Science and Technology News

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Astronaut Tests SAFER Backpack

Astronaut Mark Lee tests the new backpack called Simplified Aid for EVA Rescue (SAFER), a system designed for use in the event a crew member becomes untethered while conducting an EVA. The Lidar-In-Space Technology Experiment (LITE) is shown in the foreground. The LITE payload employs lidar, which stands for light detection and ranging, a type of optical radar using laser pulses instead of radio waves to study Earth's atmosphere. Unprecedented views were obtained of cloud structures, storm systems, dust clouds, pollutants, forest burning, and surface reflectance. The STS-64 mission marked the first untethered U.S. EVA in 10 years, and was launched on September 9, 1994, aboard the Space Shuttle Orbiter Discovery.

Image Credit: NASA

Coal Power Plant in China

China's carbon dioxide emissions are ranked number one in the world and only about 4 percent of China's cities have a highest air quality rating. Here, a coal power plant in Xian, China, does not have air pollution control devices such as sulfur dioxide scrubber systems. It releases sulfur dioxide directly into the atmosphere.

Credit: Steve Lonker

Homoplasy: A Good Thread to Pull to Understand the Evolutionary Ball of Yarn

With the genetics of so many organisms that have different traits yet to study, and with the techniques for gathering full sets of genetic information from organisms rapidly evolving, the "forest" of evolution can be easily lost to the "trees" of each individual case and detail.

A review paper published this week in Science by David Wake, Marvalee Wake and Chelsea Specht, all currently National Science Foundation grantees, suggests that studying examples of homoplasy can help scientists analyze the overwhelming deluge of genetic data and information that is currently being generated.

For example, studying situations where a derived trait surfaces in two lineages that lack a recent common ancestor, or situations where an ancestral trait was lost but then reappeared many generations later, may help scientists identify the processes and mechanisms of evolution.

The authors provide many fascinating examples of homoplasy, including different species of salamanders that independently, through evolution, increased their body-length by increasing the lengths of individual vertebrae. By contrast, most species grow longer by adding vertebrae through evolution.

The authors also explain how petals in flowers have evolved on six separate occasions in different plants. A particularly striking example of homoplasy cited by the authors is the evolution of eyes, which evolved many times in different groups of organisms--from invertebrates to mammals--all of which share an identical genetic code for their eyes.

These kinds of examples of genetic and developmental biology help scientists elucidate relationships between organisms, as well as develop a fuller picture of their evolutionary history.

-NSF-

NASA Selects 300 Small Business Research and Technology Projects

David E. Steitz
Headquarters, Washington

WASHINGTON -- NASA has selected 300 small business proposals to enter into negotiations for possible contract awards through the agency's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs.

These competitive awards-based programs encourage U.S. small businesses and research institutions to engage in federal research, development and commercialization. The programs enable teams to explore technological potential while providing the incentive to profit from new commercial products and services.

The SBIR program selected 260 proposals, which have a combined value of approximately $33 million, for negotiation of Phase I feasibility study contracts. The STTR program selected 40 proposals, with a combined value of approximately $5 million, for negotiation of Phase I contracts.

"NASA's partnerships with small businesses and universities through these programs brings space technologies to the marketplace, helping start-ups and small businesses create new jobs and grow our economy while meeting NASA's current and future mission needs," said Michael Gazarik, director of NASA’s Space Technology. "Breakthroughs in technology for space exploration create the foundation for new industries. We're excited to work with these new partners and look forward to seeing their technologies mature into commercially viable products."

The SBIR and STTR programs address specific technology gaps in NASA missions, while striving to complement other agency research investments. Program results have benefited many NASA efforts, including modern air traffic control systems, Earth-observing spacecraft, the International Space Station and the Mars rovers.

Innovative research areas among proposals include:

- Improved technologies related to in-flight airframe and engine icing hazards for piloted and drone vehicles to prevent encounters with hazardous conditions and mitigation of their effects when they occur

- Design of electronics, hardened for radiation and thermal cycling, which are capable of enduring the extreme temperature and radiation environments of deep space, and the lunar and Martian surfaces

- Development of small, low-cost remote sensing and in situ instruments to enable science measurement capabilities with smaller or more affordable spacecraft that meet multiple mission needs while making the best use of limited resources

- Innovative research in the areas of positioning, navigation and timing that will enable accurate and precise determination of location and orientation of spacecraft to allow corrections to course, orientation and velocity to attain a desired destination

The highly competitive programs are based on a three-phase award system. Phase I is a feasibility study to evaluate the scientific and technical merit of an idea. Awards are typically for six months for the SBIR contracts and 12 months for the STTR contracts, in amounts up to $125,000. Firms successfully completing Phase I are eligible to submit Phase II proposals, expanding on the results of Phase I. Phase III includes commercialization of the results of Phase II, and requires the use of private sector or non-SBIR federal funding as innovations move from the laboratory to the marketplace.

The selected SBIR proposals were submitted by 196 small, high technology firms in 37 states. The selected STTR proposals were submitted by 36 small high technology firms in 13 states. As part of the STTR program, the firms proposed to partner with 34 universities or research institutions in 16 states.

NASA received 1,878 qualified Phase I proposals. The criteria used to choose these selected proposals included technical merit and feasibility; experience, qualifications and facilities; effectiveness of the work plan; and, commercial potential and feasibility.

NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., manages the SBIR program for the agency's Space Technology Program. NASA's 10 field centers manage individual projects.

For a complete list of selected companies, visit http://sbir.nasa.gov.

For more information about NASA's Office of the Chief Technologist and the agency's Space Technology Program, visit http://www.nasa.gov/oct.

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Recognizing a Cyberbully

Something is happening on playgrounds, in classrooms, in homes and in every walk of life across America. In fact, it's happening internationally.

"On December 17, 2010, my daughter was a victim of cyber bullying," writes the father of a Virginia girl.  "There were four children involved in a chartroom (sic) within their e-mail accounts. One ring leader who seemed rather angry with my daughter started name calling, letting her know nobody liked her, and even went as far as wishing she would die in a hole. This obviously was a very hurtful conversation, which led my 11-year-old daughter to even consider death as an option."

"I was brought out for being a bisexual and made fun of, being told that I'm against God's will and am going to hell," writes a 17-year-old boy from Canada.

"Cyberbullying does not just apply to children. There are adult groups dedicated to harassing and defaming others as well," says an adult woman in an online article titled "The Anonymous Attacks of Adult Cyberbullying Cross the Line and Enter the 'Real World.'" "In November of 2006, my grandfather had a massive heart attack. My way of dealing with my pain was to go online and take it out on nameless, faceless bloggers, and I posted things to people that would probably result in me being beaten up if it were said to someone in 'real life.' When one of these people I attacked told me my grandfather deserved his death, I upped my ante, lashing out at these words with racial slurs, vulgar names and just about anything else you can imagine."

These people, despite their differences, are part of a group that has one thing in common-all of them have been impacted in some way by cyberbullying.

Finding out the who's who of cyberbullying

Social scientists studying cyberbullying say it's a relatively new form of electronic harassment that came to widespread attention in the early 2000s and the short time span in which researchers have looked at the issue leaves them with a number of unresolved questions. Notably, who are the victims and who are the perpetrators?

"We don't have a clear picture of who is most vulnerable," says Sheri Bauman, a former high-school counselor, now a cyberbullying researcher at the University of Arizona. "It takes a bit for a researcher to observe a phenomenon, decide if it merits study, develop a research question, design a study, recruit a sample, gather data, analyze the data and then disseminate it."

There is always a lag between an event and the people who study the event. Nevertheless, even research in progress helps researchers understand both victims and perpetrators and can lead to a better understanding of who is involved. It can also help leaders design initial interventions that prevent the behavior and help victims cope with its effects.

Anonymous bullying clouds identities

But how would anyone know the identities of perpetrators and potential victims when cyberbullying is largely, almost by definition, anonymous?

In traditional, face-to-face bullying, perpetrators and victims usually know each other because of its physical component--slamming a potential victim into a school locker, for example. Not so in the virtual world; there, cyberbullies have the ability to keep their identities unknown, which creates an asymmetry of information.

In fact, "few youth who reported being a target of Internet aggression reported knowing the harasser in person," writes Michele Ybarra, cyberbullying researcher and president of Internet Solutions for Kids, Inc and her coauthor Kimberly Mitchell in a 2004 study that revealed 69 percent of victims did not know their harasser in person. In contrast, the study says 84 percent of cyberbullies personally know their target.

The finding that such a large percentage of victims do not know their aggressors in person opens the door to more questions about the demographics of cyberbullies and their victims. For instance, one possible trait may be that some cyberbullies are uncomfortable with face-to-face encounters, leaving researchers to question what types of adolescents and adults might fit this description.

Other questions: To what extent do psychological components, such as confrontation avoidance, drive cyberbullies? Are boys or girls more likely to become cyberbullies because of its perceived anonymity? Can finding this information and other information be used to characterize or sketch profiles of potential male and female cyberbullies?

"It's certainly an area that could use more studying," says Bauman.

The role of gender

So, last year, Bauman, acting as principal investigator with funding from the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences, convened an International Cyber Bullying Think Tank in Tucson at the University of Arizona with 21 researchers.

Along with Ybarra, one participant was Faye Mishna, dean and professor of social work at the University of Toronto, whose research focuses on bullying, cyber abuse, cyberbullying and cyber counseling. She says, "One thing that we don't know much about is the role that gender and age play in cyberbullying. But, research has shown both boys and girls are involved."

Researchers say it's expected that both sexes would participate, but what interests them is the number of girls involved. Girls are not thought to be traditional physical bullies.

Other social scientists contend, however, that girls have always played a significant role in traditional bullying but this was not fully recognized until recent research provided additional information. "That was the thinking for a while--that boys were the primary culprits in bullying," says Peter Vishton, a program director in NSF's Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences. "But that wasn't the case at all.  Girls just bully differently. The way that boys bully tends to be much easier to see, but there is a different kind of bullying that involves relationships and includes behaviors such as threatening to tell someone's secret to others."

Vishton says new techniques allowed researchers to more closely monitor girls' playground conversations, where they found girls are more likely to spread rumors or gossip as part of bullying. "It turns out, girls bully just as much as boys do." Current thinking about cyberbullying suggests there are different types: physical, verbal and relational bullying. It's this verbal and relational bullying that may typify the type of bullying in which females are more likely to engage.

