing spring phenomena in Concord and elsewhere in Massachusetts, including flowering dates, butterfly flight times, and migratory bird arrivals.

Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized institution of higher education and research.  With more than 33,000 students, it is the fourth-largest independent university in the United States.  BU consists of 16 schools and colleges, along with a number of multi-disciplinary centers and institutes integral to the University’s research and teaching mission.  In 2012, BU joined the Association of American Universities (AAU), a consortium of 62 leading research universities in the United States and Canada.

# # #

The article is published in the New Phytologist:  C. Polgar, A. Gallinat, and R.B. Primack. 2014. Drivers of leaf-out phenology and their implications for species invasions: insights from Thoreau’s Concord.  

Sequester will have a devastating impact on America’s research enterprise

November 19th, 2012 in News Releases, Science & Technology, University Affairs 0 comments

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 19, 2012

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Three organizations representing America’s research universities today launched a website that aims to inform policymakers and the public of the impact that the upcoming budget sequester would have on federal funding for university research.  The organizations – the Association of American Universities (AAU), the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and The Science Coalition (TSC) – urge Congressional leaders and the President to act quickly to develop a comprehensive, balanced solution to America’s fiscal crisis that avoids steep cuts to scientific research, which pays a substantial return on investment in the form of job creation, workforce development and economic growth.

Collectively, the three sponsoring organizations represent more than 200 of the country’s leading academic research institutions.  Their website, www.ScienceWorksForUS.org, provides data on the impact that sequestration – the across-the-board spending cut scheduled to take effect on Jan. 2, 2013 – is likely to have next year on academic research in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.  While the estimated reduction in research funding ranges from the hundreds of millions of dollars for large, research-intensive states to less than $10 million for smaller states, every state will experience a significant impact given the catalytic effect research universities have on local and state economies.  The website also provides numerous examples of the essential role that federally funded university research plays in today’s economy and the impact it has on society at large.

“Federal funding for research represents only 2 percent of the total federal budget, but it pays enormous dividends,” said Philip DiStefano, Chancellor of the University of Colorado Boulder, which is a member of AAU, APLU and TSC.  “The numbers might not look huge, but the potential negative impact of reduced research on the economy would have long-lasting effects.  That is because basic scientific research produces the discoveries that lead to countless treatments and cures that improve health, provide for our energy needs, fuel the new technologies that spark businesses and economic growth, improve our security, and help us better understand the world around us. ”

Federal funding for research is currently at the lowest level in the past decade in real dollars.  The caps on discretionary spending mandated by the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011 will likely further depress research funding over the next decade.  And sequestration requires additional cuts in federal spending on research and development – beyond those that will result from the BCA spending caps – of more than $12 billion in 2013 and nearly $95 billion over the life of the sequester.

“It is essential that America get itself on a sustainable financial path that reduces deficits and makes room for needed investments in the country’s future,” said Sally Mason, president of the University of Iowa and another AAU, APLU, TSC member.  “We urge Congress and the President to work together now to enact a long-term plan to reduce budget deficits, prevent the arbitrary and harmful cuts of sequestration, and provide for continued investments in scientific research that will help build a better America.”

###

ScienceWorksForUS is a project of the Association of American Universities (AAU), the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (A۰P۰L۰U) and the Science Coalition (TSC) to demonstrate the tremendous impact that federally funded university based research has on the nation and on the lives of all Americans, particularly the role it plays in improving health and spurring economic growth.

