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Esports: Fit gamers challenge ‘fat’ stereotype

Esports players are up to 21 per cent healthier weight than the general population, hardly smoke and drink less too, finds a new QUT (Queensland University of Technology) study.

The findings, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, were based on 1400 survey participants from 65 countries.

  • First study to investigate the BMI (Body Mass Index) status of a global sample of esports players.
  • Esports players were between 9 and 21 per cent more likely to be a healthy weight than the general population.
  • Esports players drank and smoked less than the general population.
  • The top 10 per cent of esports players were significantly more physically active than lower level players, showing that physical activity could influence esports expertise.

QUT eSports researcher Michael Trotter said the results were surprising considering global obesity levels.

“The findings challenge the stereotype of the morbidly obese gamer,” he said.

Mr Trotter said the animated satire South Park poked fun at the unfit gamer but the link between video gaming and obesity had not been strongly established.

“When you think of esports, there are often concerns raised regarding sedentary behaviour and poor health as a result, and the study revealed some interesting and mixed results,” he said.

“As part of their training regime, elite esports athletes spend more than an hour per day engaging in physical exercise as a strategy to enhance gameplay and manage stress,” he said.

The World Health Organisation guidelines for time that should be spent being physically active weekly is a minimum of 150 minutes.

“Only top-level players surveyed met physical activity guidelines, with the best players exercising on average four days a week,” the PhD student said.

However, the study found 4.03 per cent of esports players were more likely to be morbidly obese compared to the global population.

Mr Trotter said strategies should be developed to support players classed at the higher end of BMI categories.

“Exercise and physical activity play a role in success in esports and should be a focus for players and organisations training esports players,” Mr Trotter said.

“This will mean that in the future, young gamers will have more reason and motivation to be physically active.

“Grassroots esports pathways, such as growing university and high school esports are likely to be the best place for young esports players to develop good health habits for gamers.”

The research also found esports players are 7.8 per cent more likely to abstain from drinking daily, and of those players that do drink, only 0.5 per cent reported drinking daily.

The survey showed only 3.7 per cent of esports players smoked daily, with player smoking frequency lower compared to global data at 18.7 per cent.

Future research will investigate how high-school and university esports programs can improve health outcomes and increase physical activity for gaming students.

The study was led by QUT’s Faculty of Health School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences and in collaboration with the Department of Psychology at Umeå University in Sweden.

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Puzzling ‘cold quasar’ forming new stars in spite of active galactic nucleus

Researchers from the University of Kansas have described a galaxy more than 5.25 billion light years away undergoing a rarely seen stage in its galactic life cycle. Their findings recently were published in the Astrophysical Journal.

The galaxy, dubbed CQ 4479, shows characteristics that normally don’t coexist: an X-ray luminous active galactic nuclei (AGN) and a cold gas supply fueling high star formation rates.

“Massive galaxies, such as our own Milky Way, host a supermassive black hole at their hearts — these are black holes that grow by accreting interstellar gas onto themselves to become more massive,” said Kevin Cooke, lead author and postdoctoral researcher in KU’s Department of Physics & Astronomy. “The end of galactic growth is thought to happen when this gas accretion onto the black hole occurs in sufficient quantities that it produces a tremendous amount of energy. Then, all of that energy surrounding the black hole will actually heat up the rest of the gas throughout the galaxy in such a way that it can’t condense any more to form stars and the galaxy’s growth stops.”

The KU researchers instead found CQ 4479, a galaxy which never had been closely studied before, to be still generating new stars in spite of the luminous AGN at the galaxy’s center.

“Normally, we expect that to shut everything else off,” Cooke said. “But instead, we see massive amounts of new stars being formed in this galaxy. So, it’s a very limited time window where you can see both the black hole growing and the stars surrounding it growing at the same time.”

The researchers observed the cold quasar primarily using NASA’s SOFIA infrared telescope, which is flown aboard a Boeing 747 aircraft. Other measurements were made using FUV-FIR photometry and optical spectroscopy. The work was supported by a NASA grant to primary investigator Allison Kirkpatrick, assistant professor of physics & astronomy at KU, who co-wrote the new paper.

Kirkpatrick said the team’s various methods of observing the galaxy showed contradictory data, making the nature of CQ 4479 even more of a puzzle.

