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ScienceDaily

Insulators in Alberta at higher risk of chest infections, COPD

Construction workers in Alberta who work with hazardous insulation materials are much more likely to be affected by repeated chest infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according to new research published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

The study followed 990 insulators over six years. Participants underwent regular pulmonary function tests and chest radiography throughout the study. Researchers found 46 per cent of the workers had one or more chest infections over a three-year time span and 16 per cent of insulators who were exposed to asbestos were diagnosed with COPD — a disease that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs.

“In the past, physicians have tried to advocate for compensation benefits to insulators who were declined because of a background of cigarette smoking,” said Paige Lacy, professor of medicine at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry and director of research at the Alberta Respiratory Centre. “This study shows that incidence of COPD and recurrent chest infections is independent of cigarette smoking and demonstrates that hazardous materials really are having an effect on the health of insulators.”

Nearly all insulation materials — including asbestos, carbon fibres, calcium silica, fibreglass and refractory ceramic fibres — with the exception of aerogels and mineral fibres, were associated with chest infections. COPD was only associated with asbestos, a commonly used construction material in Canada until it was banned outright in 2018.

The findings of the study are already being used by the Workers’ Compensation Board to assess insulators who are potentially exposed to hazardous materials in the course of their work, said Lacy.

“Not all of them are in safe working environments. We’re trying to advocate to make their environment safer, to reduce their exposure to these hazardous materials and to make life better for Albertans who are working in the construction sector.”

The research team believes far more can be done to address hazardous working conditions for insulators in Canada. They advocate for greater use of personal protective equipment such as respirators and hazmat suits on worksites, increased worksite monitoring, regular health checkups for workers and elimination of hazardous insulation materials in favour of safer ones.

“A large problem is that workers are not actually informed about potential health risks of some of the materials they’re using,” said Subhabrata Moitra, a post-doctoral fellow at the U of A and lead author of the study. “There really need to be stricter rules for utilizing less hazardous materials when they’re available.”

The team is now working on a followup study examining the same group of workers to determine whether their lung health remains the same or gets worse over time.

“People assume that in Canada, we don’t have the same kinds of workplace exposures to hazardous materials,” said Lacy. “We think it happens somewhere else, like India or China, because they handle very large quantities of raw material in their work, especially because of lack of safety policies. But we’re finding evidence that within Canada, we’re getting people exposed to these hazardous construction materials at very high levels, and this is a threat to their health.”

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Materials provided by University of Alberta Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry. Original written by Ross Neitz. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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Hackster.io

Precursor, ft. Andrew “bunnie” Huang

It looks like a phone with a keyboard, but it does so much more – Precursor is an open hardware development platform for secure, mobile computation and communication.

Tune in for our interview with bunnie Huang – we’ll chat about Precursor, as well as previous projects Novena, Chumby, and more!

// https://www.crowdsupply.com/sutajio-kosagi/precursor
//https://www.hackster.io/news/the-precursor-secure-and-transparent-development-platform-in-your-pocket-a7ddfa654b69
// https://www.bunniestudios.com
// Precursor AMA info: https://twitter.com/bunniestudios/status/1330514161759973376

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ScienceDaily

Science reveals secrets of a mummy’s portrait

How much information can you get from a speck of purple pigment, no bigger than the diameter of a hair, plucked from an Egyptian portrait that’s nearly 2,000 years old? Plenty, according to a new study. Analysis of that speck can teach us about how the pigment was made, what it’s made of — and maybe even a little about the people who made it. The study is published in the International Journal of Ceramic Engineering and Science.

“We’re very interested in understanding the meaning and origin of the portraits, and finding ways to connect them and come up with a cultural understanding of why they were even painted in the first place,” says materials scientist Darryl Butt, co-author of the study and dean of the College of Mines and Earth Sciences.

Faiyum mummies

The portrait that contained the purple pigment came from an Egyptian mummy, but it doesn’t look the same as what you might initially think of as a mummy — not like the golden sarcophagus of Tutankhamen, nor like the sideways-facing paintings on murals and papyri. Not like Boris Karloff, either.