Press Contacts:
AAU:     Barry Toiv: barry_toiv@aau.edu

or Ann Speicher ann_speicher@aau.edu, 202-408-7500

APLU:    Paul Hassen phassen@aplu.org, 202-478-6073

TSC:       Lauren Pulte lpulte@gga.com, 202-429-6875

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Researchers from BUSM and COE Receive Grant to Develop Improved Virus Detection System

October 4th, 2011 in News Releases, School of Medicine, Science & Technology 0 comments

Contact: Gina M. Digravio, 617-638-8491 | gina.digravio@bmc.org

(Boston) – A team of researchers from Boston University’s School of Medicine (BUSM) and College of Engineering (COE) have been awarded a five-year, $4.8 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to develop a low-cost, multiplexed virus detection platform. Based on technologies developed with seed funding from Boston University’s Photonics Center, the resulting diagnostic platform should be capable of rapidly detecting – at the point of care- viral pathogens such as Ebola, Lassa Fever and Marburg.

The actual testing of the virus detections platform with “hot” virus will take place at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

Led by principal investigator John Connor, PhD, an assistant professor of microbiology at BUSM, the research team also includes Selim Ünlü, PhD, Hatice Altug, PhD, Catherine Klapperich, PhD and Mario Cabodi, PhD, all from the COE. Together their research groups will work to apply cutting-edge developments in engineering and physics to the task of finding and identifying infectious agents

“We brought together this interdisciplinary team in order to develop a breakthrough detector system that will allow a simple test for the presence of multiple viruses,” said Connor. “To do that, we are working to negate the need for enzymes or fluorescent labels and are building nanoscale platforms that can look for multiple viruses at the same time,” he added.

The team is working on two different detection technologies. For both technologies, the complete system will consist of a small “detector” chip containing integrated microfluidics. The microfluidics will allow samples to be drawn over the active sensing chip that will capture viruses.

The chip will then be analyzed in a “reader” that is capable of rapidly reading the detector chips and providing diagnostic information. The system should be able to simultaneously assess multiple possible infectious agents. The chips are smaller than a quarter, and the readers are expected to be the size of a breadbox, making them easily portable.

Early tests of the system will be carried out in Connor’s laboratory which will use pseudo-viruses that will help with the development of the detection platforms. He will be utilizing a veterinary virus that will establish the sensitivity, reproducibility and the flexibility of the detection platforms. Following the initial development and validation of the detectors, the researchers will partner with Becton Dickinson (BD), a leading global medical technology company, to transform one of the virus diagnostic platforms into a working prototype. They will send the prototype for testing to the lab of Thomas Geisbert, PhD, from the University of Texas Medical Branch.

According to the researchers, the current limitations of conventional virus detection methods include expensive equipment, relatively long process times and require extensive training. “Under the new NIH grant, our goal is to produce a highly-sensitive, user-friendly, commercially-viable virus detection system that can be deployed at the point of care and detect viruses in about 30 minutes,” explained Ünlü.

BU Researcher Plays Key Role In Discovery That Could Lead To A New Understanding Of Matter And Anti-Matter In The Universe

June 15th, 2011 in College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, News Releases, Science & Technology 0 comments

Contact: Patrick Farrell, 617-358-1185 | pmfarrel@bu.edu

The international T2K collaboration announced today that they have observed an indication of a new type of neutrino transformation or oscillation from a muon neutrino to an electron neutrino. Boston University Professor of Physics Edward Kearns is among the team of researchers responsible for this discovery.

Evidence of this new type of neutrino oscillation may lead the way to new studies of a matter/ anti-matter asymmetry called charge-parity (CP) violation. This phenomenon has been observed in quarks (for which Nobel prizes were awarded in 1980 and 2008), but never in neutrinos. CP violation in the early universe may be the reason that the observable universe today is dominated by matter and no significant anti-matter. If the T2K result does indicate this third oscillation, then a search for CP violation in neutrinos will be a major scientific quest in the coming years.

“Even though we have studied neutrino oscillations for years, there is still a great thrill in seeing these six events. The neutrino beam technique that we use is working beautifully and the interpretation is simple and direct. I can hardly wait to collect more data. It has been a privilege for all of us at Boston University to participate in this series of experiments in Japan, and we greatly appreciate the efforts at J-PARC and KEK to restart the T2K beam,” says Kearns.

