Hub Headlines from the Johns Hopkins news network Hub Thu, 27 Aug 2015 14:58:00 -0400 Protective suit for Ebola caregivers lands Johns Hopkins, Jhpiego among finalists in global design competition <p>A team representing Johns Hopkins and Jhpiego is among the finalists for an international award that recognizes innovative designs that improve lives for its improved protective suit for health workers treating patients with Ebola and other infectious diseases. Winners of the <a href="">INDEX: Awards</a> were announced Thursday night at a ceremony in Denmark.</p> <p>The protective suit was initially designed by a team of global health experts, engineers, scientists, and students at a weekend-long hackathon in October 2014. The event—co-hosted by <a href="">Jhpiego</a>, a nonprofit global health affiliate of Johns Hopkins University, and the Johns Hopkins Center for Bioengineering Innovation & Design—came in response to a call to action from the White House and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for improved personal protective equipment during the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa, which killed nearly 6,500 people, including more than 500 health workers. Clinvue, a Baltimore-based innovation consultancy, also contributed to the design.</p> <p>The suit design has elements to keep the wearer more comfortable than in existing suits and reduce the risk of coming in contact with infectious fluids during treatment and while removing the suit. Enhancements include a large, clear visor in the hood, which is integrated into the suit; air vents in the hood; a rear zipper to reduce infection risks while removing the garment; and a cocoon-style doffing (removal) process that requires far fewer steps than existing garments. A more advanced version includes a small, battery-powered, dry air source to cool the user by blowing air into the hood.</p> <p>"To be considered for this prestigious award alongside so many remarkable institutions is truly a privilege," said Leslie Mancuso, president and CEO of Jhpiego. "As technical leaders in infection prevention and control and experts in building a skilled global health workforce, we are incredibly proud of the suit and its potential to save the lives of nurses, midwives, and other health professionals around the globe who are dedicated to delivering quality care, often under challenging circumstances."</p> <p>Added Youseph Yazdi, executive director of CBID and a professor in the Johns Hopkins University Department of Biomedical Engineering: "It has truly been a privilege and labor of love for CBID's students, faculty, and staff to work with great partners like Jhpiego and Clinvue to design something that addresses such a great need. We are just eager to see this in the field helping the front-line heroes providing care."</p> <p>The Ebola suit is one of five finalists in the Body category at the INDEX: Awards. A total of 46 finalists were selected in five categories from 1,123 nominations. Winners in each category receive $150,000.</p> <p><div class='teaser featured-teaser article has-image'> <div class='thumbnail'> <a href='/ebola'> <img src='' /> </a> </div><div class='teaser-text'><h5 class='overline'>FEATURED COVERAGE</h5> <h2><a href='/ebola'>Johns Hopkins responds to Ebola</a></h2><div class='summary'>Relevant news coverage and helpful resources related to the Ebola outbreak and how Johns Hopkins is responding at home and abroad</div> </div> </div></p> Thu, 20 Aug 2015 09:50:00 -0400 Ice Bucket Challenge helped make ALS breakthrough possible, researchers say <p>Researchers at Johns Hopkins are crediting the viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge with helping to raise the funds needed for an important scientific step forward in our understanding of the deadly disease.</p> <p>In <a href="">a study described earlier this month in the journal <em>Science</em></a>, the researchers offered <a href="">an explanation for the protein clumps found inside the brain or nerve cells of patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis</a>, more commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease, a progressive neuromuscular disease with no known cure.</p> <p><a href="">Philip Wong</a>, a professor of pathology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the study's lead author, <a href="">told <em>The Washington Post</em></a> that the more than $220 million in donations generated globally by the Ice Bucket Challenge played a key role in making his team's work possible.</p> <p>"Without it, we wouldn't have been able to come out with the studies as quickly as we did," said Wong, who is affiliated with <a href="">The Robert Packard Center for ALS Research at Johns Hopkins</a>. "The funding from the ice bucket is just a component of the whole—in part, it facilitated our effort."</p> <p>The Ice Bucket Challenge, an online push to raise awareness and funding, encouraged Facebook users to film themselves pouring a bucket of ice water over their heads, then share the video in their feeds and urge others to take the challenge and/or make a donation to support ALS research. About three million people took the plunge.</p> <p>Approximately 6,400 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS each year, according to the <a href="">ALS Association</a>, which <a href="">reintroduced the Ice Bucket Challenge this month</a> in hopes of garnering more awareness and support. Those living with the disease typically die within two to five years after they are diagnosed.</p> <p>More from <em>The Post</em>:</p> <blockquote> <p>Wong and his team have been studying ALS for about a decade, but as Jonathan Ling, another researcher at Johns Hopkins, said in an <a href="">"Ask Me Anything" thread on Reddit</a>, the millions of dollars brought into the field has given researchers the financial stability to pursue "high risk, high reward" experiments.</p> <p>"The money came at a critical time when we needed it," Wong said.</p> </blockquote> Wed, 19 Aug 2015 08:19:00 -0400 Johns Hopkins launches nation's first undergraduate minor in computational medicine <p>The <a href="">Johns Hopkins Institute for Computational Medicine</a>, acclaimed worldwide for its groundbreaking research, has launched the nation's first undergraduate minor in the emerging field of computational medicine.</p> <p>The minor course of study exposes students to the fundamentals of computational medicine—a discipline devoted to the development of quantitative approaches to understanding the mechanisms, diagnosis, and treatment of human disease.</p> <p>A core faculty of 19 researchers, who hold primary and joint appointments in multiple departments and schools, will act as advisors to students. Courses will guide students through recent advances in modeling and computing technologies that have opened the door to new possibilities for identifying, analyzing, and treating diseases.</p> <p>The program, which is open to any Johns Hopkins undergraduate, is expected to attract students interested in computer science, biomedical engineering, electrical and computer engineering, applied mathematics and statistics, biology, neuroscience, biophysics, and public health, as well as those interested in medical school.</p> <p>"We can no longer pretend that our mental models and intuition are sufficient to guide us to an understanding of human disease," says Rai Winslow, director of the Institute for Computational Medicine, a multidisciplinary research institute spanning the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the Whiting School of Engineering. "Complexity demands that we develop experimentally and clinically based mechanistic computer models of disease that can be tailored to the individual and applied to deliver improved health care at lower costs. Students with a minor in CM will have unique preparation for medical school. The role of computer modeling of disease is expanding in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, and students with a minor in CM will be able to pursue novel career paths in these areas."</p> <p>While there are no formal tracks or specializations within the minor, students will be exposed to key areas that include:</p> <ul> <li><p><strong><a href="">Computational Physiological Medicine</a>:</strong> A field that develops integrative, mechanistic models of biological systems in disease and applies insights gained from these models to the development of improved diagnostics and therapies.</p></li> <li><p><strong><a href="">Computational Molecular Medicine</a>:</strong> A field that harnesses massive datasets from high-throughput assays, such as next-generation sequencing systems, to construct statistical models for identifying the drivers of disease.