The portrait, called “Portrait of a Bearded Man,” comes from the second century when Egypt was a Roman province, hence the portraits are more lifelike and less hieroglyphic-like than Egyptian art of previous eras. Most of these portraits come from a region called Faiyum, and around 1,100 are known to exist. They’re painted on wood and were wrapped into the linens that held the mummified body. The portraits were meant to express the likeness of the person, but also their status — either actual or aspirational.

That idea of status is actually very important in this case because the man in the portrait we’re focusing on is wearing purple marks called clavi on his toga. “Since the purple pigment occurred in the clavi — the purple mark on the toga that in Ancient Rome indicated senatorial or equestrian rank- it was thought that perhaps we were seeing an augmentation of the sitter’s importance in the afterlife,” says Glenn Gates of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, where the portrait resides.

The color purple, Butt says, is viewed as a symbol of death in some cultures and a symbol of life in others. It was associated with royalty in ancient times, and still is today. Paraphrasing the author Victoria Finlay, Butt says that purple, located at the end of the visible color spectrum, can suggest the end of the known and the beginning of the unknown.

“So the presence of purple on this particular portrait made us wonder what it was made of and what it meant,” Butt says. “The color purple stimulates many questions.”

Lake pigments

Through a microscope, Gates saw that the pigment looked like crushed gems, containing particles ten to a hundred times larger than typical paint particles. To answer the question of how it was made, Gates sent a particle of the pigment to Butt and his team for analysis. The particle was only 50 microns in diameter, about the same as a human hair, which made keeping track of it challenging.

“The particle was shipped to me from Baltimore, sandwiched between two glass slides,” Butt says, “and because it had moved approximately a millimeter during transit, it took us two days to find it.” In order to move the particle to a specimen holder, the team used an eyelash with a tiny quantity of adhesive at its tip to make the transfer. “The process of analyzing something like this is a bit like doing surgery on a flea.”

With that particle, as small as it was, the researchers could machine even smaller samples using a focused ion beam and analyze those samples for their elemental composition.

What did they find? To put the results in context, you’ll need to know how dyes and pigments are made.

Pigments and dyes are not the same things. Dyes are the pure coloring agents, and pigments are the combination of dyes, minerals, binders and other components that make up what we might recognize as paint.

Initially, purple dyes came from a gland of a genus of sea snails called Murex. Butt and his colleagues hypothesize that the purple used in this mummy painting is something else — a synthetic purple.

The researchers also hypothesize that the synthetic purple could have originally been discovered by accident when red dye and blue indigo dye mixed together. The final color may also be due to the introduction of chromium into the mix.

From there, the mineralogy of the pigment sample suggests that the dye was mixed with clay or a silica material to form a pigment. According to Butt, an accomplished painter himself, pigments made in this way are called lake pigments (derived from the same root word as lacquer). Further, the pigment was mixed with a beeswax binder before finally being painted on linden wood.

The pigment showed evidence suggesting a crystal structure in the pigment. “Lake pigments were thought to be without crystallinity prior to this work,” Gates says. “We now know crystalline domains exist in lake pigments, and these can function to ‘trap’ evidence of the environment during pigment creation.”

Bottom of the barrel, er, vat

One other detail added a bit more depth to the story of how this portrait was made. The researchers found significant amounts of lead in the pigment as well and connected that finding with observations from a late 1800s British explorer who reported that the vats of dye in Egyptian dyers’ workshops were made of lead.

“Over time, a story or hypothesis emerged,” Butt says, “suggesting that the Egyptian dyers produced red dye in these lead vats.” And when they were done dyeing at the end of the day, he says, there may have been a sludge that developed inside the vat that was a purplish color. “Or, they were very smart and they may have found a way to take their red dye, shift the color toward purple by adding a salt with transition metals and a mordant [a substance that fixes a dye] to intentionally synthesize a purple pigment. We don’t know.”

Broader impacts

This isn’t Butt’s first time using scientific methods to learn about ancient artwork. He’s been involved with previous similar investigations and has drawn on both his research and artistic backgrounds to develop a class called “The Science of Art” that included studies and discussions on topics that involved dating, understanding and reverse engineering a variety of historical artifacts ranging from pioneer newspapers to ancient art.