Neutrinos come in three types, or “flavors”; electron, muon, and tau. In the T2K experiment in Japan, a muon neutrino beam was produced in the Japan Proton Accelerator Research Complex, called J-PARC, located in Tokai village, Ibaraki prefecture, on the east coast of Japan, and was aimed at the gigantic Super-Kamiokande underground detector in Kamioka, near the west coast of Japan, 295 km (185 miles) away from Tokai. An analysis of the detected neutrino-induced events in the Super-Kamiokande detector indicates that a very small number of muon neutrinos traveling from Tokai to Kamioka (T2K) transformed themselves into electron neutrinos.

Further steps towards this goal will continue to require global scientific collaborations, like T2K, to overcome the significant technical challenges in this search. The T2K experiment utilizes the J-PARC complex that accelerates protons onto a target to produce an intense secondary particle beam that is focused by special magnets called neutrino horns. The focused particle beam decays into a beam of neutrinos, which is monitored by a neutrino detector 280 meters from the target. This beam of neutrinos travels 295 km underground to be detected in the Super-Kamiokande detector.

The work of the T2K experiment is located in Japan and primarily supported by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. However, the experiment was constructed and is operated by an international collaboration, which consists of about 500 physicists from 59 institutions in 12 countries [Japan, US, UK, Italy, Canada, Korea, Switzerland, Spain, Germany, France, Poland, and Russia]. The data collected by the experiment is also analyzed by the collaboration. The US T2K collaborating team of approximately 70 members [Boston University, Brookhaven National Lab, UC Irvine, University of Colorado, Colorado State University, Duke University, Louisiana State University, Stony Brook University, University of Pittsburgh, University of Rochester, and University of Washington (Seattle)] is funded by the US Department of Energy, Office of Science. The US groups have built superconducting corrector magnets, proton beam monitor electronics, the second neutrino horn and a GPS time synchronization system for the T2K neutrino beamline; and a pi-zero detector and a side muon range detector (partial detector) in the T2K near detector complex. They are also part of the team that built, upgraded and operates the Super-Kamiokande detector.

The March 2011 earthquake in eastern Japan caused damage to the accelerator complex at JPARC, and the data-taking run of the T2K experiment was abruptly discontinued. Fortunately, however, no scientists working on T2K or technical staff supporting their work were injured in the earthquake or its aftermath. The T2K experiment will be ready to take data when J-PARC resumes its operation, which is planned to occur at the end of 2011.

More details on this measurement have been provided in a press report at http://jnusrv01.kek.jp/public/t2k/

Media Contact:

Prof. Edward Kearns, Boston University (Boston, MA), kearns@bu.edu, phone: 617-353-3425

For more details, visit http://physics.bu.edu/sites/neutrino/?p=97

About the Boston University Department of Physics — The mission of the Physics Department is to provide excellence in teaching physics and advancement of knowledge through research and scholarship. The Department’s strengths are in experimental and theoretical condensed matter physics, elementary particle physics and biological physics. In elementary particle experiment, BU physicists host major experimental efforts with the DØ experiment at Fermilab; the Super-K neutrino experiment in Kamioka, Japan; two major detector efforts at the LHC at CERN and the MuLan experiment at the Paul Scherrer Institute, both in Switzerland. The BU Department of Physics ranks in the top 10 in private universities in statistical measures of the number of refereed papers, the number of citations per year, and the number of citations per paper.

About Boston University — Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized institution of higher education and research. With more than 30,000 students, it is the fourth largest independent university in the United States. BU contains 17 colleges and schools along with a number of multi-disciplinary centers and institutes which are central to the school’s research and teaching mission.