“What’s really unique about this source is we have different measurements of the energy output near the black hole,” Kirkpatrick said. “That tells you how fast the black hole is growing and also its feedback into the host galaxy that can shut down star formation. We have everything from X-ray, to optical and the infrared, so we’re able to measure several different signatures of the black hole’s energy output. And the signatures don’t agree — that’s really rare. One interpretation is the growth of the black hole is slowing, because the X-rays come from right next to the black hole, while the optical signatures come from a little bit further out, and the infrared signatures come from further out as well. Essentially, less energy seems to be being produced right around the black hole now than it was in the past.”

The researchers seem to be looking at a snapshot of the galaxy during a pivotal stage of its lifespan.

“I think this is a galaxy undergoing a midlife crisis,” Kirkpatrick said. “It’s going through one last burst of star formation. Most of its solar mass is already in place. It’s forming a few more stars now, and the thing that’s ultimately going to kill it is starting to kick in.”

In part, the research at KU was performed by Kirkpatrick’s undergraduate student and co-author Michael Estrada, now a graduate student at University of Florida.

“He did the data analysis of the optical spectroscopy and measured the black hole mass for us,” Kirkpatrick said.

Other questions about the physical structure of the galaxy remain because current instrumentation available to astronomers don’t provide clear enough images of CQ 4479.

“The image we have shows a central blob and then a little smaller blob below it,” Kirkpatrick said. “So we don’t have a good sense for how this galaxy looks because the central AGN is so bright that it out shines the rest of the host galaxy. This is a real problem that plagues all AGN studies — when you’re dealing with the most luminous things they tend to outshine your host at nearly every wavelength.”

The researchers said CQ 4479 would require more study, particularly using the ALMA Observatory and the NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope — the most powerful space telescope ever designed and currently slated for launch Oct. 31, 2021. Both Cooke and Kirkpatrick hope to perform more investigations of the strange cold quasar once the telescope is launched.

“We’re currently banking on James Webb, because it will have excellent resolution and we should be able to look at wavelengths where we can see the shape of the galaxy,” Kirkpatrick said. “Another good option would be ALMA. But ALMA has unfortunately shut down temporarily because of COVID. We’ve kind of been stymied at seeing the host galaxy.”

The importance of understanding the strange processes underway in a galaxy 5.25 billion light years from Earth might seem vague at first, but Cooke said a better understanding of the cold quasar could improve understanding of the cosmos and the fate of our own galaxy.

“This very much ties into asking ‘where do we come from?’ and ‘what processes were involved in the creation of galaxies?,’ and that’s important because we live in a galaxy,” Cooke said. “We live in one of these vast collections of billions of stars and knowing the processes of what created our home is valuable information. Trying to understand big ticket questions like these also spur important engineering developments here on Earth, such as the detector technology and all the fancy engineering that goes into the SOFIA telescope — there are plenty of ways how this type of work it benefits us here on Earth.”

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Critical point for improving superconductors

The search for a superconductor that can work under less extreme conditions than hundreds of degrees below zero or at pressures like those near the center of the Earth is a quest for a revolutionary new power — one that’s needed for magnetically levitating cars and ultra-efficient power grids of the future.

But developing this kind of “room temperature” superconductor is a feat science has yet to achieve.

A University of Central Florida researcher, however, is working to move this goal closer to realization, with some of his latest research published recently in the journal Communications Physics — Nature.

In the study, Yasuyuki Nakajima, an assistant professor in UCF’s Department of Physics, and co-authors showed they could get a closer look at what is happening in “strange” metals.

These “strange” metals are special materials that show unusual temperature behavior in electrical resistance. The “strange” metallic behavior is found in many high-temperature superconductors when they are not in a superconducting state, which makes them useful to scientists studying how certain metals become high-temperature superconductors.

This work is important because insight into the quantum behavior of electrons in the “strange” metallic phase could allow researchers to understand a mechanism for superconductivity at higher temperatures.

“If we know the theory to describe these behaviors, we may be able to design high-temperature superconductors,” Nakajima says.

Superconductors get their name because they are the ultimate conductors of electricity. Unlike a conductor, they have zero resistance, which, like an electronic “friction,” causes electricity to lose power as it flows through a conductor like copper or gold wire.

This makes superconductors a dream material for supplying power to cities as the energy saved by using resistance-free wire would be huge.

Powerful superconductors also can levitate heavy magnets, paving the way for practical and affordable magnetically levitating cars, trains and more.

To turn a conductor into a superconductor, the metal material must be cooled to an extremely low temperature to lose all electrical resistance, an abrupt process that physics has yet to develop a fully comprehensive theory to explain.