“Mixing science and art together is just fun,” he says. “It’s a great way to make learning science more accessible.”

And the work has broader impacts as well. Relatively little is known about the mummy portraits, including whether the same artist painted multiple portraits. Analyzing pigments on an atomic level might provide the chemical fingerprint needed to link portraits to each other.

“Our results suggest one tool for documenting similarities regarding time and place of production of mummy portraits since most were grave-robbed and lack archaeological context,” Gates says.

“So we might be able to connect families,” Butt adds. “We might be able to connect artists to one another.”

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ScienceDaily

Success in controlling perovskite ions’ composition paves the way for device applications

Hybrid organic-inorganic perovskites (*1) have received much attention as potential next generation solar cells and as materials for light-emitting devices.

Kobe University’s Associate Professor TACHIKAWA Takashi (of the Molecular Photoscience Research Center) and Dr. KARIMATA Izuru (previously a graduate student engaged in research at the Graduate School of Science) have succeeded in completely substituting the halide ions of perovskite nanocrystals while maintaining their morphology and light-emitting efficiency.

Furthermore, by using techniques such as single-particle photoluminescence imaging, the researchers were able to understand the momentary changes in light emission and the crystal structure, which in turn enabled them to develop a principle for controlling ion composition.

It is expected that these research results will contribute towards enabling the synthesis of perovskites of varying compositions and advancing the development of devices which utilize them. In addition, it is hoped that the flexibility of perovskite structures can be harnessed, allowing for them to be applied to devices and the creation of new functional materials.

These findings were published in the German academic journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition on October 19, 2020.

Research Background

Hybrid organic-inorganic perovskites, such as organic lead halide perovskites (for example, CH3NH3PbX3 (X = Cl, Br, I)), have been receiving worldwide attention as a promising material for highly efficient solar cells. Furthermore, the color of the light that they emit can be controlled by altering the type and composition of the halide ions. Consequently, it is hoped that hybrid organic-inorganic perovskites can be applied to light-emitting devices such as displays and lasers.

However, the halide ions inside the crystals are known to move around even at room temperature, and this high flexibility causes issues such as reductions in both synthesis reproducibility and device durability.

Research Methodology

In this study, the researchers used a custom-made flow reactor (*3) to precisely control the exchange reaction between the CH3NH3PbI3 nanocrystals and Br ions in solution. This enabled them to successfully convert the nanocrystals into CH3NH3PbBr3 nanocrystals while maintaining their morphology and light-emitting efficiency.

It is important to know what kind of reaction will occur inside the crystals in order to develop synthesis techniques. To understand this, the researchers used a fluorescence microscope to observe how each individual nanocrystal was reacting. From this observation, they understood that once the red light emitted by the CH3NH3PbI3 had completely disappeared, the green light originating from the CH3NH3PbBr3 was suddenly generated after an interval of 10s to 100s of seconds. Based on the results of structural analysis using an x-ray beam, it was revealed that Br ions replaced I ions inside the crystal structure while a bromide-rich layer formed on the surface. Afterwards, the bromide on the surface layer gradually moved into the inner regions.

It is believed that the red light emissions became unobservable because the inner regions of the crystal structure were partially disordered during the ion transition, which led to the loss of energy necessary for light emission. Subsequently, CH3NH3PbBr3 crystal nuclei formed inside the nanocrystal particle and a cooperative transition to the green light generating state occurred.

From these results, it can be said that temporally separating the crystal structure transitions and the subsequent restructuring (that occurs on a nanometer scale) is one of the keys to the successful, precise synthesis of organic lead halide perovskites.

Further Developments

The structural transformation process observed in perovskite nanocrystals in this study is thought to be related to all modes of nanomaterial synthesis that are based on ion exchange, therefore future research could hopefully illuminate the underlying mechanism. Although researchers have a negative impression of organic halide perovskites’ flexibility, it is hoped that this characteristic could be exploited and applied to the development of new materials and devices that can react to the environment and external stimuli.

Acknowledgements

This research was supported by the following Japan Society for the Promotion of Science KAKENHI grants: Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research B (JP18H01944) and Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research on Innovative Areas (JP18H04517 and JP20H04673).