Findings indicate the edge of the solar system is filled with a turbulent sea of magnetic bubbles

June 8th, 2011 in College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, News Releases, Science & Technology 0 comments

Contact: Patrick Farrell, 617-358-1185 | pmfarrel@bu.edu

(Boston) — Boston University astronomer Merav Opher will feature prominently in a NASA teleconference this week to discuss the latest findings about the nature of the solar system. A new computer model of the solar system based on data from the Voyager space probe indicates that the edge of the solar system is not smooth, but filled with a turbulent sea of magnetic bubbles. The NASA media teleconference is scheduled for 1 p.m. EDT on Thursday, June 9 (see below for contact details).

Merav, assistant professor of astronomy at BU, will take part in a teleconference with some of the country’s top with astronomers, including Arik Posner, Voyager program scientist, NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C.; James F. Drake, professor of physics, University of Maryland, College Park; Edward C. Stone, Voyager project scientist, professor of physics, Caltech, Pasadena, California; and Eugene Parker, professor emeritus, Department of Physics, University of Chicago.

According to NASA, the latest Voyager data suggests that the picture of this previously unexplored region so critical for understanding how cosmic rays are created and reach near-Earth space needs to be revised. Galactic cosmic rays are of concern for human space travel, in particular during the quiet periods called the solar minimum. Voyager 1 is now about 11 billion miles (17.7 billion kilometers) from Earth, while Voyager 2 is about 9 billion miles (14.5 billion km) away. Voyager 1 is the most distant human-made object in the universe.

To participate in the teleconference, reporters must contact Dwayne Brown at 202-358-1726 or dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov by 9 a.m. EDT on June 9 for dial-in instructions.

Supporting information for the briefing will be posted at:
http://www.nasa.gov/sunearth

Audio of the teleconference will be streamed live on the Web at:
http://www.nasa.gov/newsaudio

About Merav Opher — Opher’s research has focused on how plasma and magnetic effects reveal themselves in astrophysical and space physics environments and, in particular, how stars interact with the surrounding media, how the solar system interacts with the local interstellar medium, and the interaction of extra-solar planets with their host stars. Opher notes that the Voyager data led to the discovery of how interstellar magnetic fields play a major role in shaping the heliosphere, producing assymetries that are measurable. “We are arriving at the notion that the magnetic field outside our home, earth, is strong and important enough to influence and shape its structure,” she said.

Opher has been a pioneer in the use of advanced, 3D computational models to investigate stellar phenomena. She also has studied how magnetic disturbances are driven and propagate from the sun to earth. She has a PhD in astronomy from the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and received her postdoctoral training at the Plasma Group of the Physics Department at the University of California, Los Angeles. She also was a Caltech Scholar at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Before coming to Boston University, she was an associate professor of astronomy at George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia.

About Boston University — Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized institution of higher education and research. With more than 30,000 students, it is the fourth largest independent university in the United States. BU contains 17 colleges and schools along with a number of multi-disciplinary centers and institutes which are central to the school’s research and teaching mission.

BU researchers identify extensive methane leaks under streets of Boston

May 13th, 2011 in College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, News Releases, Science & Technology 0 comments

Contact: Patrick Farrell, 617-358-1185 | pmfarrel@bu.edu

(Boston) — Earlier this year, Boston University researchers and collaborators conducted a mobile greenhouse-gas audit in Boston and found hundreds of natural gas leaks under the streets and sidewalks of Greater Boston. Nathan Phillips, associate professor of geography and environment and director of BU’s Center for Environmental and Energy Studies (CEES), and his research partners will present these and related findings at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) Global Monitoring Annual Conference, May 17-18 in Boulder, Colorado.

Phillips and partners Picarro, Inc., Gas Safety USA, and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, are currently researching the economic and environmental impacts of these leaks. Their work updates earlier findings that unaccounted-for gas amounted to eight billion cubic feet in Massachusetts, costing about $40 million. Such gas leaks have been implicated in damage and mortality of urban and suburban street trees. Evidence from other states indicates that the situation in Boston is likely similar to cities and towns across the nation.