</p></li> <li><p><strong><a href="">Computational Anatomical Medicine</a>:</strong> A field that uses medical imaging and computational methods to analyze the variation in structure and function of human organs in health and disease to assist in the diagnosis and prognosis of complex diseases.</p></li> <li><p><strong><a href="">Computational Healthcare</a>:</strong> An emerging field devoted to statistical modeling and analysis of large healthcare datasets to improve patient health.</p></li> </ul> Tue, 18 Aug 2015 17:00:00 -0400 Study shows remarkable adaptability of our brain's vision center <p>By early childhood, the sight regions of a blind person's brain respond to sound, especially spoken language, a Johns Hopkins University neuroscientist has found.</p> <p>The results, published this week in <a href=""><em>The Journal of Neuroscience</em></a>, suggest that a young, developing brain has a striking capacity for functional adaptation.</p> <p>"The traditional view is that cortical function is rigidly constrained by evolution. We found in childhood, the human cortex is remarkably flexible," said Johns Hopkins cognitive neuroscientist <a href="">Marina Bedny</a>, who conducted the research while at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "And experience has a much bigger role in shaping the brain than we thought."</p> <p>Bedny, an assistant professor in JHU's <a href="">Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences</a>, studied 19 blind and 40 sighted children, ages 4 to 17, along with MIT cognitive scientists Hilary Richardson and Rebecca Saxe. All but one of the blind children were blind since birth.</p> <p>They monitored the children's brain activity with functional magnetic resonance imaging while the children listened to stories, music, or the sound of someone speaking an unfamiliar language. The blind children's vision portion of the brain, the left lateral occipital area, responded to spoken language, music, and foreign speech—but most strongly to stories the children could understand. In sighted children and sighted children wearing blindfolds, that same area of the brain didn't respond.</p> <p>The researchers concluded that blind children's 'visual' cortex is involved in understanding language.</p> <p>Working with individuals who are blind gives cognitive researchers an opportunity to discover how nature and nurture, or a person's genes and their experience, sculpt brain function. Though scientists have shown that occipital cortexes of congenitally blind adults can respond to language and sound, this study provides the first look at how and when the change in brain function occurs.</p> <p>The team found the blind children's occipital cortex response to stories reached adult levels by age 4. Because spoken language had colonized the brain's visual region so early in the children's development, the team realized the brain adaptation had nothing to do with a child's proficiency in Braille, a tactile writing system used by those who are visually impaired. Scientists had previously guessed that brain plasticity for spoken language in blind people had something to do with Braille.</p> <p>Blind children's occipital reaction to the other sounds, music and foreign speech, did increase as they aged.</p> <p>Bedny believes her findings could one day lead to improved therapies for people with brain damage. If someone had a damaged part of the brain, she said, it could be possible to train another part of the brain do the damaged part's work.</p> <p>"Early in development, the human cortex can take on a strikingly wide range of functions," Bedny said. "We should think of the brain like a computer, with a hard drive ready to be programmed and reprogrammed to do what we want."</p> <p>This research was supported by the <a href="">David and Lucile Packard Foundation</a> and the Harvard/MIT Joint Research Grants Program in Basic Neuroscience.</p> Fri, 14 Aug 2015 09:53:00 -0400 Johns Hopkins materials scientist aims to create super-strong metallic glass <p><em>Editor's note: This article was originally published in the Summer 2015 issue of</em> <a href="">JHU Engineering <em>magazine</em></a></p> <p>Five thousand years after the first metallurgists melded copper and arsenic to kick off the Bronze Age, <a href="">Evan Ma</a>, a professor of materials science and engineering at Johns Hopkins University, is on a fascinating quest to re-engineer the internal atomic architecture of metals.</p> <p>Ma's specialty is the mysterious yet promising realm of metallic glasses: alloys that can be far stronger and longer-lasting than commonly used metals, such as iron and aluminum, yet are able to be reshaped, poured, and molded without requiring the extreme temperatures of a smelter.</p> <p>"Our current metals cannot be shaped as easily as such familiar things as window glass, beer glasses, and eyeglasses," says Ma, who in April was among 17 researchers <a href="">honored as Fellows of the Materials Research Society</a>. "But if we turn metals into a supercooled liquid, then they can flow and be shaped like other glassy forms of matter.</p> <p>"Polymers, proteins, liquids, plastics, ceramics—if they can all be glass, then metals can be glass too."</p> <p>The problem with most metals, according to Ma, is that their crystalline structure can cause them to fracture when stressed. Before being cooled to room temperature, the supercooled metallic liquids that Ma works with develop an amorphous structure completely different from crystals, eliminating internal "slip systems" and strengthening the alloy.</p> <p>As he experiments with new combinations of metals to form glassy alloys, Ma finds that "some elements love each other, but some dislike each other."</p> <p>"Everything we have in this world is made of materials—materials that have vastly different properties, with distinctly different internal structures," Ma says. "Our challenge as materials scientists is to understand how to controllably manipulate the internal structure to reach the properties we desire."</p> Mon, 10 Aug 2015 08:35:00 -0400 Researchers gain insight into how skin, hair regenerate in wounds after trauma <p>Johns Hopkins researchers have <a href="">identified a novel way in mice through which mammals—presumably including people—can regenerate hair follicles and skin</a> while healing from wounds.</p> <p>The discovery, summarized in <a href="">an article published last week in the journal <em>Cell Stem Cell</em></a>, could, they say, eventually help spur the growth of new hair, skin or other organ tissue in scarred victims of burns and other injuries.</p> <p>"[The study] uncovers a novel role for a protein that works as a master regulator of regeneration in the skin," says senior study author <a href="">Luis A. Garza</a>, associate professor of dermatology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "Medications that turn on this protein have the powerful potential to decrease scarring as healing of wounds takes place, thereby promoting skin and hair follicle regeneration."</p> <p>Garza says his team's work is based on the knowledge that damaged skin releases double-stranded RNA, or dsRNA—genetic information normally carried by some viruses—that is sensed by a specific protein known as toll-like receptor 3, or TLR3. TLR3 plays a fundamental role in recognizing some disease-causing organisms and activating the immune system. During wounding, it also activates genes and molecules to promote hair follicle regeneration and development and a gene that plays an important role in skin development.</p> <p>Developing embryos have all of the instructions they need to make organs and skin in genetic material within the cells, says Garza. Advanced knowledge about this cell signaling pathway may lead to therapies that reactivate these early developmental signals to promote healing.</p> <p>"A lot of human disability is from scarring," Garza says. "After a heart attack, we're really good at replacing the blood flow, but it's the scar on the heart afterward that's the real problem. We and others in the field of regenerative medicine are interested in how to enhance or trigger regeneration in such situations."</p> <p>For the study, Garza and colleagues compared the protein expression of certain genes in healed wounds in two groups of mice. One group was genetically proficient in wound-induced hair neogenesis, a process in mice and rabbits in which skin and hair follicles regenerate after wounds. The other inbred group of mice was noted to lack this ability. Expression of TLR3 was three times higher in the mice that were better able to regenerate hair.