Mishna agrees.  "Boys tend to bully in direct ways such as physical threats, whereas girls are more indirect and do things like spreading rumors or socially isolating a peer," she says. The nature of cyberbullying may lead to participation by more girls and hence more women as the cyberbullies and their victims grow older.

The role of age

Cyberbullying is not only associated with children and adolescents. The Cyberbullying Research Center website run by Justin Patchin, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, and Sameer Hinduja, an associate professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida Atlantic University, claims to receive more inquiries from adults than teens.

"We get a lot of emails, phone calls and comments on this blog from adults who are being bullied through technology. They stress to us that cyberbullying is not just an adolescent problem. Believe me, we know," they write on their website.

"We know that cyberbullying negatively affects adults too. It's just that we spend the majority of our efforts studying how this problem impacts school-aged youth due to their tenuous developmental stage," they write.

"While adult cyberbullying is a problem, it's not an emergency situation," Vishton concurs. "There are other issues that need more attention." Still, the researchers acknowledge cyberbullying happens between adults in varied places, from social settings online to electronic, workplace communications.

Judith Fisher-Blando, now with the College of Management and Technology at University of Phoenix, writes that cyberbullying "is not as prevalent in the workplace as bullying behavior is with children and teenagers, but underlying messages and to whom messages are copied can mask a bully's intentions."

Fisher-Blando completed a doctoral research dissertation on the subject in 2008.

Her research found that bullying behavior affects a target's ability to perform his or her job, which can impact the morale of employees and the financial performance of an organization. Moreover, Fisher-Blando's study revealed a relationship between workplace bullying and its effect on job satisfaction and productivity.

In a 2007 Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI)-Zogby survey, 13 percent of U.S. employees reported being bullied in more traditional ways at the time of the survey; another 24 percent said they had been bullied in the past.

It doesn't stop there. An additional 12 percent of workers in the WBI-Zogby survey said they witnessed workplace bullying, while 49 percent reported being affected by it--either being a target or witnessing abusive behavior against a co-worker.

Although social and economic reasons may factor into adult harassment and cyberbullying, researchers from the Project for Wellness and Work-Life contend workplace bullying is not explicitly connected to demographic markers such as sex and ethnicity. In other words, all ages, races, ethnicities and genders are perpetrators and victims of cyberbullying, but what drives them to it?

Motivating a cyberbully

There isn't a lot of information about why people bully online, says Ybarra. "But based on what we know from traditional bullying research, we think that it may be that bullying often occurs to maintain the bully's popularity or social status."

Other motivations include a desire for power. According to Mishna, cyberbullying creates a power imbalance where the cyberbully has some perceived power over the target. She says many adolescents crave this, especially if they are being bullied themselves.

Ybarra adds that retaliation for an incident of traditional bullying also may be a motivating factor. "For some adolescents who are the victims of conventional bullying, the Internet may be a place for them to assert their dominance over someone else in order to compensate for being bullied in person." Ybarra's research finds about half of the self-reported bullies in her study were targets of traditional bullying.

"Perpetrators are more likely to have externalizing problems such as aggressiveness, rule breaking and substance use," adds Ybarra. "These youth may be more likely to have a poor relationship with their caregiver and a low commitment to, or they really don't like, school."

This suggests that youth who harass online are probably experiencing difficulties in other areas of their lives and cyberbullying may not be an isolated behavioral problem. Perpetrators also report higher levels of involvement in traditional bullying than children who are not involved with cyberbullying.

Whatever motivates the cyberbully, anyone with access to the Internet or a cell phone can engage in it. Predictably, this greater use of technology potentially increases the number of targets, who often wonder why they have been singled out for harassment.

Singling out the victims

Just as characterizing a typical cyberbully is a work in progress, so too is it proving difficult to describe a typical victim. While cyberbullying can be the result of a personal dispute between friends that moves from the real world to a virtual one, other victims are singled out merely because of how they look or talk.

"Victims of cyberbullying are often children who don't have a lot of friends," says Mishna of children bullied for anything that makes them different.  She says one common characteristic of victims tends to be social isolation. "Anyone who is in a marginalized group is more likely to be cyberbullied."

Almost anything can lead to such marginalization. Adolescents who are disabled, gay, overweight or shy may be targets. Even the way a person dresses or throws a ball can make him, or her, a likely victim of cyberbullying.

Researchers say such marginalization can lead to an odd twist. Children who are on the fringes of mainstream society may be more likely to make social connections through the Internet. This may represent a source of important social support from close online friends. It is possible too that this reliance on virtual social networking can make them even more vulnerable to electronic harassment.

Jennifer L. Thornhill, (703) 292-7273 jthornhi@nsf.gov
Bobbie Mixon, (703) 292-8485 bmixon@nsf.gov

Bird Song Yields a New Understanding of Cooperation

The site of a volcano isn't the first place one might think of to study cooperation. But neuroscientist Eric Fortune of Johns Hopkins University and colleagues went to the slopes of Antisana volcano in Ecuador to study cooperation as it plays out with a very special songbird, the plain-tailed wren. Funded in part by the National Science Foundation, the researchers report their observations in the Nov. 4, 2011, issue of Science.

Rapidly alternating their singing back and forth, female and male wrens cooperate to sing a duet that sounds as if a single bird sang it. The researchers assumed that the brain of each bird would have a memory of its own part of the duet, and also have a memory of the cues from its partner. They were surprised to find that both brains had a record of the complete duet--a performance that neither bird can do by itself.