In an attempt to identify major methane sources in Boston and Indianapolis, Phillips and his research partners systematically measured methane (CH4) concentrations at street level using a vehicle-mounted cavity “ringdown” analyzer. A number of discrete sources were detected at concentration levels in excess of 15 times background levels. Background levels of methane were also measured to be 10 percent higher than the world-wide average of 1.860 ppm. Measurements of CH4 concentration levels along with detailed location information will be presented. In addition, chamber flux measurements of discrete sources will also be presented.

Recent measurements indicate that urban emissions are a significant source of CH4 and in fact may be substantially higher than current inventory estimates. As such, urban emissions could contribute 7-15 percent to the global anthropogenic budget of methane. Although it is known that the per capita carbon footprint of compact cities such as New York City, Boston, and San Francisco are smaller than sprawling cities such as Houston, the strengths of individual sources within these cities are not well known. Such information is of use to government policy makers because it can be used to incentivize changes in transportation and land use patterns.

The ESRL conference is part of a continuing effort by atmospheric scientists and other earth scientists to stay abreast of recent observations concerning trace gases, aerosols, radiation, ozone, and climate forcing and to provide a forum in which these observations can be relayed and discussed. In addition to ESRL reports, the conference also will include presentations related to these themes by both independent and cooperative investigators, and other national and international programs.

The conference website and Phillips’ presentation abstract can be found:

http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/annualconference/
http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/annualconference/abs.php?refnum=99-110418-A

About Boston University

Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized institution of higher education and research. With more than 30,000 students, it is the fourth largest independent university in the United States. BU contains 17 colleges and schools along with a number of multi-disciplinary centers and institutes which are central to the school’s research and teaching mission.
# # #

Contact for questions about the research:

Nathan Phillips
Boston University
Department of Geography and Environment
Center for Energy and Environmental Studies
Boston, MA 02215 USA
617.353.2841 (office)
617.997.1057 (mobile)
nathan@bu.edu
www.bu.edu/geography

The following researchers/institutions contributed to this report:

E. Crosson and S. Tan, Picarro Inc., 3105 Patrick Henry Drive, Santa Clara, CA 94054

N. Phillips and L. Hutyra, Boston University, Department of Geography/Environment, Center for Energy/Environmental Studies, Boston, MA 02215, ,

J. Turnbull and C. Sweeney, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309

R. Ackley, Gas Safety Inc., Southborough, MA 01772

Blueprint of a trend: How does a financial bubble burst?

May 3rd, 2011 in College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, News Releases, Science & Technology 0 comments

Contact: Patrick Farrell, 617-358-1185 | pmfarrel@bu.edu

(Boston)—A joint study by academics in Switzerland, Germany and at Boston University sheds new light on the formation of financial bubbles and crashes. Wild fluctuations in stock prices caused by bubbles bursting have had a dramatic impact on the world economy and the personal fortunes of millions of us in the last few years.

The study “Switching processes in financial markets” will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on May 10 and reveals a general empirical law quantifying market behavior near bubbles and crashes—these are either price lows where the share price falls before starting to rise again or price highs where the price peaks before falling.

“We asked whether or not there are regularities either just before or just after market highs and lows,” says lead researcher Dr. Tobias Preis of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, who specializes in analyzing and modeling financial markets. Preis is also at the Center for Polymer Studies at Boston University.

This study involved synchronizing more than 2.6 billion transactions which occurred at the European Exchange (EUREX) in Germany and at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in the U.S. Preis and co-authors Dr. Johannes J. Schneider at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and Prof. H. Eugene Stanley, also at Boston University, analyzed microtrends and macrotrends in financial markets using three fluctuating quantities: the price of each transaction, the transaction volume, and the time between individual transactions.

“We applied our methodology to local highs and local lows in the price on very different time scales ranging from milliseconds to 100 days,” says Stanley. What the researchers find is that there is a unique empirical law near bubbles and crashes, or trend changes quantifying both transaction volume and time between transactions in all the financial markets analyzed.