</p> <p>In other experiments, the team found that the expression of TLR3 was five times higher in scratched human skin cell samples compared to healthy skin cell samples, that adding synthetic dsRNA to mouse skin wounds led to a greater number of regenerated follicles, that adding a substance that breaks up dsRNA decreased the number of regenerated follicles, and that regeneration was nearly nonexistent in mice deficient in TLR3.</p> <p>Garza notes that it has long been known that skin damage can trigger regeneration. Several cosmetic dermatological procedures, including chemical peels, dermabrasion, and laser treatments, have been used to do that for decades. But Garza cautions that clinical applications of the team's discoveries must await many more experiments and the development and testing of drugs that target the pathway they uncovered.</p> <p>"One implication from our work is that all of those different rejuvenation techniques are likely working through dsRNA pathways," he says. "It may also be that dsRNA could be directly used to stimulate rejuvenation in aging or hair follicle growth in burn patients to regain structures that have been lost."</p> Wed, 05 Aug 2015 16:23:00 -0400 Computer algorithm could aid in early detection of life-threatening sepsis <p>For a patient with sepsis—which kills more Americans every year than AIDS and breast and prostate cancer combined—hours can make the difference between life and death.</p> <p>The quest for early diagnosis of this life-threatening condition now takes a step forward, as Johns Hopkins University researchers report on a more effective way to spot hospital patients at risk of septic shock.</p> <p>The new computer-based method correctly predicts septic shock in 85 percent of cases, without increasing the false positive rate from screening methods that are common now.</p> <p>"But the critical advance our study makes is to detect these patients early enough that clinicians have time to intervene," says <a href="">Suchi Saria</a>, an assistant professor of computer science in Johns Hopkins' <a href="">Whiting School of Engineering</a> and of health policy in the <a href="">Bloomberg School of Public Health</a>. She led the study, published today as the <a href="">cover story in the journal <em>Science Translational Medicine</em></a>.</p> <p>More than two-thirds of the time, the method was able to predict septic shock before any organ dysfunction. That is a 60 percent improvement over existing screening protocols.</p> <p><a href="">Peter J. Pronovost</a>, a study co-author and senior vice president for patient safety and quality at Johns Hopkins Medicine, said the research promises significant progress in treating a condition that is estimated to hit about a million Americans and kill about 200,000 every year—many of them in hospitals and nursing homes.</p> <p>"We know a lot of those deaths would likely be preventable" if sepsis were diagnosed well before it develops into septic shock and organ failure, said Pronovost, who directs the <a href="">Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality</a> at Johns Hopkins Medicine. "Right now, much of sepsis is invisible until someone is on death's door." Every passing hour before sepsis patients receive antibiotics, he said, "correlates strongly with risk of death."</p> <p>Sepsis is caused by a powerful immune system reaction to infection that, if untreated, can cause inflammation throughout the body; the inflammation can trigger blood clots and leaking blood vessels. That hinders blood flow, which in the worst cases causes organ failure. The condition is a significant problem among vulnerable populations in hospitals and nursing homes. It can be triggered by invasive procedures, including catheterization.</p> <p>The study drew on electronic health records of 16,234 patients admitted to intensive care units—including medical, surgical, and cardiac units—at Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center from 2001 to 2007. Researchers created an algorithm that combines 27 factors into a Targeted Real-time Early Warning Score, or TREWScore, measuring the risk of septic shock.</p> <p>"One strength of this approach," notes Katharine Henry, a PhD student in Saria's lab and first author of the study, "is that all of our inputs are routinely collected. You don't need specialized new measurements."</p> <p>The method differs in several respects from previous attempts to predict septic shock. It's based on a larger data pool, takes account of more health indicators, and factors in several elements that could have confounded the results.</p> <p>One question now is how TREWScore can be used in a hospital or nursing home. <a href="">David Hager</a>, a co-author and director of the Medical Progressive Care Unit at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, said the algorithm could be programmed into an electronic health records system to alert doctors and nurses about a patient at risk of septic shock.</p> <p>"The tricky issue is thinking about how the clinical team is provided with the information," Hager said. A hospital's electronic health records system could be set up to convey alerts to clinicians via pager or cellphone at regular intervals, he said.</p> <p>"But we have to do this in a way that it is well-integrated into the existing clinical workflow and does not cause alarm fatigue," Saria said. That is the focus of ongoing study.</p> <p>Saria, whose lab is a center for big-data analysis of electronic health records, said the study is part of a broad effort at Johns Hopkins to help clinicians and patients by providing continuous, insightful monitoring.</p> <p>"Our methods are reaching a point where they can be a real aid to clinicians," she said, "especially in noticing subtle hints, buried deep in a chart, that a problem is developing."</p> <p>Pronovost said the effort seeks to make care safer and more humane for patients. That includes rethinking what harms are preventable. Before this, conditions like sepsis were considered unavoidable.</p> <p>"This is a culture change," he said.</p> <p>The research was supported by National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Award 1232825, Google Research grant 1202463721, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and Johns Hopkins Whiting School faculty start-up funds.</p> Wed, 05 Aug 2015 08:49:00 -0400 Hopkins Engineering dean joins other leaders in pledge to increase diversity <p>Ed Schlesinger, dean of the <a href="">Whiting School of Engineering</a> at Johns Hopkins University, joined leaders of more than 100 leading U.S. engineering schools in pledging to take steps to increase opportunities for women and other underrepresented groups to pursue meaningful careers in engineering.</p> <p>"Diversity and inclusiveness are essential for the development of creative solutions to the world's challenges and to enrich life," read a <a href="">statement released Tuesday</a> by the <a href="">American Society for Engineering Education</a> and signed by Schlesinger and deans of 101 other engineering schools.</p> <p>"We understand that, at its most fundamental level, diversity is not just ethical human practice," Schlesinger added, "but also good engineering practice, and one that we cultivate through a variety of initiatives and programs."</p> <p>Under Schlesinger's leadership, the Whiting School is engaged several efforts to increase professional and educational opportunities in engineering to underrepresented groups. The Whiting School's current activities in this area include:</p> <ul> <li><p><a href="">Engineering Innovation</a>, a national summer program offered through WSE"s Center for Educational Outreach that provides a diverse group of high school students with college-level courses in engineering, teaches them to think and problem-solve like engineers, exposes them to engineering career and educational opportunities, and gives them the chance to earn Johns Hopkins University credit.</p></li> <li><p><a href="">Stem Achievement in Baltimore Elementary Schools</a>, a program in which Johns Hopkins partners with Baltimore City Public Schools to improve educational outcomes in science, technology, engineering, and math through new STEM curricula, STEM extracurricular activities, and professional development for STEM teachers.</p></li> <li><p>The <a href="">Extreme Science Internships program</a>, a partnership between the <a href="">Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute</a> and Morgan State University, a historically black college, that pairs Morgan State students with Johns Hopkins researchers and those at other engineering schools in the U.S. and abroad.</p></li> <li><p>A new STEM partnership with the Barclay School, a K-8 Baltimore City School near JHU's Homewood campus, in which the Whiting School and JHU are investing in improved STEM curricula, teacher training, and facilities.