News Archive 2011 to 2012
Physics professor Ramon Lopez is a self-proclaimed “space weatherman.” Lopez and his team of researchers are working with other physicists around the country to develop computer models that can warn scientists of damaging space weather before it happens. “We are part of a team of many universities working on models of the interaction of the solar wind with earth’s magnetic field,” Lopez said. “We’re trying to understand how well these models can predict certain things of interest, and what’s the basic physics between the solar wind and the earth’s magnetosphere.” Physics professor Ramon Lopez explains possible benefits of research into solar flares that he and his students have recently been given a grant to conduct. (The Shorthorn: Casey Holder) Physics professor Ramon Lopez explains possible benefits of research into solar flares that he and his students have recently been given a grant to conduct. (The Shorthorn: Casey Holder) Turbulent space weather occurs when the ionosphere, the highest part of the atmosphere, starts flowing with electric current from the space cloud that hits earth’s magnetic field. This generates electrical currents that flow down into the atmosphere and flow through the ionosphere, Lopez said. “Those changing electrical currents cause changing magnetic fields, those changing magnetic fields produce other electric currents in any nearby conductor,” Lopez said. “Pipelines and power grids would be targets for these electric currents,” said Lopez. Many everyday things can be influenced by space weather. Ionospheric disturbances can cause errors in global positioning systems. “The use of GPS just keeps on exploding, and GPS is highly dependent on space weather,” Lopez said. Lopez said the effects of GPS errors extend beyond someone getting the wrong directions from their car’s GPS. “A lot of farming is now completely automated, so what a farmer does is he programs the tractor and the tractor goes and deposits seeds and fertilizer, all of that guided by GPS,” he said. Space weather could also affect oil drilling. “A lot of oil drills now depend on GPS for drilling, especially with horizontal drilling, which allows them to tap previously inaccessible areas of oil and gas,” Lopez said. “If GPS is down, you can’t drill, which could cost you a lot of money.” Space weather also could cause power outages. University of Puerto Rico physics major Erick Vargas and his fellow students from the Mayaguez Campus particiate in a demonstration of 3-D projection. (The Shorthorn: Casey Holder) University of Puerto Rico physics major Erick Vargas and his fellow students from the Mayaguez Campus particiate in a demonstration of 3-D projection. (The Shorthorn: Casey Holder) Lopez said it’s possible that a huge space weather storm could blow out transformers, causing large areas of the country to lose electricity. “Those transformers would be very difficult because we don’t produce many of them per year,” he said. “There’s not a big call for a lot of that kind of industrial equipment, so that would be a major loss.” The key to dealing with space weather is better methods of prediction, Lopez said. “All the power companies could be aware that they are going to have these difficulties, so they can turn off some equipment, prepare to handle voltage fluctuations on the power grid and they can have emergency teams watching transformers,” he said. Space weather is caused by solar activity. “Some of what I do involves looking at long-term variations of solar wind and using that to try and understand long-term variations of the sun,” he said. Solar flares are one type of solar activity. They occur when magnetic energy that has been built up in the solar atmosphere is suddenly released, according to Lopez. “A lot of times solar flares will release a lot of plasma energy, and sometimes it might come toward the earth,” physics graduate student Kevin Pham said. Pham has been involved with Lopez’s research for about a year. “Mostly, I run the simulations of what we think the sun is doing, and we see how it affects the earth,” Pham said. Physics graduate student Shree Bhattarai has been working with Lopez for about two and a half years. “Pretty much everything we do in our research is related to solar flares,” Bhattari said. “Energy from the solar flares is transferred to the geomagnetic system, and that’s what we do our research on.” Space weather is a relatively new area of research that developed out of the fundamental physics of sun and earth environment, Lopez said. “Scientists in our community began making the case that we’re becoming more and more dependent on our space environment,” he said. “And we need to be able to predict and understand how that will impact our technology.”
Physics student, Edwin Baldelomar, submitted a poster that was awarded the Undergraduate Presentation Award for Outstanding Presentation. The poster was presented at the American Physical Societies April Meeting in Anaheim, California.
Edwin's poster describes the pressure dependence studies that were performed on the gas electron multiplier (GEM) based digital hadron calorimeter that was developed here at UTA. Pressure was studied on two different chambers with two different chamber geometries, both with different trends seen comparably. Shown and discussed are the results of the study on each chamber and presented in forms of graphs of gain vs. pressure with regression lines displayed. The trends discovered are put to comparison with the geometrical aspects of the chamber and a good correlation is found to be within error. Upon further studies that are necessary are to compare the findings experimentally with computer simulations and final write up of all findings.
View the poster here.
TRACI PETERSON - Media Relations Officer
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
ARLINGTON - Scientists know space weather caused by solar flares and other phenomenon holds the potential to disable electrical grids and disrupt the use of the global positioning system (GPS) that everyone from farmers to oil well drillers depend on. Now, physicists at The University of Texas at Arlington are working with others around the country to develop computer models that can issue warnings of such events available one to four days before their arrival.
