Hub Headlines from the Johns Hopkins news network Hub Mon, 12 Oct 2015 15:05:00 -0400 Two student teams from Johns Hopkins among Collegiate Inventors Competition finalists <p>Two teams from Johns Hopkins University have been named finalists in the <a href="">2015 Collegiate Inventors Competition</a>, which will take place next month.</p> <p>The undergraduate team includes biomedical engineering students Malvi Hemani, Melissa Lin, Kunal Patel, and Huilei Wang. The team invented TocoTrack, a low-cost uterine contraction monitor. The device, <a href="">designed to assist midwives in diagnosing labor complications</a>, measures muscle stiffness and can filter out other movements, such as the patient's breathing.</p> <p>The team plans to partner with NGOs to distribute the device, and 10 test TocoTracks have already been sent to hospitals in India, according to a <a href="">profile of the team in <em>Forbes Magazine</em></a>.</p> <p>The group is advised by <a href="">Robert Allen</a> of JHU's Department of Biomedical Engineering. The work is conducted within the <a href="">Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design</a>, part of the Department of Biomedical Engineering.</p> <p>The Johns Hopkins graduate student team selected as a finalist includes electrical engineering PhD candidate Dimitra Emmanouilidou and graduate student Ian McLane, who <a href="">invented a noise-canceling stethoscope</a>. The device records lung sounds with six microphones, and an external microphone records environmental sounds so they can be removed from the analysis, making the device ideal for noisy emergency rooms and ambulances. The team is advised by <a href="">James West</a> of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.</p> <p>The Collegiate Inventors Competition, a program of the National Inventors Hall of Fame and Invent Now, is a national competition that recognizes and rewards innovations, discoveries, and research by students and their faculty advisers. Seven teams are selected as finalists in each category.</p> <p>The 2015 finalists will present their inventions before a panel of judges at the Collegiate Inventors Competition Expo and Awards at the United States Patent and Trademark Office on Nov. 17.</p> <p>Teams representing Johns Hopkins have earned top placements in the competition in the past three years:</p> <ul> <li>In 2014, an undergraduate team won second place for <a href="">AccuSpine</a>, a device for detecting the accurate placement of surgical screws in spinal fusion. </li> <li>In 2013, an undergraduate team took home first place for the invention of the <a href="">PrestoPatch</a>, a system used in treatment of cardiac arrhythmia. </li> <li>Also in 2013, graduate student <a href="">Isaac Kinde won third place for developing technology</a> for the detection of ovarian and endometrial cancers. </li> <li>In 2012, an undergraduate team claimed first place for the invention of <a href="">FastStitch</a>, a device to improve stitches in abdominal surgery. </li> </ul> Fri, 09 Oct 2015 08:20:00 -0400 Latest Pluto images from New Horizons show blue skies, red ice <p>The first color images of Pluto's atmospheric hazes, returned by <a href="">NASA's <em>New Horizons</em> spacecraft</a> last week, <a href="">reveal that the hazes are blue</a>.</p> <p>"Who would have expected a blue sky in the Kuiper Belt? It's gorgeous," said Alan Stern, principal investigator of the <em>New Horizons</em> team at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.</p> <p>The haze particles themselves are likely gray or red, but the way they scatter blue light has gotten the attention of the <em>New Horizons</em> science team.</p> <p>"That striking blue tint tells us about the size and composition of the haze particles," said science team researcher Carly Howett. "A blue sky often results from scattering of sunlight by very small particles. On Earth, those particles are very tiny nitrogen molecules. On Pluto they appear to be larger—but still relatively small—soot-like particles we call tholins."</p> <p>Scientists believe the tholin particles form high in the atmosphere, where ultraviolet sunlight breaks apart and ionizes nitrogen and methane molecules, allowing them to react with each other to form more complex negatively- and positively-charged ions. When they recombine, they form very complex macromolecules, a process first found to occur in the upper atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan. The more complex molecules continue to combine and grow until they become small particles; volatile gases condense and coat their surfaces with ice frost before they have time to fall through the atmosphere to the surface, where they add to Pluto's red coloring.</p> <p>In a second major finding, <em>New Horizons</em> has detected numerous small, exposed regions of water ice on Pluto. The discovery was made from data collected by the Ralph spectral composition mapper on <em>New Horizons</em>.</p> <p>"Large expanses of Pluto don't show exposed water ice," said science team member Jason Cook, "because it's apparently masked by other, more volatile ices across most of the planet. Understanding why water appears exactly where it does, and not in other places, is a challenge that we are digging into."</p> <p>A curious aspect of the detection is that the areas showing the most water ice correspond to areas that are bright red in <a href="">recently released color images</a>.</p> <p>"I'm surprised that this water ice is so red," says Silvia Protopapa, a science team member from the University of Maryland, College Park. "We don't yet understand the relationship between water ice and the reddish tholin colorants on Pluto's surface."</p> <p>The <em>New Horizons</em> spacecraft is currently 3.1 billion miles from Earth, with all systems healthy and operating normally.</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. <a href="">The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory</a> designed, built, and operates the <em>New Horizons</em> spacecraft and manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The Southwest Research Institute leads the science mission, payload operations, and encounter science planning.</p> Thu, 08 Oct 2015 13:30:00 -0400 Johns Hopkins researchers explore mysterious, shape-shifting nature of stem cells <p>A Johns Hopkins University biologist has led a research team reporting progress in understanding the shape-shifting ways of stem cells, which have vast potential for medical research and disease treatment.