</p></li> <li><p>Active recruitment of minority students, faculty, and staff across the school with the goal of significantly increasing the diversity of the school population over the coming decade.</p></li> </ul> <p>The ASEE's statement was released in conjunction with the first-ever White House Demo Day, an event focused on inclusive entrepreneurship that welcomed startup founders from diverse walks of life to showcase their innovations. As part of the event, President Obama announced new public- and private-sector commitments aimed at providing more Americans with the opportunity to pursue their bold, game-changing ideas.</p> <p>From the <a href="">White House release</a>:</p> <blockquote> <p>America's entrepreneurial economy is the envy of the world. But, we need to do more to make sure that we are tapping our full entrepreneurial potential – drawing on talented Americans from all backgrounds and locations.</p> <p>Just 3 percent of America's venture capital-backed startups are led by women, and only around 1 percent are led by African-Americans. At present, only about 4 percent of U.S.-based venture capital investors are women. And, capital for innovative startups is predominantly available in just a few places, making high-growth business creation a challenge outside of a handful of metro hubs.</p> <p>To maintain our lead as the best place on the planet to start and scale a great company, we must ensure that vibrant startup ecosystems emerge in every corner of America, and that all Americans, including those underrepresented in entrepreneurship like women and people of color, are both encouraged and able to fully contribute their entrepreneurial talents.</p> </blockquote> Tue, 04 Aug 2015 15:25:00 -0400 Cybersecurity experts to discuss delicate balance between data sharing, privacy <p>In its efforts to curb criminal activity, should the government be allowed to see confidential consumer data collected by businesses? Or does the right to privacy trump such intrusions?</p> <p>These complex questions will be the focus of the second annual Senior Executive Cyber Security Conference, to be held Sept. 10 at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. <a href="">Registration for the daylong event is under way</a>. Early-bird discount prices are in effect through Aug. 15.</p> <p>The conference, which will feature speakers from government, the business community, and academia, is sponsored by the university's <a href="">Whiting School of Engineering</a>, its <a href="">Information Security Institute</a>, and by Comprehensive Applied Security Solutions (COMPASS).</p> <p>A particular focus of the event will be current proposals that would give the federal government access to corporate computing systems. The goal would be to help thwart or capture cybercriminals who hack into private systems to steal credit card numbers and other valuable customer or employee data. But some experts are worried that opening this digital door could also give the government access to sensitive details about a company's data management infrastructure and other proprietary information.</p> <p>"Striking a comfortable balance between sharing information with the government and preserving the privacy of consumers and businesses is a very challenging task and an ongoing source of debate," said Anton Dahbura, executive director of Johns Hopkins' Information Security Institute. "Should private businesses be required to share their digital records with the government to help prevent data breaches? How can we be sure the government won't misuse or mishandle this data? This conference is designed to explore questions like these."</p> <p>Featured speakers will include:</p> <ul> <li>Hodding Carter III, renowned journalist and author, co-author of "After Snowden: Privacy, Secrecy, and Security in the Information Age" </li> <li>Ari Schwartz, Senior Director of Cybersecurity, National Security Council at the White House </li> <li>Curtis Levinson, U.S. Cyber Defense Advisor to NATO and private consultant to firms such as Nike, Mercedes Benz, J.P. Morgan, and DuPont </li> <li>Roberta Anderson, partner and co-founder, K&L Gates LLP </li> <li>Robyn Greene, policy council, Surveillance and Cyber Security Issues, New America Foundation </li> <li>Michael Echols, director, Joint Program Management Office National Protection and Program Directorate, Office of Cybersecurity and Communications, Department of Homeland Security </li> <li>Bob Butler, senior advisor, The Chertoff Group </li> <li>Matt Green, research professor, Johns Hopkins University Information Security Institute </li> </ul> <p>More details on the event and a link to the online registration site are at <a href=""></a></p> Tue, 04 Aug 2015 14:54:00 -0400 East Baltimore biotech startup among companies showcased at White House Demo Day <p>After 10 years as a successful veterinarian, Ignacio "Nacho" Pino decided to dedicate himself to work that could bring state-of-the-art biotechnology research to his home of Puerto Rico.</p> <p>CDI Laboratories—a company he founded in 2008 along with Johns Hopkins University researchers Heng Zhu and Seth Blackshaw, JHU professor emeritus Jef Boeke, and two others (Dan Eichinger and Joe Bonaventura)—aims to produce research-grade protein and antibody products that support scientific research on cancer, autoimmunity, and infectious diseases. The company is one of more than 30 startups being showcased in Washington, D.C., today as part of the first-ever White House Demo Day, which will highlight the work of a diverse group of entrepreneurs from across the country.</p> <p>President Obama will personally meet some of these entrepreneurs and view their exhibits, which will range from early-stage technologies to growth-stage consumer products. He will also deliver remarks to the entrepreneurs, along with invited private-sector leaders, on the importance of inclusive entrepreneurship to our nation's economy.</p> <p><a href="">CDI Labs</a>—which is based in East Baltimore's Science + Technology Park at Johns Hopkins and in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico—got its start with a meeting in Puerto Rico between Puerto Rican entrepreneurs and Boeke, who spent nearly 30 years as a professor at JHU's School of Medicine and founded JHU's <a href="">High Throughput Biology Center</a>, or HiT Center, part of the <a href="">Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences</a>. Zhu, a professor of oncology and pharmacology, and Blackshaw, an associate professor of neuroscience, neurology, and ophthalmology, both do research work in the HiT Center.</p> <p>The company specializes in proteomics, the large-scale study of proteins, their structures, and their functions. CDI's HuProt protein microarrays and related services make it possible to perform rapid and efficient analyses of thousands of protein interactions using minimal amounts of valuable research or clinical samples. CDI's system of antibody production is part of the NIH Protein Capture Reagents program and is currently working to produce truly mono-specific antibodies to human transcription factors.</p> <p>Recently, CDI Labs was selected as part of a research consortium funded by the National Institutes of Health to perform research on cancer, autoimmunity, and infectious diseases.</p> <p>"We are honored and excited to participate in this event," Pino, president of CDI Labs, said of White House Demo Day. "CDI offers over 75% of the human proteome to academic and industrial scientists as a unique, convenient, and rapid assay platform. It's proving to be a powerful tool in understanding disease processes and can speed the development of potential therapeutics. It is also becoming a game-changer for assessing the quality of research antibodies, currently a $1.5 billion market in the life sciences sector."</p> <p>White House Demo Day is part of President Obama's <a href="">Startup America</a> initiative to celebrate, inspire, and accelerate high-growth entrepreneurship throughout the nation. Additional information about the companies and entrepreneurs recognized at the White House today can be found at <a href=""></a>.</p> <p><iframe width="640" height="360" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe></p> Wed, 29 Jul 2015 14:00:00 -0400 Using drones to transport blood samples could speed diagnosis, treatment <p>The results of common and routine blood tests are not affected by up to 40 minutes of travel on hobby-sized drones, a <a href="">recent proof-of-concept study at Johns Hopkins demonstrated</a>, promising news for the millions of people cared for in rural and economically impoverished areas that lack passable roads.</p> <p>In developing nations, most tests on blood samples and other fluids are performed by dedicated laboratories that are often miles from remote clinics. By transporting samples via drones, researchers say, health care workers can gain quick access to lab tests needed for diagnoses and treatments.