Glossary

1. Hybrid organic-inorganic perovskite:

A perovskite-type compound consisting of both organic and inorganic ions. A typical organic lead halide perovskite consists of organic ions, halide ions and lead ions. Normally, perovskites such as calcium titanate (CaTiO3) are compounds with an ABO3 structure (A are trivalent metal ions and B are tetravalent metal ions).

2. Nanocrystal:

A nanometer-scale microcrystal. One nanometer (10-9m) is equal to a billionth of 1m. This study used crystals of approximately 90 nanometers.

3. Flow Reactor:

An apparatus that enables reactions to be conducted with multiple flowing solutions. In this study, the nanocrystals were immobilized on a glass substrate. As a solution containing an iodide ion flowed over the glass substrate, the emitted light resulting from the ion exchange reaction was observed under a microscope.

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New shortcut enables faster creation of spin pattern in magnet

Physicists have discovered a much faster approach to create a pattern of spins in a magnet. This ‘shortcut’ opens a new chapter in topology research. Interestingly, this discovery also offers an additional method to achieve more efficient magnetic data storage. The research will be published on 5 October in Nature Materials.

Physicists previously demonstrated that laser light can create a pattern of magnetic spins. Now they have discovered a new route that enables this to be done much more quickly, in less than 300 picoseconds (a picosecond is one millionth of a millionth of a second). This is much faster than was previously thought possible.

Useful for data storage: skyrmions

Magnets consist of many small magnets, which are called spins. Normally, all the spins point in the same direction, which determines the north and south poles of the magnet. But the directions of the spins together sometimes form vortex-like configurations known as skyrmions.

“These skyrmions in magnets could be used as a new type of data storage,” explains Johan Mentink, physicist at Radboud University. For a number of years, Radboud scientists have been looking for optimal ways to control magnetism with laser light and ultimately use it for more efficient data storage. In this technique, very short pulses of light are fired at a magnetic material. This reverses the magnetic spins in the material, which changes a bit from a 0 to a 1.

“Once the magnetic spins take the vortex-like shape of a skyrmion, this configuration is hard to erase,” says Mentink. “Moreover, these skyrmions are only a few nanometers (one billionth of a meter) in size, so you can store a lot of data on a very small piece of material.”

Shortcut

The phase transition between these two states in a magnet — all the spins pointing in one direction to a skyrmion — is comparable to a road over a high mountain. The researchers have discovered that you can take a ‘shortcut’ through the mountain by heating the material very quickly with a laser pulse. Thereby, the threshold for the phase transition becomes lower for a very short time.

A remarkable aspect of this new approach is that the material is first brought into a very chaotic state, in which the topology — which can be seen as the number of skyrmions in the material — fluctuates strongly. The researchers discovered this approach by combining X-rays generated by the European free electron laser in Hamburg with extremely advanced electron microscopy and spin dynamics simulations. “This research therefore involved an enormous team effort,” Mentink emphasises.

New possibilities

This fundamental discovery has opened a new chapter in topology research. Mentink expects that many more scientists will now start to look for similar ways to ‘take a shortcut through the mountain’ in other materials.

This discovery also enables new approaches to create faster and more efficient data storage. There is an increasing need for this, for example due to the gigantic, energy-guzzling data centres that are required for massive data storage in the cloud. Magnetic skyrmions can provide a solution to this problem. Because they are very small and can be created very quickly with light, a lot of information can potentially be stored very quickly and efficiently on a small area.

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ProgrammableWeb

10 Top Messaging APIs

In recent years, messaging has become a primary means of communication for much of the world. The asynchronous convenience of text messaging (SMS), web instant messaging, and in-app messaging, has driven this rise in popularity, along with a slough of enticing features within messaging applications to keep us hooked.

Engaging features in messaging applications include cross platform operation, artificial intelligence chatbots, anytime/anywhere usage thanks to WiFi or mobile network operators, file transfers, free international “calls”, business communications, audio messages, aggregated services, group chat, encryption, self-destructing messages, instant payments, and automatic alerts. Fun additions such as emoji, stickers, image & video support, avatars animations, “story” creation, games, cute bubbles and screen effects, contextual keyboards and even handwritten text lure customers to use messaging applications.