As with humans dancing a tango, one could assume that both people know their own parts of the dance and the cues from their partner, but this research suggests that both partners' brains have a powerful representation of the complete tango performance.

This simple insight from these dueting wrens is a new way to looking at cooperation. Perhaps in human endeavors it is more important to have an image of what a group wants to achieve than each participant's own tasks.

More information on this research is available in this news release from Johns Hopkins University.

-NSF-

Young Stellar Grouping in Cygnus X

Cygnus X hosts many young stellar groupings. The combined outflows and ultraviolet radiation from the region's numerous massive stars have heated and pushed gas away from the clusters, producing cavities of hot, lower-density gas.

In this 8-micron infrared image, ridges of denser gas mark the boundaries of the cavities. Bright spots within these ridges show where stars are forming today.

Credit: NASA/IPAC/MSX

When Viruses Infect Bacteria

Viruses are the most abundant parasites on Earth. Well known viruses, such as the flu virus, attack human hosts, while viruses such as the tobacco mosaic virus infect plant hosts.

More common, but less understood, are cases of viruses infecting bacteria known as bacteriophages, or phages. In part, this is due to the difficulty of culturing bacteria and viruses that have been cut off from their usual biological surroundings in a process called in vitro.

Researchers from the California Institute of Technology, funded in part by the National Science Foundation, were the first to use a clever technique to look at virus-bacterium interactions in vivo, that is, within an organism's normal state. The researchers report their results in the July 1st issue of the journal, Science.

As a test case, Rob Phillips and his team considered the interaction between viruses and bacteria in the hindgut, or posterior part, of a termite. Using new microfluidic technology, they were able to isolate single bacterial cells from the termite hindgut in six-nanoliter chambers on an array containing 765 such chambers.

They were then able to determine whether the chambers contained bacterial DNA, viral DNA or both. In the latter case, the researchers were able to statistically deduce whether the virus was specifically associated with the host--for example, by attaching to the host, shooting its DNA into the host, being incorporated into the host as a prophage (a viral genome inserted and integrated into the bacterial DNA), riding on a plasmid or by assembling new viruses within the host. And through this snapshot, the group recorded virus-bacterium associations.

Frequently there was a one-to-one virus-bacterium correspondence. However in some cases, the host was associated with a viral gene exhibiting marked diversity, suggesting possibly a more ancient infection, a more susceptible host or a phage replicating at a lower fidelity. By analyzing the bacteria and viruses based on their evolutionary development they were able to deduce that horizontal gene transfer, while it may be occurring, is not occurring at a rate high enough to randomize host-virus associations.

This study was by no means exhaustive. Many similar associations may still be found in the termite hindgut. And further inquiry may lead to a better understanding of the coevolution of a virus and its host. However, this was the first in vivo exercise, and it opens the doors of the field much wider than previously possible through in vitro culture alone.

-NSF-

Study Reveals Important Aspects of Signalling Across Cell Membranes in Plants

Every living plant cell and animal cell is surrounded by a membrane. These cellular membranes contain receptor molecules that serve as the cell's eyes and ears, and help it communicate with other cells and with the outside world.

The receptor molecules accomplish three basic things in the communication process: 1) recognize an outside signal, 2) transport that signal across the cell's membrane and 3) initiate the reading of the signal inside the cell and then initiate the cell's response to that signal. These steps are collectively known as transmembrane signaling.

Transmembrane signaling in animal cells has been significantly more studied and observed than that in plant cells. But now, with support from the National Science Foundation, researchers from Joanne Chory's laboratory at the Salk Institute have published new observations about transmembrane signaling in plants; their paper appears in the June 12, 2011, advanced online edition of Nature.

According to the study, transmembrane signaling mechanisms used by plants differ from those used by animals. Specifically, Michael Hothorn of the Salk Institute reports that a small steroid molecule on the outside of the plant cell assists in the transmembrane signaling process. By contrast, this sort of molecule and its receptor is generally located inside the nuclei of animal cells.

While studying transmembrane signaling in plants, Hothorn and colleagues observed the steroid, shown in yellow, attach to a membrane-bound receptor, shown in blue. This attachment enabled the steroid's counterpart--a co-receptor protein, shown in orange--to bind to the blue receptor. Once bound, the orange co-receptor and the blue receptor become glued together by the yellow steroid, allowing their intracellular domains to touch and initiate communication.

In the case observed by Hothorn, transmembrane signaling initiated plant growth.

-NSF-

NASA Sharing Underwater Training Facility With Petroleum Industry

Michael Curie
Headquarters, Washington

Kelly Humphries/Brandi Dean
Johnson Space Center, Houston

HOUSTON -- Astronauts and oil field workers will share a training facility at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston thanks to a new agreement that takes advantage of excess capacity at the agency's underwater training pool.

Raytheon Technical Services Co. of Dulles, Va., NASA's contractor for operations at the Sonny Carter Training Facility Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) near Johnson, has signed an agreement to partner with Petrofac Training Services in Houston.

Petrofac will use the NBL to provide survival training for offshore oil and gas workers. NASA will continue training International Space Station crews there for space walks. With the end of the Space Shuttle Program and the completion of space station assembly, the time required for NASA spacewalk training has decreased.