</p> <p>In a research paper to be published in <a href=""><em>Cell Reports</em></a> on Oct. 13, <a href="">Xin Chen</a>, an associate professor of biology in the university's Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, and her six co-authors report on how stem cells are affected by their immediate surroundings. The scientists found that an enzyme present in the spot where stem cells are found can help nurture a greater abundance of these cells by sustaining them in their original state, and by promoting other cells to lose their specialized traits and transform into stem cells.</p> <p>The results show that the enzyme aminopeptidase in the stem cell niche—in this case, the area where stem cells are found in the testicular tissue in fruit flies—plays a role in both of these functions. How the niche itself plays this role, however, remains unclear.</p> <p>That the enzyme in that spot promotes more specialized cells to become like stem cells "suggests that this change of cell fate needs cues from where stem cells normally reside, but not randomly," said Chen, the principal investigator. "These results have medical implications because if this cell fate change could happen randomly, it may lead to diseases such as cancers."</p> <p>That's because there's a delicate balance to be struck in managing the proliferation of undifferentiated stem cells in tissue, Chen said. Too few can cause tissue deterioration, too many can promote tumors.</p> <p>The study focused on fruit flies in part because they share with humans about three-quarters of the genes that cause disease, making them a fine research model. The work on this paper focused on the testis because stem cells are found there in both fruit flies and humans.</p> <p>Stem cells are found in humans in an array of tissues, including skin, blood vessels, teeth, heart, brain, and liver.</p> <p>Because they can develop from their original state into specialized or differentiated cells, stem cells have long held out the promise of being used to replace damaged organs and muscle. Stem cells have been used to treat illness in limited ways for decades, including transplantation from bone marrow.</p> <p>However, their application could be much wider with reliable techniques to control how they take on specialized functions, how they can revert to their stem state, and in some instances, how they proliferate in their original state to form potentially dangerous tumors.</p> <p>One question now is whether the activity of the niche and of the enzyme reported in this research can be harnessed to manipulate stem cells to differentiate in useful ways. There's a lot of work yet to be done, Chen said.</p> <p>"How cells become different, it's very important to understand that," Chen said.</p> <p>Chen's six collaborators on this paper were Cindy Lim, who earned her doctorate at Johns Hopkins and now works for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; Lijuan Feng of the Johns Hopkins University Department of Biology; Shiv Gandhi and Sinisa Urban of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; and Martin L. Biniossek and Oliver Schilling of the Institute of Molecular Medicine and Cell Research at the University of Freiburg.</p> <p>This work has been supported by the 49th Mallinckrodt Scholar Award from the Edward Mallinckrodt, Jr. Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, grant RO1HD065816 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health, and Johns Hopkins University startup funding for Xin Chen.</p> Tue, 06 Oct 2015 14:00:00 -0400 Big ideas, little sleep: Students tackle medical challenges at JHU's first-ever MedHacks hackathon <p>Students from across campus and around the world gathered at Johns Hopkins University this weekend for the first-ever <a href="">MedHacks hackathon</a>, where in a span of less than 48 hours they attempted to dream up and create innovative solutions to some of today's most pressing medical challenges.</p> <p>The student-run event—similar to HopHacks, a <a href="">student-run hackathon that debuted two years ago</a>—began Friday evening and ran through Sunday afternoon at the Bloomberg Center on JHU's Homewood campus. It attracted more than 400 participants, event organizers said.</p> <p>"Advancements in medicine often come from technology, but there is a disconnect between computer scientists and doctors," said Jack Ye, a first-year biomedical engineering student at JHU. "This event brings technology and medicine together."</p> <p>Teams worked round the clock on a variety of problems from the healthcare world—some faced by developing countries, and some faced by the medical industry in the U.S. Professionals from the medical, entrepreneurial, and technology industries provided feedback.</p> <p>"Compared to research, you have to cut your losses much sooner and move on to achieve your goal," says John Muschelli, a PhD student in Biostatistics at Johns Hopkins. "It could get pretty hairy in the midnight hours."</p> <p>Teams created apps, wrote code, and built prototypes of medical devices. On Sunday afternoon, 10 teams presented their solutions before a panel of judges who selected first-, second-, and third-place winners based on technical difficulty, creativity, and impact.</p> <p>The team that captured first place proposed using ultrasound acoustics to detect deep vein thrombosis, a dangerous condition that occurs when a blood clot forms—typically in the legs—that can detach and block blood flow to the heart or lungs. Team members developed software and a prototype of the device to monitor blood flow and ran test trials on a straw wrapped in meat to simulate vein and muscle tissue. The winners received a cash prize and a booth at DC TechDay.</p> <p>The second-place winners developed a medical device to effectively diagnose compartment syndrome, a debilitating and potentially fatal condition that results when body tissue swells uncontrollably and pressure causes irreversible damage to the surrounding tissue.</p> <p>The team that took third place came up with a way of streamlining the process hospitals use to donate medical equipment to healthcare providers in developing countries.</p> <p>Other projects included wearable devices configured to monitor cardiac activity, an app used to upload lab test results and initiate video chats with a physician, and photo-imaging software to verify patient identity in areas of the world without standard forms of ID.