</p> <p>"Biological samples can be very sensitive and fragile," says <a href="">Timothy Kien Amukele</a>, a pathologist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and director of a laboratory collaboration between Johns Hopkins and Uganda's <a href="">Makerere University</a>. That sensitivity makes even the pneumatic-tube systems used by many hospitals, for example, unsuitable for transporting blood for certain purposes.</p> <p>Of particular concern with the use of drones, Amukele notes, is the sudden acceleration when the craft launches and the jostling when it lands on its belly.</p> <p>"Such movements could have destroyed blood cells or prompted blood to coagulate, and I thought all kinds of blood tests might be affected, but our study shows they weren't, so that was cool," he says of the project, which was supported by a <a href="">Johns Hopkins Discovery Award</a>.</p> <p>A <a href="">report on Amukele's team's study was published today in <em>PLOS One</em></a>.</p> <p>For the study, which Amukele believes is the first rigorous examination of the impact of drone transport on biological samples, his team collected a total of six blood samples from each of 56 healthy adult volunteers at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The samples were then driven to a flight site an hour away from the hospital on days when the temperature was in the 70s. There, half of the samples were packaged for flight, with a view to protecting them for the in-flight environment and preventing leakage.</p> <p>Those samples were then loaded into a hand-launched fixed-wing drone and flown around for periods of six to 38 minutes. Owing to Federal Aviation Administration rules, the flights were conducted in an unpopulated area, stayed below 100 meters (328 feet), and were in the line of sight of the certified pilot.</p> <p>The other half of the samples were driven back from the drone flight field to The Johns Hopkins Hospital Core Laboratory, where they underwent the 33 most common laboratory tests that together account for around 80 percent of all such tests done. A few of the tests performed were for sodium, glucose, and red blood cell count.</p> <p>Comparing lab results of the flown vs. non-flown blood of each volunteer, Amukele says "the flight really had no impact."</p> <p>Amukele and his team noted that one blood test—for total carbon dioxide (the so-called bicarbonate test)—did yield differing results for some of the flown vs. non-flown samples. Amukele says the team isn't sure why, but that the reason could be because the blood sat around for up to eight hours before being tested. There were no consistent differences between flown vs. non-flown blood, Amukele says, and it's unknown whether the out-of-range results were due to the time lag or because of the drone transport.</p> <p>"The ideal way to test that would be to fly the blood around immediately after drawing it, but neither the FAA nor Johns Hopkins would like drones flying around the hospital," he said.</p> <p>Given the successful proof-of-concept study results, Amukele says the likely next step is a pilot study in a location in Africa where health care clinics are sometimes 60 or more miles away from labs.</p> <p>"A drone could go 100 kilometers in 40 minutes," says Amukele. "They're less expensive than motorcycles, are not subject to traffic delays, and the technology already exists for the drone to be programmed to 'home' to certain GPS coordinates, like a carrier pigeon."</p> <iframe src="" width="680" height="382" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe> Tue, 28 Jul 2015 12:59:00 -0400 Student researchers collaborate virtually with help of open-source software <p>A summer research internship for undergraduates is not only helping them learn to build new lifesaving drug molecules and create new biofuels—it's also testing the concept of a virtual research community.</p> <p>The <a href="">Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology</a>—with the help of a $200,000, two-year grant from the National Science Foundation—has launched a first-of-its-kind training program in which students study vaccine design, create biofuels, and build protein circuits in living cells, all with the help of specialized software that lets them collaborate from distant host university labs.</p> <p>A typical summer research program—the institute's Nanobio Research Experience for Undergraduates, for example—brings students together to one host university, where they work in different laboratories on various projects. In the new pilot training program on Computational Biomolecular Structure, students use an open-source software called Rosetta to work together on problems in computational biology and are mentored by faculty who are part of a global collaborative team known as the Rossetta Commons. The software gives users the ability to analyze massive amounts of data to predict the structure of real and imagined proteins, enzymes, and other molecular structures.</p> <p>"Computational biologists study known macromolecules or design new ones and use computers to predict how these molecules will fold in 3D and how they might interact with cells or other molecules," says <a href="">Jeffrey Gray</a>, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Johns Hopkins and the INBT affiliate who spearheaded the program. "For example, researchers create computational algorithms to design a new drug molecule or use the Rosetta software to predict how molecules might behave in a living organism. And because the work is done using a computer, researchers can easily collaborate at a distance."</p> <p>The students in the pilot program began their research experience with a weeklong boot camp at the University of North Carolina at the end of May. The following week, students traveled to their host universities, which include Johns Hopkins; University of California, Davis; Scripps Research Institute; Stanford University; New York University; Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; and Vanderbilt.</p> <p>Morgan Nance, a biochemistry and molecular biology major from the University of California, Davis, is spending her summer at <a href="">JHU's Gray Lab</a>.</p> <p>"I hope to become more familiar with Rosetta to the point that I am able to utilize it in my home lab," Nance says. "I want to gain the technical skills of how to use this new software and the knowledge of how to develop it further. I hope to gain valuable research experience so that when I apply to graduate school, I'm ready to jump into action."</p> <p>Unlike experimental biology, which is performed with test tubes and Petri dishes, computational biology uses computer software. Therefore researchers in the discipline are accustomed to collaborating with people from many locations.</p> <p>"Each lab has different expertise," Gray says. "One lab might specialize in protein docking, another in RNA structure and design, another in vaccine design or protein function. When students cross train in these laboratories, they learn to recognize the common themes. Virtual collaboration also opens them up to more options to consider when they go to find a job or apply to graduate school.</p> <p>"We can ask questions with computational biology that you just can't ask with an experiment," Gray adds. "The level of detail that we can examine is completely different."</p> <p>The research internships last 10 weeks. Each week, Nance and her colleagues "meet" online via video chat to discuss current published papers in the field and to present updates from host labs. In August, Nance will reconvene with her cohort at the annual RosettaCON in Leavenworth, Washington.</p> <p>Sally O'Connor, NSF program director, spent time with the Rosetta trainees during their boot camp and described the cohort as "impressive."</p> <p>"It takes a certain type of student to be able to participate in the program, because there is computer programming involved as well as understanding of the basic science underlying the projects," O'Connor says. "If this distributed model works just as well as the traditional one, we would then be able to accept this kind of model and access the best labs in the country for doing research."</p> <p>Though Nance is on her own at Hopkins, INBT staff members have made sure that she is included in activities organized for the 13 students in the on-site REU program.</p> <p>"I have the opportunity to work under a new principal investigator and get his insight on how research is conducted," she says. "I work closely under a mentor who helps guide me on how to think up questions to answer, and [determine] how to go about answering them. And I have access to great equipment, brilliant minds, and awesome new friends."