“Even more surprising,” says Preis, “we find that this empirical law with a unique parameter is valid for very small bubbles as well as for huge bubbles.” In other words, the formation of bullish and bearish trends does not depend on the time scale.

The well known catastrophic bubbles that occur over large time scales, such as the global financial crashes of 1929 and 2008, are not outliers. “We found the blueprint of financial trends,” summarizes Preis and concludes: “We can learn from the large number of tiny bubbles how huge market bubbles emerge and burst. The challenge is to destroy bubbles before they become huge.”

The importance of these findings is echoed by Dirk Helbing, professor of sociology at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. Helbing leads the FuturICT Flagship project, which intends to unify the best scientists in a 10-year program of the European Union to explore social life on earth and everything it relates to.

“One ultimate goal of the FuturICT project is to manage challenges that make the modern world so difficult to predict, including financial crises,” says Helbing. “The discovery by Tobias Preis and his colleagues may be of crucial importance for the financial and economic crisis observatory that this flagship project will create.”

The blueprint of bubbles and crashes is also the subject of a feature article in the May issue of Physics World (Tobias Preis and H. Eugene Stanley, “Bubble trouble,” Physics World 24, 29-32 2011)

# # #

Contact:
Dr. Tobias Preis,
Center for Polymer Studies and Department of Physics, Boston University, Boston, USA
preis@physics.bu.edu or mail@tobiaspreis.de
http://www.tobiaspreis.de
T +49-178-3358225

“Switching processes in financial markets”,
Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS),
Online before print version can be found at http://www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1019484108

About the Center for Polymer Studies at Boston University—The Center for Polymer Studies (CPS) is a scientific visualization research center in the Physics Department and Science and Mathematics Education Center at Boston University. CPS is devoted to interdisciplinary research in aspects of polymer, random, and fractal systems and applies its our expertise in this area to develop experimental and computational materials for high school and undergraduate education.

About Boston University—Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized institution of higher education and research. With more than 30,000 students, it is the fourth largest independent university in the United States. BU contains 17 colleges and schools along with a number of multi-disciplinary centers and institutes which are central to the school’s research and teaching mission.

Boston University Researchers Validate Important Roles of iPSCs in Regenerative Medicine

May 2nd, 2011 in News Releases, School of Medicine, Science & Technology 0 comments

Contact: Jenny Eriksen, 617-638-6841 | jeriksen@bu.edu

(Boston) – Researchers from Boston University’s Center for Regenerative Medicine (CReM) have demonstrated that induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) can differentiate into definitive endoderm cells, in vitro, with similar functional potential when compared to embryonic stem cells (ESCs), despite minor molecular differences between the two cell types. These findings are particularly important given growing controversy in the scientific literature about whether subtle differences between iPSCs and ESCs should dampen enthusiasm for iPSCs to serve as an alternative source of differentiated precursor cells for various tissues, such as the liver, lung or blood. The new work provides compelling evidence that iPSCs have potential in regenerative medicine as an investigational tool for the development of treatments against diseases that affect endodermal-derived organs, such as cirrhosis, diabetes, cystic fibrosis and emphysema.

Darrell Kotton, MD, an associate professor of medicine and pathology at Boston University School of Medicine(BUSM), served as principal investigator and senior author for this study, which is published online in the Journal of Clinical Investigation (JCI). Constantina Christodoulou, BS, from BUSM’s program in genetics and genomics, was the lead author of the study.

iPSCs, discovered in 2006, are derived by reprogramming adult cells into a primitive stem cell state. They are similar to ESCs in terms of their ability to differentiate into different types of cells in vivo, including endoderm cells that give rise to liver and lung tissue. iPSCs do not require embryos and they are genetically identical to the patient’s cells, suggesting their future potential to be transplanted back into the same patient without risk of rejection. Additionally, iPSCs could reduce the reliance on ESCs, which remain highly controversial and have limited availability due to federal regulation.