</p> <p>Opening remarks were given by Director of Global mHealth Initiative Dr. Alain Labrique and Frenome CTO Gabriel Otte. Closing keynote speaker Guillermo Vela, from MedHacks sponsor Nebulab, called cloud computing and big data the new medical frontiers, effectively summarizing the relationship between technology and medicine and the goals of the MedHacks weekend.</p> <p><em>Editor's note: A previous version of this article misstated the relationship between MedHacks and HopHacks and the number of participants in the MedHacks event.</em></p> Fri, 02 Oct 2015 15:09:00 -0400 Johns Hopkins study sheds light on earliest genetic signs of lung cancer development <p>Scientists at Johns Hopkins University have <a href="">identified what they believe are among the earliest "premalignant" genetic changes marking the potential onset of the most common and fatal form of lung cancer</a>, adenocarcinoma.</p> <p>Examining very tiny premalignant lesions of the lung, the research team discovered DNA alterations that can be detected long before any diagnosis of invasive clinical cancer would be made. A report on the findings was <a href="">published Sept. 16 in the journal <em>Nature Communications</em></a>.</p> <p>"We have a glimpse into the future in which we can detect premalignant lesions of the lung before they become tumors," says study lead author Evgeny Izumchenko, a postdoctoral fellow at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. But he adds that this is "only the beginning of a long road we must travel to figure out how to interpret these discoveries to use them optimally in the clinic."</p> <p>Adenocarcinoma is usually diagnosed after it has spread. The average five-year survival rate is 15 percent, even with the most advanced treatment.</p> <p>The prevailing opinion among lung cancer experts is that adenocarcinoma develops from microscopic lesions that accumulate multiple genetic alterations over time. The problem for scientists, especially for treatment, is the inconsistency: some of these precancerous lesions regress and disappear over time, while others progress to cancer.</p> <p>To help predict which of the lesions develop into cancer, the scientists collected multiple tissue samples from six patients undergoing surgical removal of lung tumors.</p> <p>Then [William Westra], a professor of pathology at JHU, went through the tissue samples to single out tiny precancerous lung lesions known as atypical adenomatous hyperplasia. The DNA derived from these microscopic lesions and other lesions in different phases of progression were sequenced to pinpoint genetic abnormalities, which occurred long before the lesions would become recognized as adenocarcinoma of the lung.</p> <p>Using a technique known as targeted next-generation sequencing, the researchers found that in three patients, the same DNA mutations were shared between premalignant lesions and cancerous tumors within the same lung. Finding this definitive link suggests that those specific mutations might cause tumors to progress. Researchers plan further studies to confirm the findings in a greater number of lung cancer patients.</p> <p>"This study takes detection to a whole new level in terms of size of the lesion," says <a href="">David Sidransky</a>, a professor of otolaryngology, oncology, and pathology who directs the head and neck cancer research at Johns Hopkins.</p> <p>Researchers also examined patients' blood and sputum—a mix of saliva and mucus coughed up from the respiratory tract—using ultra-sensitive digital polymerase chain reactions. In doing so, they found proof that genetic mutations associated with precancerous lesions can be detected in paired bodily fluid DNA—even before they invade and become malignant.</p> <p>"We believe we were able to detect, for the first time, DNA circulating in the blood from precancerous lesions of the lung," says <a href="">Mariana Brait</a>, an assistant professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at Johns Hopkins.</p> <p>This detection capacity could suggest it as a potential companion test to a biopsy, offering more knowledge for treatment.</p> <p>When the team further explored different regions within the same lesion, they found other genetic mutations that are known to have different responses and outcomes from various types of cancer treatment. The discovery highlights the limitations of the single biopsies typically used to dictate patients' therapies, Sidransky says.</p> Thu, 01 Oct 2015 15:45:00 -0400 JHU cosmologist Alex Szalay receives IEEE Computer Society honor <p>Johns Hopkins University cosmologist <a href="">Alexander Szalay</a> has received the <a href="">2015 IEEE Computer Society Sidney Fernbach Award</a>, which recognizes outstanding contributions in the application of high-performance computers using innovative approaches. Szalay was recognized "for his outstanding contributions to the development of data-intensive computing systems and on the application of such systems in many scientific areas including astrophysics, turbulence, and genomics," the group said in announcing the honor.</p> <p>Szalay wrote the first papers associating dark matter with relic particles from the Big Bang and more recently has been working on problems related to large data sets in physics and astrophysics. He is a JHU <a href="">Bloomberg Distinguished Professor</a> and a faculty member in the departments of Physics and Astronomy and Computer Science. He is also the director of JHU's <a href="">Institute for Data Intensive Engineering and Science</a> and the architect for the Science Archive of the <a href="">Sloan Digital Sky Survey</a>.</p> <p>"At JHU, we started to work on big data in science more than 15 years ago, through our involvement in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey," Szalay says. "This was entirely uncharted territory at the time, and during this time we have built a world-class team through universitywide collaborations, created the Institute for Data Intensive Engineering and Science, and expanded into many other domains of science. The Fernbach Prize is a wonderful recognition of our journey, the result of an enormous team effort. I am proud to have helped to influence the careers of many brilliant young people in this new era of interdisciplinary science."</p> <p>The <a href="">IEEE Computer Society</a> is the world's leading membership organization for modern computing professionals. The award will be presented to Szalay on Nov. 17, 2015, at the SC15 Conference, an international conference for high-performance computing, networking, storage and analysis.