</p> Tue, 28 Jul 2015 11:15:00 -0400 Aspiring engineers learn to use their noodles at Johns Hopkins summer program <p>What's the secret to building a spaghetti bridge that supports the weight of an official Olympic metal barbell?</p> <p>Maybe it's finding the perfect combination of cylindrical noodles, woven tightly together with epoxy or resin.</p> <p>Sometimes, says competitor Sherrie Shen, it's the simplest load-bearing bridges that take home the win.</p> <p>At the 10th annual Spaghetti Bridge Competition, hosted Friday at Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus, 41 teams of high school students tasked with testing the strength of spaghetti squared off. In the front of a crowded auditorium in Hodson Hall, students carefully piled weights on the noodle bridges as if adding to a wobbly stack of Jenga bricks. Kilogram by kilogram, the audience cheered along until the pasta snapped, flying into the shielded faces of the aspiring engineers.</p> <p><strong>Also see:</strong> <a href="">Teaching students to use their noodles</a> (<em>NPR</em>)</p> <p>A'hunna Key-Lows, the 13th team to take the stage, added weights, starting in 1-kilogram increments, to their structure as the audience fell silent. A suspenseful game show sound bite played in the background. Fifty two pounds later, the pasta splintered in the air and the crowd cheered for the No. 1 team.</p> <p>The event caps the four-week <a href="">Engineering Innovation</a> program, which is designed to give rising high school juniors and seniors a taste of college-level engineering.</p> <p>This year's program attracted students from across the U.S. and 15 other countries—China, Canada, Brazil, Colombia, Greece, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Hong Kong, India, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the United Arab Emirates.</p> <p>Students complete lab activities in computer engineering, chemical engineering, electrical engineering, material science, civil engineering, robotics, and mechanical engineering, all while working on the spaghetti bridges during their spare time. Shen and her team, Pasta People, built not one but three bridges in preparation for the competition.</p> <p>The students spend hours building the bridges after learning about trusses and other sturdy structures in the classroom. There are requirements, of course, and the groups are penalized if their bridges are too high or overweight.</p> <p>One of the goals of the Engineering Innovation program is to introduce participants to the possibilities of a career in engineering, math, or science. Shen, after her four weeks at Johns Hopkins, said she still aspires to be an engineer.</p> Mon, 27 Jul 2015 08:05:00 -0400 Stunning parting shot of Pluto reveals layers of atmospheric haze <p>Flowing ice and a surprising extended haze are among the newest discoveries from <a href="">NASA's <em>New Horizons</em> mission</a>, which reveal distant Pluto to be an icy world of wonders.</p> <p>"We knew that a mission to Pluto would bring some surprises, and now—10 days after <a href="">closest approach</a>—we can say that our expectation has been more than surpassed," said John Grunsfeld, NASA's associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate. "With flowing ices, exotic surface chemistry, mountain ranges, and vast haze, Pluto is showing a diversity of planetary geology that is truly thrilling."</p> <p>Just seven hours after closest approach, <em>New Horizons</em> aimed its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager back at Pluto, capturing sunlight streaming through the atmosphere and revealing hazes as high as 80 miles above Pluto's surface. A preliminary analysis of the image shows two distinct layers of haze—one about 50 miles above the surface and the other at an altitude of about 30 miles. The <a href="">full photo can be viewed at</a>.</p> <p>"My jaw was on the ground when I saw this first image of an alien atmosphere in the Kuiper Belt," said Alan Stern, principal investigator for New Horizons at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. "It reminds us that exploration brings us more than just incredible discoveries—it brings incredible beauty."</p> <p>Studying Pluto's atmosphere provides clues as to what's happening below.</p> <p>"The hazes detected in this image are a key element in creating the complex hydrocarbon compounds that give Pluto's surface its reddish hue," said Michael Summers, New Horizons co-investigator at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.</p> <p>Models suggest the hazes form when ultraviolet sunlight breaks up methane gas particles—a simple hydrocarbon in Pluto's atmosphere. The breakdown of methane triggers the buildup of more complex hydrocarbon gases, such as ethylene and acetylene, which also were discovered in Pluto's atmosphere by <em>New Horizons</em>. As these hydrocarbons fall to the lower, colder parts of the atmosphere, they condense into ice particles that create the hazes. Ultraviolent sunlight chemically converts hazes into tholins, the dark hydrocarbons that color Pluto's surface.</p> <p>Scientists previously had calculated temperatures would be too warm for hazes to form at altitudes higher than 20 miles above Pluto's surface.</p> <p>"We're going to need some new ideas to figure out what's going on," said Summers.</p> <p>The <em>New Horizons</em> mission also found in images evidence of exotic ices flowing across Pluto's surface and revealing signs of recent geologic activity, something scientists hoped to find but didn't expect.</p> <p>The new images show fascinating details within the Texas-sized plain, informally named Sputnik Planum, which lies within the western half of Pluto's heart-shaped feature, known as Tombaugh Regio. There, a sheet of ice clearly appears to have flowed—and may still be flowing—in a manner similar to glaciers on Earth.</p> <p>"We've only seen surfaces like this on active worlds like Earth and Mars," said mission co-investigator John Spencer of Southwest Research Institute. "I'm really smiling."</p> <p>Additionally, new compositional data from <em>New Horizons</em> indicate the center of Sputnik Planum is rich in nitrogen, carbon monoxide, and methane ices.</p> <p>"At Pluto's temperatures of minus-390 degrees Fahrenheit, these ices can flow like a glacier," said Bill McKinnon, deputy leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging team at Washington University in St. Louis. "In the southernmost region of the heart, adjacent to the dark equatorial region, it appears that ancient, heavily cratered terrain has been invaded by much newer icy deposits."</p> <p>The unmanned <em>New Horizons</em> spacecraft will continue to send data stored in its onboard recorders back to Earth through late 2016. The spacecraft currently is 7.6 million miles beyond Pluto, healthy, and flying deeper into the Kuiper Belt.</p> <p>The <a href="">Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory</a> designed, built, and operates the <em>New Horizons</em> spacecraft, and manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. Southwest Research Insititute, based in San Antonio, leads the science team, payload operations, and encounter science planning. <em>New Horizons</em> is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.</p> Thu, 23 Jul 2015 07:57:00 -0400 New Horizons discovers second, smaller mountain range in Pluto's 'heart' <p>Pluto's icy mountains have company. <a href="">NASA's <em>New Horizons</em> mission</a> has discovered a new, apparently less lofty mountain range on the lower-left edge of Pluto's best known feature, the bright, heart-shaped region named Tombaugh Region.</p> <p>These newly discovered frozen peaks are estimated to be one-half mile to one mile high, about the same height as the Appalachian Mountains in the United States. The <a href="">Norgay Mountains discovered by <em>New Horizons</em> on July 15</a> more closely approximate the height of the taller Rocky Mountains in the western U.S.</p> <p>The new range is just west of <a href="">the region within Pluto's heart called Sputnik Plain</a> and some 68 miles northwest of the Norgay Mountains. This newest image further illustrates the remarkably well-defined topography along the western edge of Tombaugh Region.</p> <p>"There is a pronounced difference in texture between the younger, frozen plains to the east and the dark, heavily-cratered terrain to the west," said Jeff Moore, leader of the <em>New Horizons</em> Geology, Geophysics, and Imaging Team at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. "There's a complex interaction going on between the bright and the dark materials that we're still trying to understand."