These critical temperatures at which the switch is made are often in the range of -220 to -480 degrees Fahrenheit and typically involve an expensive and cumbersome cooling system using liquid nitrogen or helium.

Some researchers have achieved superconductors that work at about 59 degrees Fahrenheit, but it was also at a pressure of more than 2 million times of that at the Earth’s surface.

In the study, Nakajima and the researchers were able to measure and characterize electron behavior in a “strange” metallic state of non-superconducting material, an iron pnictide alloy, near a quantum critical point at which electrons switch from having predictable, individual behavior to moving collectively in quantum-mechanical fluctuations that are challenging for scientists to describe theoretically.

The researchers were able to measure and describe the electron behavior by using a unique metal mix in which nickel and cobalt were substituted for iron in a process called doping, thus creating an iron pnictide alloy that didn’t superconduct down to -459.63 degrees Fahrenheit, far below the point at which a conductor would typically become a superconductor.

“We used an alloy, a relative compound of high temperature iron-based superconductor, in which the ratio of the constituents, iron, cobalt and nickel in this case, is fine-tuned so that there’s no superconductivity even near absolute zero,” Nakajima says. “This allows us to access the critical point at which quantum fluctuations govern the behavior of the electrons and study how they behave in the compound.”

They found the behavior of the electrons was not described by any known theoretical predictions, but that the scattering rate at which the electrons were transported across the material can be associated with what’s known as the Planckian dissipation, the quantum speed limit on how fast matter can transport energy.

“The quantum critical behavior we observed is quite unusual and completely differs from the theories and experiments for known quantum critical materials,” Nakajima says. “The next step is to map the doping-phase diagram in this iron pnictide alloy system.”

“The ultimate goal is to design higher temperature superconductors,” he says. “If we can do that, we can use them for magnetic resonance imaging scans, magnetic levitation, power grids, and more, with low costs.”

Unlocking ways to predict the resistance behavior of “strange” metals would not only improve superconductor development but also inform theories behind other quantum-level phenomena, Nakajima says.

“Recent theoretical developments show surprising connections between black holes, gravity and quantum information theory through the Planckian dissipation,” he says. “Hence, the research of ‘strange’ metallic behavior has also become a hot topic in this context.”

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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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After more than a decade, ChIP-seq may be quantitative after all

For more than a decade, scientists studying epigenetics have used a powerful method called ChIP-seq to map changes in proteins and other critical regulatory factors across the genome. While ChIP-seq provides invaluable insights into the underpinnings of health and disease, it also faces a frustrating challenge: its results are often viewed as qualitative rather than quantitative, making interpretation difficult.

But, it turns out, ChIP-seq may have been quantitative all along, according to a recent report selected as an Editors’ Pick by and featured on the cover of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

“ChIP-seq is the backbone of epigenetics research. Our findings challenge the belief that additional steps are required to make it quantitative,” said Brad Dickson, Ph.D., a staff scientist at Van Andel Institute and the study’s corresponding author. “Our new approach provides a way to quantify results, thereby making ChIP-seq more precise, while leaving standard protocols untouched.”

Previous attempts to quantify ChIP-seq results have led to additional steps being added to the protocol, including the use of “spike-ins,” which are additives designed to normalize ChIP-seq results and reveal histone changes that otherwise may be obscured. These extra steps increase the complexity of experiments while also adding variables that could interfere with reproducibility. Importantly, the study also identifies a sensitivity issue in spike-in normalization that has not previously been discussed.

Using a predictive physical model, Dickson and his colleagues developed a novel approach called the sans-spike-in method for Quantitative ChIP-sequencing, or siQ-ChIP. It allows researchers to follow the standard ChIP-seq protocol, eliminating the need for spike-ins, and also outlines a set of common measurements that should be reported for all ChIP-seq experiments to ensure reproducibility as well as quantification.

By leveraging the binding reaction at the immunoprecipitation step, siQ-ChIP defines a physical scale for sequencing results that allows comparison between experiments. The quantitative scale is based on the binding isotherm of the immunoprecipitation products.

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Wolf Administration: More Than 700 Pennsylvania Businesses Received Workforce Training Assistance in FY 2019-20 – PA Department of Community & Economic Development

Harrisburg, PA – Today, Governor Tom Wolf announced that more than $6.5 million in training assistance funding was provided to 715 Pennsylvania companies in Fiscal Year 2019-20 by WEDnetPA