</p> Thu, 01 Oct 2015 09:40:00 -0400 Science, engineering partnership between Morgan State, Johns Hopkins grows <p>Three Morgan State University students were recently recognized as Extreme Science Scholars by representatives of Johns Hopkins University, Morgan State, and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory.</p> <p>The Extreme Science Scholar program supports Morgan State students pursuing a math, science, engineering of technology degree at the undergraduate or graduate levels. The program, funded by the <a href="">Army Research Laboratory</a>, provides tuition support for the 2015-2016 academic year and is an expansion of the Extreme Science Internship program, which places Morgan students in research internships at JHU's <a href="">Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute</a> and 14 other institutions.</p> <p>The students are:</p> <ul> <li><p>Oreoluwa Adesina, a sophomore electrical engineering major who hopes to gain a better understanding of how extreme material science and electrical engineering combine to obtain groundbreaking discoveries.</p></li> <li><p>Hashmath Fathima, who is in her first year as a master's of engineering student and hopes to learn more about working with composites and create a network of researchers who can help build and develop new programs for equipment used in Morgan State's laboratories.</p></li> <li><p>Dennis Aryee, a first-year graduate student studying physics who plans to use the opportunity to develop a better understanding of materials science and how certain applications can benefit mankind.</p></li> </ul> <p>The students were recognized during a ceremony on Sept. 10 by <a href="">Lori Graham-Brady</a>, associate director of the Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute; Alvin Kennedy, interim dean of the School of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences at Morgan State University; and John Beatty, senior materials researcher at the Army Research Laboratory.</p> <p><strong>Also see:</strong> <a href="">HEMI/MICA Extreme Arts Internship Program celebrates first students</a></p> Thu, 01 Oct 2015 08:05:00 -0400 Johns Hopkins, Kavli Foundation create new institute dedicated to study of how the brain works <p>The Kavli Foundation and its university partners announced this morning the founding of three new neuroscience institutes, <a href="">including one at Johns Hopkins</a>. The new Kavli Neuroscience Discovery Institute at The Johns Hopkins University, expected to launch in early 2016, will bring an interdisciplinary group of researchers together to investigate the workings of the brain.</p> <p>The Kavli Neuroscience Discovery Institute, to be funded by a joint $20 million commitment by Kavli and Johns Hopkins, is designed to integrate neuroscience, engineering, and data science—three fields in which the university has long excelled—to understand the relationship between the brain and behavior.</p> <p>Experimental tools in neuroscience are yielding larger and more complex data sets than ever before, but the ability of neuroscientists to manage and mine these data sets effectively has lagged behind, as has their ability to model the behavior of cells and circuits in the brain. The new institute aims to change that by drawing on the university's expertise in "big data" analytics.</p> <p>"The challenges of tomorrow will not be confined to distinct disciplines, and neither will the solutions we create," says Johns Hopkins University President <a href="">Ronald J. Daniels</a>. "The Kavli Foundation award is a tremendous honor because it allows Johns Hopkins to build on our history of pioneering neuroscience and to catalyze new partnerships with engineers and data scientists that will be essential to building a unified understanding of brain function."</p> <p>Added Robert W. Conn, president and CEO of The Kavli Foundation: "This new institute will bring together some of the world's finest researchers in neuroscience in a fresh, dynamic way that is aimed at advancing our understanding of the relationship between the brain and behavior. This kind of research is essential to finding new approaches to better understand the mind and protecting it from disorders ranging from depression to Alzheimer's."</p> <p><strong>Also see:</strong> <a href="">Johns Hopkins part of $100 million initiative to study the brain</a> (<em>The Baltimore Sun</em>)</p> <p>The 45 initial members of the Kavli Neuroscience Discovery Institute—including Director <a href="">Richard L. Huganir</a>, professor and director of the Department of Neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and co-director <a href="">Michael I. Miller</a>, professor of biomedical engineering—are drawn from 14 different departments in the Johns Hopkins schools of medicine, engineering, arts and sciences, and public health, and the Applied Physics Laboratory.</p> <p>"Neuroscience is inherently interdisciplinary," Huganir says. "You can study the biochemistry of the brain, but how does that relate to circuits and behavior? It's tough to answer that in a single laboratory. It necessitates interaction and collaboration, and with the Kavli Neuroscience Discovery Institute, we're trying to take that to a new level to understand the brain."</p> <p>Added Miller: "Our ability to collect cellular neural data is growing at a Moore's law kind of doubling rate. At the same time, our ability to image the brain at different scales is producing massive data sets. One of the fundamental problems we all face now is how to connect the information that is being represented across scales. With this deluge of data, mathematical, algorithmic, and computational models become perhaps more important today in neuroscience than ever before."</p> <p>The three new institutes announced today are the Kavli Neuroscience Discovery Institute at The Johns Hopkins University, the Kavli Neural Systems Institute at The Rockefeller University, and the Kavli Institute for Fundamental Neuroscience at the University of California, San Francisco. Each of the institutes will receive a $20 million endowment supported equally by their universities and the foundation, along with startup funding. The foundation is also partnering with four other universities to build their Kavli Institute endowments further. These Institutes are at Columbia University; the University of California, San Diego; Yale University; and Norwegian University of Science and Technology.