</p> <p>While Sputnik Plain is believed to be relatively young in geological terms—perhaps less than 100 million years old—the darker region probably dates back billions of years. Moore notes that the bright, sediment-like material appears to be filling in old craters.</p> <p>This image was acquired by <em>New Horizons</em>' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager on July 14 from a distance of 48,000 miles and sent back to Earth on July 20. Features as small as a half-mile across are visible. The names of features on Pluto have all been given on an informal basis by the <em>New Horizons</em> team.</p> <p><em>New Horizons</em> is part of NASA's New Frontiers Program, managed by the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory designed, built, and operates the <em>New Horizons</em> spacecraft and manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. Southwest Research Institute leads the mission, science team, payload operations, and encounter science planning.</p> Mon, 20 Jul 2015 15:49:00 -0400 Johns Hopkins to train new cybersecurity experts with help of $2.2M grant <p>At a time when cybersecurity attacks are more frequent and damaging, the National Science Foundation has awarded $2.2 million to the Johns Hopkins University <a href="">Information Security Institute</a> to support a graduate-level degree program that teaches students how to recognize and protect against digital threats.</p> <p>The grant will be allocated over five years as part of the Federal CyberCorps: Scholarship for Service Program. The program provides students with scholarships covering tuition, fees, and required books, as well as a stipend. In return, the program requires that after graduation, the students work for a federal, state, local, or tribal government in a job related to computer security for a period equal to the duration of their education scholarship, which includes a summer internship.</p> <p>At Johns Hopkins, the five-year NSF grant is expected to support three or four students annually as they complete the Information Security Institute's three-semester <a href="">Master of Science in Security Informatics</a> (MSSI) degree program. This program offers students an option to simultaneously earn a dual degree in computer science, applied math and statistics, health sciences or national security studies.</p> <p>The first scholarships will be available for students beginning their MSSI degree studies in the spring 2016 semester.</p> <p>The curriculum of the of the security informatics degree program is based on practical and up-to-date knowledge in the field. The classes expose students to practical experience exercises and teach them other valuable skills, such as project management. The goal is to make sure that when the students graduate, they are well prepared to take on a variety of cybersecurity-related responsibilities and challenges.</p> <p>Anton Dahbura, executive director of the university's Information Security Institute and principal investigator for the NSF grant, said that cybersecurity is arguably one of the most important challenges confronting society in the information age.</p> <p>"No one is exempt from malicious cyber acts that prey upon imperfect technologies," he said. "This NSF grant is significant because the funds will support U.S. students as they complete our master's program here and prepare them to pursue their careers in cybersecurity, starting with service to a government entity."</p> <p>Dahbura added that the grant will help Johns Hopkins participate in an innovative and efficient nationwide education system aimed at creating an unrivaled cybersecurity workforce. Developing well-trained U.S. guardians of the digital world, Dahbura said, is critical to national security, continued economic growth, and future technological innovation in secure cyberspace.</p> Fri, 17 Jul 2015 14:57:00 -0400 NASA's New Horizons finds vast, frozen plain in the heart of Pluto's 'heart' <p>In the latest data from <a href="">NASA's <em>New Horizons</em> spacecraft</a>, a new close-up image of Pluto reveals a vast, craterless plain that appears to be no more than 100 million years old, and is possibly still being shaped by geologic processes. This frozen region is north of Pluto's icy mountains, in the center-left of the heart feature, informally named "Tombaugh Regio" (Tombaugh Region) after Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930.</p> <p>"This terrain is not easy to explain," said Jeff Moore, leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics, and Imaging Team at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. "The discovery of vast, craterless, very young plains on Pluto exceeds all pre-flyby expectations."</p> <p>This fascinating icy plains region—resembling frozen mud cracks on Earth—has been informally named "Sputnik Planum" (Sputnik Plain) after the Earth's first artificial satellite. It has a broken surface of irregularly-shaped segments, roughly 12 miles across, bordered by what appear to be shallow troughs. Some of these troughs have darker material within them, while others are traced by clumps of hills that appear to rise above the surrounding terrain. Elsewhere, the surface appears to be etched by fields of small pits that may have formed by a process called sublimation, in which ice turns directly from solid to gas, just as dry ice does on Earth.</p> <p>Scientists have two working theories as to how these segments were formed. The irregular shapes may be the result of the contraction of surface materials, similar to what happens when mud dries. Alternatively, they may be a product of convection, similar to wax rising in a lava lamp. On Pluto, convection would occur within a surface layer of frozen carbon monoxide, methane, and nitrogen, driven by the scant warmth of Pluto's interior.</p> <p>Pluto's icy plain also displays dark streaks that are a few miles long. These streaks appear to be aligned in the same direction and may have been produced by winds blowing across the frozen surface.</p> <p>The "heart of the heart" image was taken Tuesday when <em>New Horizons</em> was 48,000 miles from Pluto and shows features as small as one-half mile across. Mission scientists will learn more about these mysterious terrains from higher-resolution and stereo images that <em>New Horizons</em> will pull from its digital recorders and send back to Earth during the next year.</p> <p>The <em>New Horizons</em> Atmospheres team observed Pluto's atmosphere as far as 1,000 miles above the surface, demonstrating that Pluto's nitrogen-rich atmosphere is quite extended. This is the first observation of Pluto's atmosphere at altitudes higher than 170 miles above the surface.</p> <p>The <em>New Horizons</em> Particles and Plasma team has discovered a region of cold, dense ionized gas tens of thousands of miles beyond Pluto—the planet's atmosphere being stripped away by the solar wind and lost to space.</p> <p>"With the flyby in the rearview mirror, a decade-long journey to Pluto is over, but the science payoff is only beginning," said Jim Green, director of Planetary Science at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Data from <em>New Horizons</em> will continue to fuel discovery for years to come."</p> <p>Alan Stern, <em>New Horizons</em> principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, added: "We've only scratched the surface of our Pluto exploration, but it already seems clear to me that in the initial reconnaissance of the solar system, the best was saved for last."</p> <p><em>New Horizons</em> is part of NASA's New Frontiers Program, managed by the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory designed, built, and operates the <em>New Horizons</em> spacecraft and manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. Southwest Research Institute leads the mission, science team, payload operations, and encounter science planning.</p> Fri, 17 Jul 2015 11:02:00 -0400 How exactly does New Horizons send all that data back from Pluto? <p>NASA's <em>New Horizons</em> spacecraft has zipped by Pluto and continues on its voyage beyond our solar system and deeper into the Kuiper Belt. By now, we've all seen the stunning high-resolution images of the dwarf planet's icy surface captured by the craft's Long Range Reconnaissance Imager, or LORRI.</p> <p>LORRI, however, is just one of seven instruments that make up <em>New Horizons</em>' science payload, which collected a treasure trove of data during the flyby that brought the craft within 7,800 miles of Pluto. In some sense, the surface images are just an appetizer for a full course of scientific data headed our way.