Recently, however, there has been debate regarding whether the molecular differences found in iPSCs make them as functional for research as ESCs when used in regenerative medicine research.

Kotton and his colleagues set out to understand the limits and potential of iPSCs and whether they should be utilized in research as a basis for the development of potential therapies. They focused their research on the capacity of iPSCs to undergo differentiation in vitro into endodermal tissue.

Working together with the laboratory of Gustavo Mostoslavsky, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at BUSM, the teams of CReM investigators generated their own iPSC lines by reprogramming skin fibroblasts using a special stem cell cassette vector (STEMCC). They interrogated the global gene expression profiles of each cell line during endodermal differentiation and also compared the resulting cells to authentic endoderm from early developing mouse embryos.

“We found that although there are subtle molecular differences between iPSCs and ESCs, their functional potential to differentiate was virtually indistinguishable in vitro,” said Kotton, who is a co-director of CReM. “It is important to understand that iPSCs offer many possibilities in regenerative medicine and developmental biology research and may hold the key to future medical treatments for many human diseases.”

The next step, said Kotton, is to further differentiate iPSCs into more specific cell types using both mouse and human stem cell lines. CReM currently has 100 stem cell lines from donors with lung-specific diseases that will be used in the research to develop potential treatments against diseases that affect the lungs.

The CReM-led research was done in collaboration with other researchers at BU, including the laboratory of Avi Spira, MD, chief of computational biomedicine at BUSM, the laboratory of Paul Gadue, PhD, at the University of Pennsylvania and the laboratory of Valerie Gouon-Evans, PhD, at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

Blueprint of a trend: How does a financial bubble burst?

May 2nd, 2011 in College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Science & Technology 0 comments

Contact: Patrick Farrell, 617-358-1185 | pmfarrel@bu.edu

(Boston) – A joint study by academics in Switzerland, Germany and at Boston University sheds new light on the formation of financial bubbles and crashes. Wild fluctuations in stock prices caused by bubbles bursting have had a dramatic impact on the world economy and the personal fortunes of millions of us in the last few years.

The study “Switching processes in financial markets” will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on May 10 and reveals a general empirical law quantifying market behavior near bubbles and crashes—these are either price lows where the share price falls before starting to rise again or price highs where the price peaks before falling.

“We asked whether or not there are regularities either just before or just after market highs and lows”, says lead researcher Dr. Tobias Preis of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, who specializes in analyzing and modeling financial markets. Preis is also at the Center for Polymer Studies at Boston University.

This study involved synchronizing more than 2.6 billion transactions which occurred at the European Exchange (EUREX) in Germany and at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in the U.S. Preis and his fellow authors Dr. Johannes J. Schneider at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and Prof. H. Eugene Stanley, also at Boston University, analyzed microtrends and macrotrends in financial markets using three fluctuating quantities: the price of each transaction, the transaction volume, and the time between individual transactions.

“We applied our methodology to local highs and local lows in the price on very different time scales ranging from milliseconds to 100 days,” says Stanley. What the researchers find is that there is a unique empirical law near bubbles and crashes, or trend changes quantifying both transaction volume and time between transactions in all the financial markets analyzed. “Even more surprising,” says Preis, “we find that this empirical law with a unique parameter is valid for very small bubbles as well as for huge bubbles.” In other words, the formation of bullish and bearish trends does not depend on the time scale. The well known catastrophic bubbles that occur over large time scales, such as the global financial crashes of 1929 and 2008, are not outliers. “We found the blueprint of financial trends,” summarizes Preis and concludes: “We can learn from the large number of tiny bubbles how huge market bubbles emerge and burst. The challenge is to destroy bubbles before they become huge.”

The importance of these findings is echoed by Dirk Helbing, professor of sociology at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. Helbing leads the FuturICT Flagship project, which intends to unify the best scientists in a 10-year program of the European Union to explore social life on earth and everything it relates to. “One ultimate goal of the FuturICT project is to manage challenges that make the modern world so difficult to predict, including financial crises. The discovery by Tobias Preis and his colleagues may be of crucial importance for the financial and economic crisis observatory that this flagship project will create.”