</p> <p><a href="">The Kavli Foundation</a>, based in Oxnard, California, advances science for the benefit of humanity, promotes public understanding of scientific research, and supports scientists and their work. The foundation's mission is implemented through an international program of research institutes in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience, neuroscience and theoretical physics, and through the support of conferences, symposia, endowed professorships and other activities. The foundation is also a founding partner of the biennial Kavli Prizes, which recognize scientists for their seminal advances in three research areas: astrophysics, nanoscience and neuroscience.</p> <p>"I'm so pleased that the Kavli Foundation and its university partners, including Maryland's iconic Johns Hopkins University, are coming together to advance cutting edge research into traumatic brain injuries and debilitating diseases like Alzheimer's, autism, and Parkinson's," says Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland. "This public/private partnership will help support the development and application of innovative technologies that can help map the human brain. With today's announcement, we will help researchers uncover the mysteries of brain disorders so we can better treat, prevent, cure, and help families in need."</p> <p><em>Correction: The roles Huganir and Miller will fill with the new institute were misstated in an earlier version of this article. Huganir is the director; Miller is the co-director. We regret the error.</em></p> Wed, 30 Sep 2015 15:40:00 -0400 Baltimore med-tech startup Sisu Global Health lands $100,000 prize <p>After moving to Baltimore last spring to take part in an accelerator program co-sponsored by Johns Hopkins, the <a href="">Sisu Global Health</a> startup has just scored a big win.</p> <p>The medical technology company nabbed $100,000 Monday night as part of <a href="">"Rise of the Rest,"</a> launched by AOL co-founder and former CEO Steve Case. The five-city tour is designed to bring attention and funding to startups outside of traditional tech hubs like Silicon Valley and New York City.</p> <p>Sisu edged out seven other Baltimore-based teams in the live pitch competition to claim the top prize.</p> <p>The team at Sisu is working to develop advanced medical devices for emerging markets, including Sub-Saharan Africa. In particular, they're focused on launching their own product in West Africa: <a href="">Hemafuse</a>, a surgical tool for recycling a patient's own blood from internal bleeding.</p> <p>Founded by three women in Grands Rapids, Michigan, the startup moved to Baltimore this spring to join the four-month <a href="">DreamIt Health</a> bootcamp. Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Medicine are among the co-sponsors of the program, which seeds startups with some initial funding, workspaces, and connections to investors.</p> <p>With the "Rise of the Rest" victory, the Sisu team is now committed to cementing its ties to Baltimore, company co-founder Katie Kirsch said in an email.</p> <p>"We only officially moved here this past spring for the DreamIt Health accelerator and were so impressed by the support offered by the community, in terms of what's needed for a startup to grow: space, legal/accounting services, access to clinical/global health expertise, and even better access to our customers through the large African Diaspora here," she wrote.</p> <p>Sisu was among the eight Baltimore startups—including <a href="">five directly connected to Hopkins</a>—that vied for the top prize Monday.</p> <p>In an interview with <a href=""><em>The Baltimore Sun</em></a>, Case called Sisu's medical technology "kind of a change-the-world idea."</p> <p>Sisu has conducted clinical studies on its device with Johns Hopkins and has already raised $500,000 as it works toward distributing the surgical tool in Ghana next year, <em>The Sun</em> reported.</p> <p>Baltimore was the first stop of the bus tour for Case and his "Rise of the Rest" team, who are traveling through the Northeast this week to spotlight emerging technology hubs.</p> Wed, 30 Sep 2015 13:48:00 -0400 High-powered JHU telescope designed to explore origins of universe moving toward 'first light' <p>An effort to peer into the origins of the universe with the most effective instrument ever used in the effort is taking a big step forward, as Johns Hopkins University scientists begin shipping a two-story-tall microwave telescope to its base in Chile.</p> <p>Pieces of the Cosmology Large Angular Scale Surveyor telescope—also known as CLASS—will soon be packed in a 40-foot container and sent south, as scientists get closer to taking observations of a faint, ancient electromagnetic energy that pervades the sky, holding clues about how the universe began.</p> <p>[Charles L. Bennett](, professor of physics and astronomy and Johns Hopkins Gilman Scholar, is the project leader.</p> <p>"It's going to be great to work our way toward first light," said Bennett, referring to the first telescope observations from Chile that are expected to be made this winter. "It's very exciting after 12 years" from the earliest discussions of the CLASS concept, he said.</p> <p>"We're all excited that everything is coming together," added <a href="">Tobias Marriage</a>, an assistant professor in JHU's Department of Physics and Astronomy, who is co-leading the CLASS project alongside Bennett.</p> <p><strong>Also see:</strong> <a href="">In a CLASS by itself</a> (<em>Arts & Sciences Magazine</em>, Spring 2014)</p> <p>In early and mid-October, professors, post-doctoral researchers, and students working at the <a href="">Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy</a> will pack two containers with pieces of the telescope built at Johns Hopkins. The telescope is designed to detect subtle patterns in the cosmic microwave background, or CMB, a relic thermal energy of the hot infant universe more than 13 billion years old. By sea, highway, and dirt road, the telescope parts will take a six-week trek to an elevation of about 17,000 feet in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile.</p> <p>Members of the Johns Hopkins team will then reassemble the telescope, which stands about 24 feet tall, fitting the base with one of four cylinders that contain detectors designed to receive the signal. In the next two years, three more cylinders will be mounted on two towers, enabling the instrument to detect four electromagnetic frequencies and improve the quality of the observations.