It’s not unusual to see applications with built-in custom messaging services, and developers who create applications have a vast amount of choices for delivering messaging technology. In order to integrate with these services, developers need APIs.

What is a Messaging API?

A Messaging API, or Application Programming Interface, is a means for developers to connect to specific messaging services programmatically.

The best place to discovery APIs for adding messaging capabilities to applications is in the ProgrammableWeb directory in the Messaging category. This article highlights the 10 most popular messaging APIs based on website traffic in the ProgrammableWeb directory.

1. Telegram

Telegram is a cloud-based mobile and desktop messaging app that focuses on speed and security. The Telegram API allows developers to build their own customized Telegram clients and applications. API methods are provided for dealing with spam and ToS violations, logging in via QR code, registration/authorization, working with GIFs, working with 2FA login, working with VoIP calls, working with deep links, working with files, and much more.

2. Bulk SMS Gateway API

The Bulk SMS Gateway APITrack this API allows developers to integrate bulk SMS services into their applications and portals. This API is suited for sending both promotional and transactional SMS to clients. API documentation is not publicly available. This service is provided by KAPSYSTEM, a company in India that provides bulk SMS and messaging solutions.

3. WhatsApp Business API

The WhatsApp Business APIs allow businesses to interact with and reach customers all over the world, connecting them using end-to-end encryption to ensure only the intended parties can read or listen to messages and calls. A REST APITrack this API and Streaming (Webhooks) APITrack this API are available.

4. Twilio SMS API

Twilio is a cloud communications platform that provides tools for adding messaging, voice, and video to web and mobile applications. The Twilio SMS APITrack this API allows developers to send and receive SMS messages, track sent messages, and retrieve and modify message history from their applications. This API uses a RESTful interface over HTTPS.

5. BDApps Pro SMS API

BDApps is an application development platform that provides Robi network tools for monetization and messaging. The BDApps Pro SMS APITrack this API allows developers to send and receive SMS using JSON objects over HTTP. This API can also be used to check the delivery status of sent SMS, receive SMS with a short code, and more. BDApps is based in Bangladesh.

6. Verizon ThingSpace SMS API

The Verizon ThingSpace SMS APITrack this API lets applications send time sensitive information to users phones about devices or sensor readings,such as temperature threshold warnings, gas leakage, smoke, fires, outages, and more. The ThingSpace SMS API allows users to check the delivery status of messages, and receive other notifications about messaging.

7. Telenor SMS API

Telenor is a mobile carrier based on Norway. The Telenor SMS APITrack this API provides access to the company’s text messaging service for business-to-business and business-to-consumer bulk messaging needs. The company provides short and whole numbers for sending and receiving text and MMS messages. There are various options for using the API, including SOAP and XMPP protocols.

8. waboxapp API

waboxapp is an API that allows users to integrate systems and Instant Messaging (IM) accounts. The waboxapp APITrack this API simplifies the integration of IM accounts such as WhatsApp in chat applications.

9. Twitter Direct Message API

The Twitter Direct Message APITrack this API allows developers to create engaging customer service and marketing experiences using Twitter Direct Messages (DM). Developers can send and receive direct messages, create welcome messages, attach media to messages, prompt users for structured replies, link to websites with buttons, manage conversations across multiple applications, display custom content, and prompt users for NPS and CSAT feedback with the API.

10. Mirrorfly API

Mirrorfly is a real time chat and messaging solution. The Mirrorfly APITrack this API allows developers to integrate chat, video, and voice functionality into their mobile and web applications. This service is customizable, comes with built-in WebRTC, and can be used for enterprise communication, in-app messaging, broadcasting, streaming, customer support, team chat, social chat, and personal chat. Both cloud-based and on-premises versions of Mirrorfly are available.

Build custom chat applications with MirrorFly API and SDK. Screenshot: MirrorFly

See the Messaging category for more than 1100 Messaging APIs, 1000 SDKs, and 1000 Source Code Samples, along with How-To and news articles and other developer resources..