Oil field worker survival training is expected to begin in December. The NBL will provide trainees with one of the most realistic environments available to learn critical aspects of water survival.

The 202-foot-long, 102-foot-wide pool at the center of the NBL was designed to support spacewalk planning and training using full-scale mockups of the space shuttle and space station. While the 6.2 million-gallon, 40-foot-deep pool will continue to support NASA's activities, a transparent 12-foot faux floor will be installed in designated areas to support survival training.

In 2010, NASA selected the Raytheon team to manage and operate the facility under the NBL/Space Vehicle Mockup Operations Contract. NASA allowed Raytheon to use the facility when it is not being used for agency activities. The partnership will efficiently use NBL resources while combining the expertise and capability of Raytheon and Petrofac to create a center of excellence for survival training.

The Raytheon team has managed operations at the facility since 2003. The partnership initially will focus on three core survival courses applicable to the worldwide oil and gas industry.

The core courses are helicopter underwater egress training; basic offshore safety induction and emergency training; and further offshore emergency training. The partnership also will expand into the delivery of emergency response and crisis management training for oil, gas and other industry sectors by using the NBL's on-site test control rooms.

The announcement highlights NASA's efforts to find new and innovative partnerships. By opening Johnson Space Center’s facilities and resources for use by non-aerospace industries, NASA hopes to find areas of common interest where both parties can help each other foster new technologies that not only improve life here on Earth, but also pave the way for future human exploration in space. The NBL is just one facility with the potential for use by outside industries with special needs for design, development, testing, operations or training, especially in extreme environments.

For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit http://www.nasa.gov.

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Explanation for Glowing Seas--Including Currently Glowing California Seas

It has long been known that spectacular blue flashes--a type of bioluminescence--that are visible at night in some marine environments (currently including coastal California waters) are caused by tiny, unicellular plankton known as dinoflagellates. However, a new study has, for the first time, detailed the potential mechanism for this bioluminescence.

The study, which was partially funded by the National Science Foundation, is reported by Susan Smith of Emory School of Medicine, Thomas DeCoursey of Rush University Medical Center and colleagues in the Oct. 17, 2011 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

A key aspect of the potential mechanism for bioluminescence in dinoflagellates proposed in the PNAS study involves voltage-gated proton channels--channels in membranes that can be opened or closed by chemical or electrical events.

J. Woodland Hastings, a member of the Smith and DeCoursey research team and an author of the PNAS article, suggested the presence of voltage-gated proton channels in dinoflagellates almost forty years ago. But the Smith and Decoursey team only recently confirmed them by the identification and subsequent testing of dinoflagellate genes that are similar to genes for voltage-gated proton channels that had previously been identified in humans, mice and sea squirts.

According to the study, here is how the light-generating process in dinoflagellates may work: As dinoflagellates float, mechanical stimulation generated by the movement of surrounding water sends electrical impulses around an internal compartment within the organism, called a vacuole--which holds an abundance of protons. (See accompanying illustration.) These electrical impulses open so-called voltage-sensitive proton channels that connect the vacuole to tiny pockets dotting the vacuole membrane, known as scintillons.

Once opened, the voltage-sensitive proton channels may funnel protons from the vacuole into the scintillons. Protons entering the scintillons then activate luciferase--a protein, which produces flashes of light, that is stored in scintillons. Flashes of light produced by resulting luciferase activation would be most visible during blooms of dinoflagellates.

The red tide that is currently flashing off some California waters is almost certainly generated by dinoflagellates. Although the California species may be different from those included in this study, their mechanism for triggering flashes is believed to operate by the same mechanism.

This research illuminates the novel mechanisms underlying a beautiful natural phenomenon in our oceans, and enhances our understanding of dinoflagellates--some of which can produce toxins that are harmful to the environment.

-NSF-

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Geoscience Education Panel

January 18, 2012 8:00 AM  to
January 20, 2012 5:00 PM

Welcome to the GeoEd Program Review Panel Meeting

The Geoscience Education (GeoEd) Program is part of a portfolio of programs within the Directorate for Geosciences (GEO) that seeks to increase public understanding of Earth system science and foster recruitment, training, and retention of a diverse and skilled geoscience workforce for the future.  The program achieves  these goals by supporting innovative or transformative projects that improve the quality and effectiveness of formal and informal geoscience education at all educational levels, increase the number of students pursuing geoscience education and career paths, broaden participation of traditionally underrepresented groups in the geosciences, and promote public engagement in Earth system science.

The purpose of this meeting is to provide advice and recommendations concerning the proposals submitted to NSF for financial support from the GeoEd Program.  The agenda for each meeting is the review and evaluation of proposals.  These meetings are closed because the proposals being reviewed include information of a proprietary or confidential nature, including: technical information; financial data, such as salaries; and personal information concerning individuals associated with the proposals.  These full proposals were submitted in response to the GeoEd solicitation NSF 10-512 with an October 12, 2011 deadline.  The meeting will open with an orientation session at 8 am on Wednesday, January 18, 2012, and will adjourn at approximately 3 pm on Friday, January 20, 2012.