</p> <p>The number of frequencies is part of what makes the CLASS telescope the most powerful instrument yet trained on the cosmic microwave background. Discovered in 1964 by two Americans, who later shared a Nobel Prize for their work, the CMB has provided scientists with a wealth of information about the universe, Bennett said.</p> <p>Because the radiation has taken billions of years to reach us, the CMB in effect captures a moment when the 13.77-billion-year-old universe was about 380,000 years old.</p> <p>The CLASS project is meant to examine 70 percent of the sky—the most yet for a land-based instrument—for evidence of a polarization pattern in the cosmic microwave background. That evidence would test the prevailing hypothesis about how the universe expanded.</p> <p>This notion, known as "inflation," holds that the universe began with quantum fluctuations—random changes in energy—in a space smaller than an atom within the first microsecond of the life of the universe.</p> <p>If "inflation" advocates are correct, those quantum fluctuations created gravitational waves that left a fingerprint on the cosmic microwave background. The mark would appear as a pattern, or polarization, in this encompassing field of electromagnetic radiation.</p> <p>Bennett has devoted much of his career to studying the cosmic microwave background, first as a NASA scientist, then at Johns Hopkins. He was on the science team for the Cosmic Background Explorer, a NASA satellite that measured the CMB in the early 1990s. Later he served as the principal investigator for the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, or WMAP, a NASA space mission that mapped the CMB.</p> <p>CLASS goes another step further in instrumental capability to probe the history of the universe.</p> <p>In speaking engagements, Bennett said, he is often asked how it is that scientists can know so much about the universe—its age; its expansion rate; and its makeup of dark energy, cold dark matter, and ordinary matter. In response he points to the object of his life's work, the cosmic microwave background.</p> <p>"The answer is this radiation is how we can know all this," Bennett said. "The magic is that this radiation comes to us directly from the early universe and we can look at it, effectively providing us a time machine."</p> Tue, 29 Sep 2015 15:28:00 -0400 Johns Hopkins medical robotics pioneer Russell H. Taylor to receive 2015 Honda Prize <p>Russell H. Taylor, a Johns Hopkins professor who is widely hailed as the father of medical robotics, has been selected to receive the 2015 Honda Prize. The selection was announced Monday by the Honda Foundation, which initiated this honor in 1980 as Japan's first international science and technology award.</p> <p>The Honda Foundation, based in Tokyo, was established by Honda Motor founder Soichiro Honda and his younger brother, Benjiro Honda. The foundation is currently headed by Hirito Ishida.</p> <p>Taylor was chosen as the 36th recipient of the Honda Prize for his crucial role in the early development of medical robotics technology, for his mentoring of students and other researchers in the field, and for his continuing contributions as a leader in this science and technology area. The prize will be presented at a ceremony in Tokyo on Nov. 17. Along with the prize medal and a diploma, the newest laureate will be awarded 10 million yen (approximately $83,000).</p> <p>"Frankly, I am still in a bit of a daze to be receiving the Honda Prize," Taylor says. "Some previous awardees include Benoit Mandelbrot, Raj Reddy, and Carl Sagan, among others. The whole list is impressive, and I don't know whether to feel humble or proud to be added to such a list. This is truly a great honor."</p> <p>Taylor launched his robotics research more than four decades ago and began focusing on medical robotics more than 25 years ago, at a time when the field was virtually nonexistent. The Honda Prize recognizes this early work as well as his continuing role as a global leader in efforts to enhance medical treatment through the expanded use of robotic devices and computer-integrated tools. Taylor has always emphasized that his goal is not to produce technology that would replace physicians but to give doctors new tools that can help them achieve better outcomes in treating their patients.</p> <p>Taylor's ties to Johns Hopkins date back to his undergraduate education. He earned his bachelor of science degree in engineering at the school in 1970 before moving on to Stanford University, where he obtained a PhD in computer science in 1976. That year he joined the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center, where he worked until 1995 as a research staff member and later as a research manager. At IBM he developed the AML robot language and managed the Automation Technology Department and later the Computer-Assisted Surgery Group.</p> <p>While at IBM, Taylor was the primary designer of a prototype hip replacement surgical assistant dubbed Robodoc, which is considered the world's first surgical assistant robot for a major surgical procedure. This system was commercialized for use on humans by a startup company, Integrated Surgical Systems. Many of the concepts first developed for Robodoc were later incorporated into robotic devices used for other surgical applications.</p> <p>During his tenure at IBM, Taylor also developed the Laparoscopic Assistant Robotic System, which constantly displays the surgical field at the center of a screen that can be monitored by the operator during laparoscopic surgery. The system improved this type of medical procedure by attaching a joystick to the surgical instrument to enable the surgeon to manipulate the endoscope without the help of an assistant. During development of this system, mechanical safety was enhanced via the Remote Center of Motion mechanism, which is also employed in da Vinci computer-assisted surgical systems that are now in use worldwide.</p> <p>In 1995, Taylor joined the Johns Hopkins faculty as a professor of computer science, with joint appointments in Radiology, Mechanical Engineering, and Surgery. In 2011 he was named the university's first John C. Malone Professor.