The blueprint of bubbles and crashes is also the subject of a feature article in the May issue of Physics World (Tobias Preis and H. Eugene Stanley, “Bubble trouble,” Physics World 24, 29-32 2011)

The Center for Polymer Studies (CPS) is a scientific visualization research center in the Physics Department and Science and Mathematics Education Center at Boston University. CPS is devoted to interdisciplinary research in aspects of polymer, random, and fractal systems and applies its our expertise in this area to develop experimental and computational materials for high school and undergraduate education.

Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized institution of higher education and research. With more than 30,000 students, it is the fourth largest independent university in the United States. BU contains 17 colleges and schools along with a number of multi-disciplinary centers and institutes which are central to the school’s research and teaching mission.

Contact:
Dr. Tobias Preis
Center for Polymer Studies and Department of Physics, Boston University, Boston, USA
preis@physics.bu.edu
www.tobiaspreis.de
T +49-178-3358225

“Switching processes in financial markets”,
Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS),
Online before print version can be found at www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1019484108

BU Researcher Estimates Future Sea Level Rise by Looking to the Past

April 28th, 2011 in College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, News Releases, Science & Technology 0 comments

Contact: Patrick Farrell, 617-358-1185 | pmfarrel@bu.edu

(Boston) –BU College of Arts & Sciences Paleoclimatologist Maureen Raymo and colleagues have published findings that should help scientists better estimate the level of sea level rise during a period of high atmospheric carbon dioxide levels 3 million years ago. That geologic era, known as the mid-Pliocene climate optimum, saw much higher global temperatures that may have been caused by elevated levels of carbon dioxide—an analogy for the type of climate we are causing through human addition of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

During the mid-Pliocene climate optimum, sea levels were anywhere between 15 and 100 feet higher than at present because water that is now locked up in glaciers as ice circulated freely through the oceans. Raymo and her colleagues published their findings in the current edition of Nature Geoscience in a paper titled “Departures from eustasy in Pliocene sea-level records.” The paper (http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/ngeo1118.html) provides an improved model for interpreting geologic evidence of ancient shorelines.

The team’s findings add to the scientific body of knowledge about mid-Pliocene sea levels. By understanding the extent of sea level rise 3 million years ago, scientists like Raymo hope to more accurately predict just how high the seas will rise in the coming decades and centuries due to global warming.

Through their project, titled PLIOMAX (Pliocene maximum sea level project), Raymo and her colleagues have shared data with a larger community of geoscientists involved in studying similar so-called “high stand deposits” around the world. The accumulated data should shed light on the extent to which we can expect the Greenland Ice Sheet, West Antarctic Ice Sheet, and East Antarctic Ice Sheet to melt due to increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Raymo is a Research Professor in the Department of Earth Science in BU’s College of Arts & Sciences. She is also a member of BU’s Climate and Earth History Research Group. She received her Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1989 and has recently accepted a position to return to Columbia University.

Raymo studies the causes of climate change over Earth’s history, in particular the role played by the global carbon cycle and Earth’s orbital variations around the Sun. Most of her work has been based on data collected from deep-sea sediment and microfossils recovered using the research vessel JOIDES Resolution. She has used the stable isotopes of oxygen and carbon to study past ocean circulation and ice volume history and is well known for her proposal that the cooling of global climate over the last 40 million years was caused primarily by enhanced chemical weathering and consumption of atmospheric CO2 in the mountainous regions of the world, especially in the Himalayas.

Founded in 1839, Boston University is an internationally recognized institution of higher education and research. With more than 30,000 students, it is the fourth largest independent university in the United States. BU contains 17 colleges and schools along with a number of multi-disciplinary centers and institutes which are central to the school’s research and teaching mission.