Contacts
Carolyn E. Wilson, (703) 292-7469 cwilson@nsf.gov
Nadine McKenzie-Proctor, (703) 292-7440 nmckenzi@nsf.gov

New Space Station Crew Members Launch from Kazakhstan

Stephanie L. Schierholz
Headquarters, Washington

Kelly Humphries
Johnson Space Center, Houston

HOUSTON -- NASA astronaut Dan Burbank and Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin launched to the International Space Station at 11:14 p.m. EST Sunday (10:14 a.m. Kazakhstan time, Monday) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Burbank, Shkaplerov and Ivanishin are scheduled to dock their Soyuz TMA-22 spacecraft with their new home at 11:33 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 15, and join Expedition 29 Commander Mike Fossum of NASA and Flight Engineers Satoshi Furukawa of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov. Fossum will hand over command of the station to the new crew within four days.

On Tuesday, coverage of the Soyuz docking will begin on NASA Television at 11 p.m. NASA TV coverage of the hatches opening and the welcoming ceremony aboard the orbiting laboratory will begin at 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Fossum, Furukawa and Volkov launched in June and are scheduled to return to Earth in their Soyuz TMA-02M spacecraft at 8:24 p.m. Nov. 21 (8:24 a.m. Kazakhstan time on Nov. 22). Expedition 30 begins when the current crew undocks, leaving Burbank in command. A formal change of command ceremony is planned for Nov. 20 and will be aired on NASA TV during a video file Nov. 21 at 8 a.m.

NASA astronaut Don Pettit, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers are scheduled to launch to the station Dec. 21, when they will join Expedition 30 as flight engineers.

The six crew members will be busy with dozens of experiments during their time aboard the station. They also will welcome a new era of commercial resupply services from the United States. Expedition 30 is expected to greet the arrival of Dragon, a commercial resupply ship being built by SpaceX of Hawthorne, Calif. Dragon will perform a test flight and rendezvous with the station, soon followed by Cygnus (scheduled for flight during Expedition 31), another commercial resupply ship being built by Orbital Sciences Corporation of Dulles, Va.

For NASA TV streaming video, schedule and downlink information, visit http://www.nasa.gov/ntv.

For more information about the International Space Station and its crew, visit http://www.nasa.gov/station.

To follow Twitter updates from Expedition 28-29 crew member Fossum, visit http://twitter.com/astro_aggie.

To follow Twitter updates from Expedition 29-30 crew member Burbank, visit http://twitter.com/AstroCoastie.

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Former Massachusetts Scientist and Businessman Sentenced to Prison for Federal Grant Fraud

WASHINGTON - A former Massachusetts scientist and businessman was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Rya W. Zobel in Boston to one year and one day in federal prison for executing a fraud scheme involving a multi-million dollar federal research grant.

The sentence was announced by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz for the District of Massachusetts; William P. Offord, Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) - Boston Field Office; and Theodore L. Doherty III, Special Agent in Charge of the New England Regional Office of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General (DOT-OIG).

Christopher D. Willson also w as sentenced to six months of supervised release following his prison term.   In addition, Willson was ordered to pay restitution of $100,000 to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).   Willson was convicted at trial in June 2011 of one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and to commit wire fraud, six counts of wire fraud and four counts of false claims. 

According to the evidence presented at trial, Willson was the chief scientist and senior vice president of a Pittsfield, Mass., company called EV Worldwide LLC (EVW).   From 2000 through 2005, a federal earmark directed the FTA to transfer approximately $4.3 million to EVW through a regional transit agency called the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA).   The funds were used by EVW to develop an electric battery that would be used in public transit buses.   The federal grant required EVW to match the federal funds, dollar-for-dollar, with its own resources.   For every dollar EVW spent on the project, the company could seek up to 50 percent reimbursement from the FTA.

From 2004 through 2005, W illson submitted 10 fraudulent invoices in which he falsely claimed that EVW was matching the FTA funds, when in fact EVW was millions of dollars in debt and had nearly no other non-public source of funds.   Evidence and testimony presented at trial also showed that Willson repeatedly contacted and met with U.S. Congressman John Olver’s office and grant officials at the FTA and PVTA to discuss the company’s claimed progress and federal grant funding, but he never informed them of the company’s financial problems.   As a result of this deception, Willson fraudulently obtained more than $700,000 in federal funds for EVW.

Willson used the money to pay himself approximately $100,000, to pay EVW’s CEO Michael Armitage approximately $250,000 and to provide approximately $110,000 to fund a separate research company that he and Armitage had founded in Canada called Hydrogen Storage Media Inc., among other things.

In October 2010, Armitage pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy, one count of false claims and one count of endeavoring to obstruct a federal audit, as well as other unrelated crimes.   On Nov. 15, 2011, Armitage was sentenced by U.S. District Judge for the District of Massachusetts Michael A. Ponsor to 66 months in federal prison to be followed by five years of supervised release and was ordered to pay restitution of $4.2 million to the FTA and $215,138 to the PVTA.

The case was investigated by IRS-CI and the DOT-OIG.   The Defense Contract Audit Agency also assisted with the investigation.   The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven H. Breslow for the District of Massachusetts and Trial Attorney Edward J. Loya Jr. of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section.

Security Risks of QR Codes and Near Field Communication

Businesses are always looking for innovative ways to market products and services. Government agencies also need to connect with consumers and share important information. Since some consumers ignore traditional advertising and marketing methods, these organizations are forced to look for new communication methods. Two new methods of communication, QR codes and near field communication, promise to make life easier for customers and help businesses create better customer relationships; however, using these technologies presents several security risks.