</p> <p>Taylor's current research focuses on robotics, human-machine cooperative systems, medical imaging and modeling, and computer-integrated interventional systems. He directs the university's Engineering Research Center for Computer-Integrated Surgical Systems and Technology and its Laboratory for Computational Sensing and Robotics. Taylor has authored more than 400 peer-reviewed publications and book chapters and has been honored by numerous professional societies representing engineering and medical specialties.</p> Mon, 28 Sep 2015 14:05:00 -0400 Johns Hopkins, DuPont join forces to produce improved Ebola protection suit <p>The Johns Hopkins University and DuPont have signed license and collaboration agreements allowing DuPont to commercialize a garment with innovative features from Johns Hopkins to help protect people on the front lines of the Ebola crisis and future deadly infectious disease outbreaks. DuPont intends to have the first of these garments available in the marketplace during the first half of 2016.</p> <p>The collaboration between the major research university and the international science and engineering company began in response to the humanitarian need identified by the <a href="">U.S. Agency for International Development</a> (USAID) during the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa. In this region, the Ebola virus has infected more than 28,000 patients and resulted in more than 11,000 deaths. Harsh climates and ill-equipped health systems have led to tough working conditions that made it particularly difficult to keep the infections at bay. As the disease spread, many nurses, doctors, and others were fatally infected by the patients they were treating. The <a href="">World Health Organization</a> has confirmed more than 800 Ebola cases among health workers in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, leading to more than 500 related deaths.</p> <p>As this grim toll came to light, public health experts, scientists, and biomedical engineers in the public and private sectors were called on to help. In December, the USAID selected the new Johns Hopkins prototype protective garment, made of an advanced DuPont material, as one of the first five projects to receive funding to address the healthcare challenge posed by Ebola.</p> <p>The prototype garment was developed by the <a href="">Johns Hopkins Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design</a> (CBID), with input from global health partner, <a href="">Jhpiego</a>, a Johns Hopkins affiliate. Incorporating some elements from the Johns Hopkins prototype, the garment design from DuPont will feature a rear zipper and a "cocoon-style" removal, or doffing, process that requires far fewer steps to reduce risk. The DuPont garment may include an integrated hood with a large clear visor.</p> <p>The collaboration with DuPont, a global leader in personal protective apparel, will expedite wide market access for the garment. For more than 40 years, the company has been providing such apparel to help protect the safety of industrial and healthcare workers. Under the agreements, Johns Hopkins will assist DuPont in evaluating prototype garments produced by DuPont and will aid in the preparation of information for users. DuPont will be responsible for all aspects of commercialization. Further terms of the agreements were not disclosed.</p> <p>"This unique collaboration," said <a href="">Youseph Yazdi</a>, executive director of CBID, "brings together the biomedical ingenuity of Johns Hopkins, the global healthcare experience of Jhpiego, and the strategic industrial innovations of DuPont to help save lives worldwide. Although this project was triggered by the recent Ebola outbreak, we believe the improved protective suit's design will be impactful in future infectious disease outbreaks as well."</p> <p>Marc Doyle, senior vice president DuPont Safety & Protection, added, "Our participation in the USAID Grand Challenge and subsequent collaboration with Johns Hopkins and Jhpiego is an example of how DuPont engages with partners to address a global challenge. We look forward to the next step of making this protective apparel solution available where it is needed for both emergency response and preparedness."</p> <p>Jhpiego will field-test the DuPont prototype garment in Liberia, one of the three African countries hit hardest by the recent Ebola outbreak. Liberia is a nation where Jhpiego has deep roots and experience in health systems strengthening and training of health workers.</p> <p>Leslie Mancuso, president and CEO of Jhpiego, said the new garment will help ensure that frontline health workers can respond safely and with confidence to any new infectious disease outbreak.</p> <p>"Hundreds of nurses, midwives, and physicians selflessly responded to the Ebola outbreak and lost their lives trying to save others," Mancuso said. "The response of Johns Hopkins, Jhpiego, and DuPont to the humanitarian challenge offers a model of the ingenuity and dedication of the public and private sector to improve global health."</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> Mon, 28 Sep 2015 12:12:00 -0400 NASA confirms evidence that liquid water flows on present-day Mars <p>New findings from NASA's <a href="">Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter</a> (MRO)—including data from the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM), built and operated by the <a href="">Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory</a>—provide the strongest evidence yet that liquid water flows intermittently on present-day Mars.</p> <p>Using an imaging spectrometer on the orbiter, researchers detected signatures of hydrated minerals on slopes where mysterious streaks are seen on Mars. These darkish streaks appear to ebb and flow over time. They darken and appear to flow down steep slopes during warm seasons, and then fade in cooler seasons. They appear in several locations on Mars when temperatures are above minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 23 Celsius) and disappear at colder times.</p> <p>"Our quest on Mars has been to 'follow the water' in our search for life in the universe, and now we have convincing science that validates what we've long suspected," said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. "This is a significant development, as it appears to confirm that water—albeit briny—is flowing today on the surface of Mars."