UT Arlington is one of 11 member institutions that make up the Center for Integrated Space Weather Modeling (CISM), a Science and Technology center funded by the National Science Foundation that transitioned its first space weather forecasting model from research to operations earlier this year. CISM, which is headquartered at Boston University, was established in 2002 with the goal of creating a set of physics-based numerical simulation models that describe the space environment from the Sun to the Earth.
“Space weather is becoming more and more important to our technological and space-based civilization, so the ability to predict space weather events will be as important as the ability to predict major hurricanes,” said Ramon Lopez, a UT Arlington professor of physics who is also co-investigator on the CISM. Lopez brought the project to UT Arlington when he came to the College of Science in 2007.
Solar phenomena like coronal mass ejections and solar flares can produce enormous changes in the near-Earth space environment and those changes are what make up space weather. Earth’s magnetosphere, the magnetic field that surrounds the Earth, protects us from most of these changes, but energy released by the Sun in solar storms can pass through and have potentially disastrous effects on our technology.
The aurora or “northern lights” is the most well known phenomenon caused by solar energy reaching the upper atmosphere of the Earth. But increased solar activity can have other effects, such as disrupting satellite communication systems, electrical transmission systems and navigational systems. Even oil and gas pipelines can be affected by rapidly fluctuating geomagnetic fields, which induce electric currents in the pipes and cause them to corrode much faster than expected.
Scientists hope that giving the operators of important systems such as electrical grids and GPS warning of an impending disruption could help minimize damage and cost. To accomplish that goal, CISM developed models for the four regions where space weather takes place: the region immediately around the sun, the region between the sun and earth, the earth’s magnetosphere and the ionosphere or upper atmosphere of the Earth.
CISM works in cooperation with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Space Weather Prediction Center, which is part of the National Weather Service. Other partners include NASA, the Air Force Research Laboratory, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications and the National Computational Science Alliance.
UT Arlington’s role has been in the validation of the magnetospheric and ionospheric models, which includes both understanding the physics of the geospace environment as well as confirming model results using real data collected by NASA and Air Force satellites, Lopez said. UT Arlington students are involved in that work and undergraduates have been co-authors on peer-reviewed scientific papers related to space weather. Lopez is also co-director for diversity at the CISM.
"It's very exciting to pioneer a path from research to operations in space weather," CISM’s director Jeffrey Hughes said in a January announcement from the National Science Foundation. "The science is having a real impact on the practical problem of predicting when 'solar storms' will affect us here on Earth."
Participation in the space weather monitoring collaboration is one of the innovative projects under way at The University of Texas at Arlington, a comprehensive research institution of 33,800 students in the heart of North Texas. Visit www.uta.edu to learn more.
Read the article here.
TRACI PETERSON - Media Relations Officer
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
ARLINGTON - The Planetarium at UT Arlington is hosting a National Science Foundation-funded exhibit about the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory or LIGO. “Astronomy's New Messengers: Listening to the Universe with Gravitational Waves” will be on display through July 29.
LIGO is a unique effort to detect and monitor ripples in the fabric of space and time produced by violent events like the collision of black holes. Albert Einstein predicted the existence of “gravitational waves” in his 1916 general theory of relativity. LIGO, which has a detection station in Louisiana and one in the state of Washington, was developed by scientists from the California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The exhibit inside the UT Arlington Chemistry and Physics Building, 700 Planetarium Place, is free-of-charge.
Manfred Cuntz, associate professor of physics and the director of UT Arlington’s astronomy program, said the exhibit is a good example of the NSF and UT Arlington’s commitment to bringing science to the general public.
“Black holes are just one of those terms which catch the imagination of many people and this exhibit has the potential to engage young students who may one day pursue a career in science,” he said.
Please contact Levent Gurdemir, UT Arlington’s planetarium director, at 817-272-1183 for more information.
Ashley Bradley, The Shorthorn staff
Physics professor Truman Black was surprised when he was thrown a surprise party for his retirement last week, but he was even more surprised that a scholarship fund had been started in his name, already reaching $25,000. “I consider it an honor that they are honoring me like this,” Black said. Through UTA’s Maverick Match, a program that matches all donated funds using the university’s natural gas royalty funds, UTA will match funds donated to The Truman Black Scholarship throughout the next year. Black has been a professor at UTA for 46 years, and said when he first came to the university, it wasn’t what it is now. “I came to UTA to establish research,” he said. “There was very little research going on then.” When Black first arrived in 1965, he said he could tell the university was going to be a great school, but it needed to be pushed in the right direction. He said he helped in doing this by pushing administration to foster more research. “We really wanted to honor the good work he’s done at UTA,” said Shelly Frank, scholarship organizer and College of Science development director. “Dr. Black has an amazing rapport with students. They love him.” Frank said when she was organizing Black’s surprise retirement party and scholarship fund raising party, she was thrilled that so many of his past students came from out of town.