</p> <p><em>New Horizons</em>' instruments will tell us more about the composition and structure of Pluto's dynamic atmosphere, the geology of the planet's surface, interactions between Pluto and the solar winds, the materials that escape the planet's atmosphere, and dust grains produced by collisions of asteroids and other Kuiper Belt objects.</p> <p>New Horizons collected so much data—stored on a pair of 32-Gbit hard drives—that it will take 16 months to send it all back to Earth. And you thought the streaming speed on that <em>True Detective</em> episode was slow.</p> <p>But just how does all the information get back to us, and why will it take so long?</p> <p>For one, consider that the information has to travel more than three billion miles. Even moving at the speed of light, that's a 4.5-hour trip for a single image.</p> <p>Then there's the data rate challenge, says the Applied Physics Laboratory's Chris DeBoy, the lead RF (wireless and high-frequency signals) communications engineer for the <em>New Horizons</em> mission to Pluto. As an instrument makes an observation, data is transferred to a solid-state recorder—similar to a flash memory card for a digital camera—where it's compressed, reformatted, and transmitted to Earth through the spacecraft's radio telecommunications system, a 2.1-meter high-gain antenna. The antenna, however, has an output power of 12 watts and receives a signal from Earth that is approximately a millionth of a billionth of a watt. Taking into account the distance and low-powered signal, the <em>New Horizons</em> "downlink" rate is considerably low, especially when compared to rates now common for high-speed Internet, which can move information faster than 100 Mbps. <em>New Horizons</em> currently can only move data at a rate of 1 to 2 Kbps.</p> <p>"To cover that vast distance severely limits the data rate," DeBoy says.</p> <p>The <em>New Horizons</em> spacecraft, just like Earth-bound computers, speaks in a stream of cryptic-looking 1s and 0s that traverse space via these low-frequency radio waves. The signal is so weak that large antenna dishes on Earth, part of NASA's Deep Space Network, are required to receive the faint radio waves.</p> <p>"The encoded 1s and 0s that travel billions of miles are so small that the signal spreads, and it's a whisper by the time it gets back to Earth," DeBoy says. "But the DSN system can tease out that whisper, so we can receive the information on the ground."</p> <p>Data received on Earth through the Deep Space Network is sent to the <em>New Horizons</em> Mission Operations Center at APL, where data are "unpacked" and stored. The data is cleaned up—bad data is removed—and put into large daily archive files. At this point, the data is intact, but it is in a very raw form. The Science Operations Center at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, sorts this out and produces usable science data. The packets of bits need to be decoded and pieced together to make each data set or image.</p> <p>DeBoy says that the images already received from <em>New Horizons</em> were prioritized and encoded in special transmission turbo code. Likewise, the remaining data sets will be prioritized and sent piecemeal, not in one huge data dump. New data will arrive continuously, DeBoy says, and slowly be unveiled over the next 16 months.</p> <p>It's an exciting time for the mission, DeBoy says, even though <em>New Horizons</em> has already passed Pluto and made history.</p> <p>"It was a great moment when we saw the signal come back and knew that the spacecraft had survived," he says. "Now it's our job to get the data that will be trickling back to us. There are lots of new discoveries to come."</p> <p><em>An earlier version of this article misstated the size of the hard drives on which</em> New Horizons <em>stores data.</em></p> Wed, 15 Jul 2015 20:07:00 -0400 Daniels praises New Horizons team for 'unimaginable' achievement of reaching Pluto <p>A day after <em>New Horizons</em> completed its Pluto flyby on Tuesday, Johns Hopkins University President <a href="">Ronald J. Daniels</a> sent the following message to the university community lauding the achievement and the work of those at the <a href="">Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory</a> who designed, built, and operated the spacecraft on its remarkable journey:</p> <blockquote> <p>Dear Members of the Johns Hopkins Community,</p> <p>Yesterday, our university made history. I had the great privilege of being at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory with students, alumni, trustees, APL staff and their families, and our NASA colleagues as we celebrated the unimaginable. Thanks to the ingenuity and leadership of our colleagues at APL, humankind has now observed Pluto up close. After nearly 15 years of exhaustive planning and preparation, the <em>New Horizons</em> spacecraft became the first-ever space mission to explore a world so far from Earth. The excitement in the NASA control room at APL when we heard that <a href=""><em>New Horizons</em> had safely passed Pluto</a> was palpable.</p> <p>From our founding over 139 years ago, Johns Hopkins' students and faculty have pursued knowledge—in the classroom, in the laboratory, and in the farthest reaches of space—with a restless curiosity, intellectual courage, and undaunted determination. Yesterday's achievement embodies those values to the fullest, opening up a vast new arena for scientific discovery beyond the farthest reaches of our own solar system. The <a href="">image captured this evening</a> attests to the wealth of data and information now available to our scientists.</p> <p>At the end of <em>New Horizons</em>' 3-billion-mile voyage, the spacecraft hit the equivalent of a circle about 120 miles in diameter. Every instrument aboard <em>New Horizons</em> worked to near perfection. Even at the last minute a pellet the size of a grain of sand could have ended the nine-year journey. The sheer achievement of such pinpoint accuracy is simply stunning.</p> <p>I am incredibly proud of Ralph Semmel's leadership and of Glen Fountain's entire team at APL. Nine years after sending <em>New Horizons</em> into orbit, APL's engineers, scientists, and administrators were able to bask in the deserved admiration of the world. It was a moment that I will long remember and a remarkable exemplar of Johns Hopkins' ability to deliver on its grandest aspirations.</p> <p>Please join me in congratulating our colleagues at APL for this great success and for inspiring our community and the world.</p> <p>Sincerely,</p> <p>Ronald J. Daniels</p> </blockquote> Wed, 15 Jul 2015 15:49:00 -0400 Latest Pluto photos from New Horizons give close-up view of icy mountains <p>New close-up images of a region near Pluto's equator reveal a giant surprise: a range of youthful mountains rising as high as 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) above the surface of the icy body (Mount Everest, by comparison, measures about 29,000 feet).</p> <p>The mountains likely formed no more than 100 million years ago—mere youngsters relative to the 4.56-billion-year age of the solar system—and may still be in the process of building, says Jeff Moore of the <em>New Horizons</em> Geology, Geophysics, and Imaging team. That suggests the close-up region, which covers less than one percent of Pluto's surface, may still be geologically active today.</p> <p>Moore and his colleagues base the youthful age estimate on the lack of craters in this scene. Like the rest of Pluto, this region would presumably have been pummeled by space debris for billions of years and would have once been heavily cratered—unless recent activity had given the region a facelift, erasing those pockmarks.</p> <p>"This is one of the youngest surfaces we've ever seen in the solar system," says Moore.</p> <p>Unlike the icy moons of giant planets, Pluto cannot be heated by gravitational interactions with a much larger planetary body. Some other process must be generating the mountainous landscape.</p> <p>"This may cause us to rethink what powers geological activity on many other icy worlds," says Geology, Geophysics, and Imaging deputy team leader John Spencer of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.</p> <p>The mountains are probably composed of Pluto's water-ice "bedrock."</p> <p>Although methane and nitrogen ice covers much of the surface of Pluto, these materials are not strong enough to build the mountains. Instead, a stiffer material, most likely water-ice, created the peaks.</p> <p>"At Pluto's temperatures, water-ice behaves more like rock," said deputy team lead Bill McKinnon of Washington University in St. Louis.</p> <p>The close-up image was taken about 90 minutes before <em>New Horizons</em> closest approach to Pluto, when the craft was 478,000 miles from the surface of the planet. The image easily resolves structures smaller than a mile across.</p>