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ScienceDaily

Understanding the love-hate relationship of halide perovskites with the sun

Solar cells made of perovskite are at the center of much recent solar research. The material is cheap, easy to produce and almost as efficient as silicon, the material traditionally used in solar cells. However, perovskite cells have a love-hate-relationship with the sun. The light that they need to generate electricity, also impairs the quality of the cells, severely limiting their efficiency and stability over time. Research by scientists at the Eindhoven University of Technology and universities in China and the US now sheds new light on the causes of this degradation and paves the way for designing new perovskite compositions for the ultimate stable solar cells.

Perovskite is an attractive alternative to silicon, because it’s abundant and easy to produce. What’s more, over the past decade, the performance of perovskite solar cells has improved dramatically, with efficiency rates reaching more than 25 percent, which is close to the state-of-art for silicon solar cells.

The new research focuses on perovskite solar cells made from formamidinium-cesium lead iodide, a halide compound that has become increasingly popular as it combines high efficiency and reasonable heat resistance with low manufacturing costs.

Love-hate

However, solar panels made of this particular compound have a rather ambivalent relationship with sunlight, a problem that is well-known in the field, but barely understood. While the light of the sun feeds it with the much-wanted energy to convert into electricity, it also impairs the stability of the cells. Over time this affects their performance.

To understand why this is the case, the researchers at TU/e, Peking University and University of California San Diego did both practical experiments — monitoring the photovoltaic performance of the panels over 600 hours of exposure and characterizing the degraded perovskites — and theoretical analysis.

From this they conclude that sunlight generates charged particles in the perovskite, which tend to flow to places in the solar panel where the band gap (the minimum amount of energy needed for generating the free electrons) is lowest, in this case the formamidinium perovskite. The resulting energy differences make the mixed compounds that worked together so well to make the cell efficient, fall apart into separate clusters. It appears that especially the cesium-heavy clusters (the green dots in the image) are photoinactive and current-blocking, limiting the performance of the device.

Solutions

According to Shuxia Tao, who together with PhD candidate Zehua Chen and her colleague Geert Brocks was responsible for the TU/e part of the research, the new findings are one step further to finding the way to possible solutions.

“By combining macroscopic tests, microscopic materials characterization and atomistic modelling, we were able to thoroughly understand the instability of halide perovskites that are intrinsic to device operation. This opens the possibility for designing new perovskite compositions for the ultimate stable solar cells.”

Possible strategies include using additives to enhance the chemical interaction inside the materials in the panels, tuning the band gaps by using other elements like bromide and rubidium instead of iodide and cesium, or modifying the energy levels to extract photo-carriers more efficiently.

Tao stresses that more research is needed to see what solution works best. In addition, separation of halide compounds is not the only cause for perovskite degradation. These additional causes require separate analysis.

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Scientific ‘red flag’ reveals new clues about our galaxy

Figuring out how much energy permeates the center of the Milky Way — a discovery reported in the July 3 edition of the journal Science Advances — could yield new clues to the fundamental source of our galaxy’s power, said L. Matthew Haffner of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

The Milky Way’s nucleus thrums with hydrogen that has been ionized, or stripped of its electrons so that it is highly energized, said Haffner, assistant professor of physics & astronomy at Embry-Riddle and co-author of the Science Advances paper. “Without an ongoing source of energy, free electrons usually find each other and recombine to return to a neutral state in a relatively short amount of time,” he explained. “Being able to see ionized gas in new ways should help us discover the kinds of sources that could be responsible for keeping all that gas energized.”

University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate student Dhanesh Krishnarao (“DK”), lead author of the Science Advances paper, collaborated with Haffner and UW-Whitewater Professor Bob Benjamin — a leading expert on the structure of stars and gas in the Milky Way. Before joining Embry-Riddle in 2018, Haffner worked as a research scientist for 20 years at UW, and he continues to serve as principal investigator for the Wisconsin H-Alpha Mapper, or WHAM, a telescope based in Chile that was used for the team’s latest study.

To determine the amount of energy or radiation at the center of the Milky Way, the researchers had to peer through a kind of tattered dust cover. Packed with more than 200 billion stars, the Milky Way also harbors dark patches of interstellar dust and gas. Benjamin was taking a look at two decades’ worth of WHAM data when he spotted a scientific red flag — a peculiar shape poking out of the Milky Way’s dark, dusty center. The oddity was ionized hydrogen gas, which appears red when captured through the sensitive WHAM telescope, and it was moving in the direction of Earth.