Among them was Carol Cooper Johnson, a student of Black’s who graduated in 1970. “He really did love his students,” Cooper Johnson said. “It’s great that his name will be an even longer lasting legacy in the department.” Cooper Johnson recalled a memory from one of his classes – one day Black brought a Van de Graaff generator, or an electrostatic generator, to class for a demonstration. After calling for Cooper Johnson to come over to the generator and to touch it with her hand, he became confused when the normal reaction didn’t occur – her hair was supposed to stand straight up. “Ha! Hairspray!” She said while he looked at her confused. “I had it sprayed down so much his plan was foiled!” She said she loved going to Black’s class because he always had great demonstrations and so many things to teach. “He would also host parties at his house, and that really fostered great, long-lasting friendships,” Cooper Johnson said.
Black said after he received a letter from administration offering tenured and tenure-track faculty, who meet additional requirements, a one-year salary buyout, he decided it was time to leave teaching. “I am 73 years old, and that makes me an old fart,” Black said laughing. “Students really do prefer younger professors.” Black said the buyout wasn’t the only reason he decided to retire. During the past eight months he has been going through chemotherapy to get rid of his diagnosed cancer. “I’ve been out for the past eight months dealing with that,” he said. “I just feel like sleeping late now.” He said though he has decided to leave teaching, he still has a desire to continue research on campus for physics. He’s glad a scholarship has been started in his name, and said he hopes it gives students the “umph” to get motivated in physics.
“Students need encouragement, and if you can give them a couple hundred bucks to do that, then why not?” Black said. “I had a lot of students. And I treated them all like my kids.”
Read the article here.
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Media contact: Herb Booth, (817) 272-7075, email@example.com
ARLINGTON - UT Arlington researchers are using focused laser beams to manipulate cells that lead drug-carrying nanoparticles that deliver medicine to cancer cells that need it.
Samarendra Mohanty, assistant professor of physics, and Kytai Nguyen, associate professor of bioengineering, are part of the collaborative research effort in The University of Texas at Arlington’s Biophysics and Physiology Lab.
Those focused laser beams are called optical tweezers and are used in cell manipulation.
The team has tested the process at the microscopic level using human cells and will present the research at the March meeting of American Physical Society in Dallas.
Nguyen said results from this research would help investigators design nanoparticles that have more therapeutic benefits while reducing severe side effects often seen in chemotherapy.
“A focused laser holds the cell. We then use a force against the cell to measure the single cell’s elasticity,” Mohanty said. Elasticity measures how much that cell can stretch. “A cancer cell is normally more brittle, so those can be identified. A nanoparticle carrying a drug is then introduced with the optical tweezers.”
Nguyen said how these nanoparticles interact with the cell gives the researchers valuable information about the cell.
“We can coat them with an antibody that is bound to diseased cells and deliver drugs to only these cells to treat illnesses,” Nguyen said.
Mohanty also is working in the field of optogenetics, an emerging field using low-power light to stimulate neuronal cells. Mohanty said those specific genetically targeted neurons are stimulated with a micro LED (light emitting diode).
He said there has been some success using optogenetics to treat retinitis pigmentosa, an eye disease in which there is loss of vision due to degeneration of photoreceptors in retina.
The optical tweezers and optogenetics research projects are representative of the cutting-edge innovations taking place at The University of Texas at Arlington, a comprehensive research institution of 33,800 students in the heart of North Texas. Visit www.uta.edu to learn more.
A future collaboration between surrounding schools could aid discussion in new ways to eliminate cancerous cells.
UT Southwestern will hold the annual Metroplex Day Friday, inviting UTA and UT-Dallas students and faculty interested in science fields. The day’s events will include presentations from faculty members and students from each university with three student presenters chosen for $100 prizes.
Physics graduate student Lun Ma is presenting a poster about his research on photodynamic therapy with afterglow nanoparticles, a method that eliminates cancerous cells.
Like the glow in sports watches, the particles give off a luminescent light, but even when the “light” is turned off, the particles are still lit up.
Because light is needed to kill cancerous cells, these glowing particles are important because they can penetrate deep areas in the body, which outside light can’t reach.
When the nanoparticles enter the body, whether orally or by shot, the particles would be triggered to glow using an X-ray. The afterglow effect is then attracted to the cancerous cells, killing them with singlet oxygen, a form of toxin produced by the reaction to the light.
“The reason the afterglow particles work is because they store more energy,” Ma said. “Photosynthesizers receive the lights and attract the singlet oxygen, which kills the cancer cell.”
After working more than two years to create the glowing nanoparticles, the next step is getting them into the body to lure singlet oxygen to the cancerous cells.
Assistant physics professor Wei Chen is the science presenter from UTA and will discuss his research on photodynamic therapy and photothermal therapy.
He said while photodynamic therapy uses afterglow nanoparticles, photothermal therapy uses nanoparticles combined with light to generate heat using a low-power laser.
Chen said the reason collaboration is important with these projects is because he is already getting phone calls from people with cancer who are interested in the methods.
“I am an esophageal cancer patient and interested in photodynamic therapy,” a woman said on Chen’s answering machine. “I have good insurance.”
Paula Walker, research associate at UT Southwestern, is an organizer for the event and said the point of the event is for people to get together and see what is being worked on.
“The primary goal is to gain experience and exposure through each other,” Walker said.