Read On
http://onlineqrcodegenerator.com/163/security-risks-of-qr-codes-and-near-field-communication/

Monday, November 28, 2011

Hurricane Season 2011: Tropical Storm 5A (Northern Indian Ocean)

Tropical Storm 5A More 'Well-Rounded' on NASA Infrared Imagery, for Now

Over the past several days Tropical Storm 05A has become better organized on infrared satellite imagery from NASA. Imagery from NASA's Aqua satellite over two days has shown that the cold cloud tops in the cyclone have become more rounded as the storm consolidates and strengthens.

NASA's Aqua satellite made two passes over Tropical Storm 05A (5A) and noticed the changes. The first pass happened on Nov. 26 at 08:23 UTC (3:23 a.m. EST and the infrared image from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument on Aqua revealed that 5A's clouds were not circular in nature, indicating a struggle within the storm to get organized. At that time, 5A was located near 9.3 North and 73.6 East, about 160 miles (257 km) west-southwest of Cochin, India.

By Nov. 27 at 21:23 UTC (4:23 p.m. EST) 5A had become circular in shape indicating that the storm did get better organized. At that time, maximum sustained winds were near 40 mph (35 knots/65 kmh) and it was 360 miles (579 km) south-southwest of Mumbai, India. That organization may be short-lived however, as wind shear increases and batters the circulation of the storm.

AIRS infrared imagery measures cloud top and sea surface temperatures, two factors that help determine the behavior of tropical cyclones. The colder the cloud tops are the higher the clouds and the stronger the thunderstorm (and heavier rain). The warmer the sea surface temperatures are, the higher the thunderstorm cloud tops are likely to rise and the stronger they are likely to become. Sea surface temperatures of at least 80F (26.6C) are needed to maintain a tropical cyclone, and they are currently near 84.2F (29C) in the Bay of Bengal where 5A lingers.

On Nov. 28 at 1500 UTC (10 a.m. EST), Tropical Storm 05A had maximum sustained winds still holding near 40 mph (35 knots/65 kmh). It was located 590 miles south of Karachi, Pakistan near 15.2 North and 67.8 East. 5A was moving to the northwest at 8 knots (9 mph/14 kmh) and generating seas of 17 feet (5.1 meters) high. Infrared imagery today shows that the banding of thunderstorms in the southeastern quadrant of the storm have thinned, a sign of weakening.

Forecasters say that it will track northwest across the Arabian Sea toward Somalia and strengthen a little more before running into wind shear that is expected to weaken the storm.

Text credit: Rob Gutro, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

Sailors Encouraged to Conserve Energy and Share Energy-Saving Tips Online

By Andrea Lamartin, Chief of Naval Operations Energy and Environmental Readiness Division

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- The director of the Chief of Naval Operations Energy & Environmental Readiness Division released a video podcast Nov. 23 for the 2011 holiday season.

In the podcast, Rear Adm. Phil Cullom reminds viewers that while decorative lighting is an enjoyable part of celebrating the holidays, it presents two avoidable factors that can degrade Navy readiness: the energy intensity of outdated lighting and safety issues that can result from these systems.

Cullom presents challenges in the categories of lighting, recycling, and safety. He recommends upgrading to energy efficient holiday lights by using solar lighting to decorate outdoors, employing lighting timers to reduce holiday lighting energy consumption, and using recycled materials to wrap gifts. Year round, he suggests turning off computers at the end of the work day to conserve energy. From a safety standpoint, he encourages personnel to exercise caution with space heaters and avoid overloading electrical circuits.

Cullom invites Sailors and civilians to post holiday energy-saving and safety tips from their ships and bases on the Navy's Task Force Energy Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/NavalEnergy. This presents a great opportunity for Navy personnel to share their knowledge and hands-on experience to improve readiness, conserve energy, and safely celebrate in the holiday spirit.

The complete video message can be viewed at http://youtu.be/9rtIXx7p7Js, and a written transcript is available on the Navy's Energy, Environment, and Climate Change website at http://greenfleet.dodlive.mil/files/2011/11/NavyEnergyHolidayTranscript1.pdf.

This and other podcasts, articles, and stories are available on the Navy's Task Force Energy Facebook page at Facebook.com/NavalEnergy.

Frontline Psych with Doc Bender: Use Technology to Your Benefit

By Dr. James Bender, DCoE psychologist

Dr. James Bender is a former Army psychologist who deployed to Iraq as the brigade psychologist for the 1st Cavalry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team out of Fort Hood, Texas. During his deployment, he traveled through Southern Iraq, from Basra to Baghdad. He writes a monthly post for the DCoE Blog on psychological health concerns related to deployment and being in the military.

Technology has dramatically changed our world during the past 20 years, including how we approach psychological health care, and mostly for the better. Twenty years ago, if you wanted to find out about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), you could either make an appointment with a psychologist or spend countless hours at a library reading books and professional journals. Now, great information is just a click away.

If you have a smartphone for example, you can instantly download free mobile applications such as the PTSD Coach, and learn about PTSD and ways to help you manage its symptoms. There are apps to track your mood during a period of time and give you and your provider information to help diagnose a possible mood or anxiety disorder. Treatment guidelines to help providers manage patients with mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) are even available on a smartphone. There are lots of good online assessment tools, and although they don’t give a clinical diagnosis of a disorder, they can get you thinking about your well-being and help start a conversation with a mental health care provider if needed.