The position of the feature — known to scientists as the “Tilted Disk” because it looks tilted compared with the rest of the Milky Way — couldn’t be explained by known physical phenomena such as galactic rotation. The team had a rare opportunity to study the protruding Tilted Disk, liberated from its usual patchy dust cover, by using optical light. Usually, the Tilted Disk must be studied with infrared or radio light techniques, which allow researchers to make observations through the dust, but limit their ability to learn more about ionized gas.

“Being able to make these measurements in optical light allowed us to compare the nucleus of the Milky Way to other galaxies much more easily,” Haffner said. “Many past studies have measured the quantity and quality of ionized gas from the centers of thousands of spiral galaxies throughout the universe. For the first time, we were able to directly compare measurements from our Galaxy to that large population.”

Krishnarao leveraged an existing model to try and predict how much ionized gas should be in the emitting region that had caught Benjamin’s eye. Raw data from the WHAM telescope allowed him to refine his predictions until the team had an accurate 3-D picture of the structure. Comparing other colors of visible light from hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen within the structure gave researchers further clues to its composition and properties.

At least 48 percent of the hydrogen gas in the Tilted Disk at the center of the Milky Way has been ionized by an unknown source, the team reported. “The Milky Way can now be used to better understand its nature,” Krishnarao said.

The gaseous, ionized structure changes as it moves away from the Milky Way’s center, researchers reported. Previously, scientists only knew about the neutral (non-ionized) gas located in that region.

“Close to the nucleus of the Milky Way,” Krishnarao explained, “gas is ionized by newly forming stars, but as you move further away from the center, things get more extreme, and the gas becomes similar to a class of galaxies called LINERs, or low ionization (nuclear) emission regions.”

The structure appeared to be moving toward Earth because it was on an elliptical orbit interior to the Milky Way’s spiral arms, researchers found.

LINER-type galaxies such as the Milky Way make up roughly a third of all galaxies. They have centers with more radiation than galaxies that are only forming new stars, yet less radiation than those whose supermassive black holes are actively consuming a tremendous amount of material.

“Before this discovery by WHAM, the Andromeda Galaxy was the closest LINER spiral to us,” said Haffner. “But it’s still millions of light-years away. With the nucleus of the Milky Way only tens of thousands of light-years away, we can now study a LINER region in more detail. Studying this extended ionized gas should help us learn more about the current and past environment in the center of our Galaxy.”

Next up, researchers will need to figure out the source of the energy at the center of the Milky Way. Being able to categorize the galaxy based on its level of radiation was an important first step toward that goal.

Now that Haffner has joined Embry-Riddle’s growing Astronomy & Astrophysics program, he and his colleague Edwin Mierkiewicz, associate professor of physics, have big plans. “In the next few years, we hope to build WHAM’s successor, which would give us a sharper view of the gas we study,” Haffner said. “Right now our map `pixels’ are twice the size of the full moon. WHAM has been a great tool for producing the first all-sky survey of this gas, but we’re hungry for more details now.”

In separate research, Haffner and his colleagues earlier this month reported the first-ever visible-light measurements of “Fermi Bubbles” — mysterious plumes of light that bulge from the center of the Milky Way. That work was presented at the American Astronomical Society.

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Chemist adds details of ‘cold collisions of hot molecules’ to theories of molecular interactions

When two cars collide at an intersection — from opposite directions — the impact is much different than when two cars — traveling in the same direction — “bump” into each other. In the laboratory, similar types of collisions can be made to occur between molecules to study chemistry at very low temperatures, or “cold collisions.”

A team of scientists led by Arthur Suits at the University of Missouri has developed a new experimental approach to study chemistry using these cold “same direction” molecular collisions. Suits said their approach hasn’t been done before.

“When combined with the use of a laser that ‘excites’ the molecules, our approach produces specific ‘hot’ states of molecules, allowing us to study their individual properties and provide more accurate experimental theories,” said Suits, a Curators Distinguished Professor of Chemistry in the College of Arts and Science. “This is a condition that does not occur naturally but allows for a better understanding of molecular interactions.