When I was seeing patients, it impressed me when someone came to my office with a printout from a website describing a particular problem or topic. It showed me that they cared enough to seek out information and were proactive in their care.

But here are a few points to keep in mind when you’re educating yourself on psychological health concerns:

 ■Make sure to get your info from credible sources: DCoE, American Psychological Association, afterdeployment.org and Department of Veterans Affairs are great sources for info on TBI, PTSD, depression and other military-related mental health concerns
■While many sources are good, a few are poor. Be wary of sites that try to sell you something, make outlandish claims or offer quick results. Treatment for mental health conditions works, but it takes time and effort
■While these resources can educate you and give you things to talk about with your provider, they should not serve as a substitute for professional help

Another example of how technology is improving the way people can access information is being able to connect with someone instantly and at any time. The DCoE Outreach Center is available through online chat and whether you’re a service member, veteran, family member or provider, you can speak to a health resource consultant who can provide guidance and resources 24/7.

I often participate in webinars. I can sit at home and virtually attend a TBI symposium across the country given by great researchers. This makes me a better psychologist and allows me to do my job better. If you find a topic that interests you, why not take advantage of all this technology to learn more about it?

After all, it is clear that technology is here to stay, and I encourage you to embrace it as a tool that can help you improve your psychological health. Thanks for reading and for your service.

Will.i.am and Leland Melvin at the MSL Tweetup

Will.i.am, left, celebrity entertainer and member of The Black Eyed Peas, and former astronaut Leland Melvin, NASA associate administrator for Education, take part in a Tweetup at NASA Kennedy Space Center's Press Site in Florida during prelaunch activities for the agency’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) launch. Behind them glint the lights of the launch countdown clock. Once MSL and Curiosity have landed on Mars, the rover will investigate whether the region has ever offered conditions favorable for microbial life, including the chemical ingredients for life.

Image Credit: NASA

San Diego Logistics Center Preps SDTS for Alternative Fuel Test

By Candice Villarreal, NAVSUP Fleet Logistics Center San Diego Public Affairs

NAVSUP Fleet Logistics Center (FLC) San Diego personnel successfully loaded the Self Defense Test Ship (SDTS) with a breakthrough alternative fuel blend recently at the Defense Fuel Supply Point (DFSP) in San Diego.

In preparation for the Navy’s largest demonstration of shipboard alternative fuel use, NAVSUP FLC San Diego fuel department personnel transferred about 20,000 gallons of a 50-50 blend of hydro-processed algae-derived algal oil and petroleum F-76 to SDTS, a decommissioned Spruance-class destroyer formerly known as Paul F. Foster (EDD 964).

Three tanker trucks transferred the fuel to SDTS over a six-hour period at the supply point’s Pier 180 aboard Naval Base Point Loma. Following the fueling operation, SDTS set sail for its 17-hour test transit back to Port Hueneme, Calif.

“The alternative fuel is really a drop-in fuel, meaning we conduct the entire fueling evolution just as we would with traditional fuels, making it not only beneficial for the environment, but also convenient for us as operators,” said Lt. Cmdr. Frank Kim, fuel officer for NAVSUP FLC San Diego. “We use the same types of trucks, hoses and other pierside equipment to transfer the fuel, and no modifications are required either from a fueling perspective or on the shipboard side. It’s going to be pretty amazing to see where these fuels take us in the future.”

Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Energy, Installations and Environment) Jackalyne Pfannenstiel and Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Energy) Thomas Hicks were present during the fueling evolution and hosted a question-and-answer session about the alternative fuel and the imminent demonstration.

Following its decommissioning, SDTS was reconfigured to provide the Navy an at-sea, remotely controlled engineering test and evaluation platform without the risk to personnel or operational assets. The ship successfully concluded the demonstration upon its Nov. 17 arrival at Naval Surface Warfare Center Port Hueneme.

The Navy continues to test alternative fuels as part of the energy strategy developed to enhance energy security and environmental stewardship while reducing greenhouse emissions.

“This might be the largest demonstration to date, but it won’t be the last,” Kim said. “We’re charged with fueling the fleet, and wherever the Navy’s energy innovations take us, that’s where we’ll be. Years back, we focused only on traditional petroleum products, but now we’re going to keep the pace to do our part in meeting the Navy’s energy goals and eventually powering our great green fleet.”

NAVSUP Fleet Logistics Center San Diego, one of seven fleet logistics centers under NAVSUP Global Logistics Support, provides global logistics, business and support services to fleet, shore and industrial commands of the Navy, Coast Guard, Military Sealift Command, and other joint and allied Forces. Services include contracting, regional transportation, fuel, material management, household goods movement support, postal and consolidated mail, warehousing, global logistics and husbanding, hazardous material management, and integrated logistics support.

NAVSUP GLS comprises more than 5,700 military and civilian logistics professionals, contractors and foreign nationals operating as a single cohesive team providing global logistics services from 110 locations worldwide.

A component of the Naval Supply Systems Command headquartered in Mechanicsburg, Pa., NAVSUP GLS is part of a worldwide logistics network of more than 22,500 military and civilian personnel providing combat capability through logistics.

For more news from Naval Supply Systems Command, visit Navy.mil/local/navsup/.