Suits equated their efforts to analyzing the results of a marathon race.

“If you only look at the average time it takes everyone to complete the Boston Marathon, then you don’t really learn much detail about a runner’s individual capabilities,” he said. “By doing it this way we can look at the fastest ‘runner,’ the slowest ‘runner,’ and also see the range and different behaviors of individual ‘runners,’ or molecules in this case. Using lasers, we can also design the race to have a desired outcome, which shows we are gaining direct control of the chemistry.”

Suits said this is one of the first detailed approaches of its kind in this field.

“Chemistry is really about the collisions of molecules coming together and what causes chemical reactions to occur,” he said. “Here, instead of crossing two beams of molecules with each other as researchers have often done before, we are now pointing both beams of molecules in the same direction. By also preparing the molecules in those beams to be in specific states, we can study collisions in extreme detail that happen very slowly, including close to absolute zero, which is the equivalent of the low temperature states needed for quantum computing.”

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Orb hidden in distant dust is ‘infant’ planet

Astronomers study stars and planets much younger than the Sun to learn about past events that shaped the Solar System and Earth. Most of these stars are far enough away to make observations challenging, even with the largest telescopes. But now this is changing.

University of Hawai’i at Manoa astronomers are part of an international team that recently discovered an infant planet around a nearby young star. The discovery was reported Wednesday in the international journal Nature.

The planet is about the size of Neptune, but, unlike Neptune, it is much closer to its star, taking only eight and a half days to complete one orbit. It is named “AU Mic b” after its host star, AU Microscopii, or “AU Mic” for short. The planet was discovered using the NASA TESS planet-finding satellite, as it periodically passed in front of AU Mic, blocking a small fraction of its light. The signal was confirmed by observations with another NASA satellite, the Spitzer Space Telescope, and with the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF) on Maunakea. The observations on Hawai’i Island used a new instrument called iSHELL that can make very precise measurements of the motion of a star like AU Mic. These measurements revealed a slight wobble of the star, as it moves in response to the gravitational pull of the planet. It confirmed that AU Mic b was a planet and not a companion star, which would cause a much larger motion.

Discovery on Maunakea sets foundation

AU Mic and its planet are about 25 million years young, and in their infancy, astronomically speaking. AU Mic is also the second closest young star to Earth. It is so young that dust and debris left over from its formation still orbit around it. The debris collides and breaks into smaller dust particles, which orbit the star in a thin disk. This disk was detected in 2003 with the UH 88-inch telescope on Maunakea. The newly-discovered planet orbits within a cleared-out region inside the disk.

“This is an exciting discovery, especially as the planet is in one of the most well-known young star systems, and the second-closest to Earth. In addition to the debris disk, there is always the possibility of additional planets around this star. AU Mic could be the gift that keeps on giving,” said Michael Bottom, an Assistant Astronomer at the UH Institute for Astronomy.

“Planets, like people, change as they mature. For planets this means that their orbits can move and the compositions of their atmospheres can change. Some planets form hot and cool down, and unlike people, they would become smaller over time. But we need observations to test these ideas and planets like AU Mic b are an exceptional opportunity,” said Astronomer Eric Gaidos, a professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at UH M?noa.

Clues to the origin of Earth-like planets

AU Mic is not only much younger than the Sun, it is considerably smaller, dimmer and redder. It is a “red dwarf,” the most numerous type of star in the galaxy. The TESS satellite is also discovering Earth-sized and possibly habitable planets around older red dwarfs, and what astronomers learn from AU Mic and AU Mic b can be applied to understand the history of those planets.

“AU Mic b, and any kindred planets that are discovered in the future, will be intensely studied to understand how planets form and evolve. Fortuitously, this star and its planet are on our cosmic doorstep. We do not have to venture very far to see the show,” Gaidos explained. He is a co-author on another five forthcoming scientific publications that have used other telescopes, including several on Maunakea, to learn more about AU Mic and its planet.

AU Mic appears low in the summer skies of Hawai’i but you’ll need binoculars to see it. Despite its proximity, the fact that it is a dim red star means it is too faint to be seen with the unaided eye.

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