</p> <p>These downhill flows, known as recurring slope lineae, or RSL, often have been described as possibly related to liquid water. The new findings of hydrated salts on the slopes point to what the relationship may be to the periodic dark streaks—the hydrated salts would lower the freezing point of a liquid brine, just as salt on roads here on Earth causes ice and snow to melt more rapidly. Scientists say it's likely a shallow subsurface flow, with enough water wicking to the surface to explain the darkening.</p> <p>"We found the hydrated salts only when the seasonal features were widest, which suggests that either the dark streaks themselves or a process that forms them is the source of the hydration. In either case, the detection of hydrated salts on these slopes means that water plays a vital role in the formation of these streaks," said Lujendra Ojha of the Georgia Institute of Technology and lead author of a report on these findings <a href="">published today by <em>Nature Geoscience</em></a>.</p> <p>Ojha first noticed these puzzling features as a University of Arizona undergraduate student in 2010, using images from the MRO's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE). HiRISE observations now have documented recurring slope lineae at dozens of sites on Mars. The new study pairs HiRISE observations with mineral mapping by the APL-built CRISM.</p> <p>The spectrometer observations show signatures of hydrated salts at multiple locations, but only when the dark features were relatively wide. When the researchers looked at the same locations and recurring slope lineae weren't as extensive, they detected no hydrated salt.</p> <p>Ojha and his co-authors interpret the spectral signatures as caused by hydrated minerals called perchlorates. The hydrated salts most consistent with the chemical signatures are likely a mixture of magnesium perchlorate, magnesium chlorate, and sodium perchlorate. Some perchlorates have been shown to keep liquids from freezing even when conditions are as cold as minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 70 Celsius). On Earth, naturally produced perchlorates are concentrated in deserts, and some types of perchlorates can be used as rocket propellant.</p> <p>Perchlorates have previously been seen on Mars. NASA's Phoenix lander and Curiosity rover both found them in the planet's soil, and some scientists believe that the Viking missions in the 1970s measured signatures of these salts. However, this study detected perchlorates, now in hydrated form, in different areas than those explored by the landers. This also is the first time perchlorates have been identified from orbit.</p> <p>MRO has been examining Mars since 2006 with its six science instruments.</p> <p>"The ability of MRO to observe for multiple Mars years with a payload able to see the fine detail of these features has enabled findings such as these: first identifying the puzzling seasonal streaks and now making a big step towards explaining what they are," said Rich Zurek, MRO project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.</p> <p>For Ojha, the new findings are more proof that the mysterious lines he first saw darkening Martian slopes five years ago are, indeed, present-day water.</p> <p>"When most people talk about water on Mars, they're usually talking about ancient water or frozen water," he said. "Now we know there's more to the story. This is the first spectral detection that unambiguously supports our liquid water-formation hypotheses for RSL."</p> <p>The discovery is the latest of many breakthroughs by NASA's Mars missions.</p> <p>"It took multiple spacecraft over several years to solve this mystery, and now we know there is liquid water on the surface of this cold, desert planet," said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "It seems that the more we study Mars, the more we learn how life could be supported and where there are resources to support life in the future."</p> <p>Added co-author Scott Murchie of APL, principal investigator for CRISM: "Many of our most notable findings have been about the history of Mars' atmosphere and environment. Now we're able to make insights into the current conditions on Mars. The ability of researchers to call on data from different instruments—whether two on board MRO, or many across spacecraft and rovers—really provides a powerful suite of information that leads to findings such as this."</p> <p>There are eight co-authors of the Nature Geoscience paper, including Mary Beth Wilhelm at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California and Georgia Tech; CRISM Principal Investigator Murchie of APL; and HiRISE Principal Investigator Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Tucson, Arizona. Others are at Georgia Tech, the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and Laboratoire de Planétologie et Géodynamique in Nantes, France.</p> <p>The agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin built the orbiter and collaborates with JPL to operate it.</p> Thu, 24 Sep 2015 10:50:00 -0400 Five Johns Hopkins tech startups among finalists in $100,000 pitch competition <p>Five Johns Hopkins-affiliated tech startups were selected as finalists for the pitch competition at next week's "Rise of the Rest" tour event, where they will vie for a $100,000 top prize.</p> <p>The five-city "<a href="">Rise of the Rest</a>" roadshow, launched by AOL co-founder and former CEO Steve Case, <a href="">kicks off in Baltimore on Monday</a>. The tour is designed to bring attention and funding to startups outside of traditional tech hubs like Silicon Valley and New York City.</p> <p>In total, "Rise of the Rest" will invest $1 million in the cities it visits this fall through Case's <a href="">Revolution Ventures</a> firm. In each city, promising early-stage tech ventures take part in a pitch competition.</p> <p>Eight Baltimore startups were selected as finalists from the initial applicant pool. The pitch competition will take place Monday at the Baltimore Museum of Industry from 4 to 6 p.m. The winning team will take home a $100,000 prize.</p> <p>The five finalists with Johns Hopkins University connections are:</p> <ul> <li><a href="">Edessa</a>, a scalable automated system that standardizes the hand-washing process. </li> <li><a href="">PapGene</a>, an early detection system for ovarian cancer. </li> <li><a href="">Proscia</a>, a digital company applying image analysis and big data capabilities to pathology. </li> <li><a href="">ShapeU</a>, which offers data-driven solutions for group personal training. (<a href="">See previous Hub coverage</a>) </li> <li><a href="">Sonavex</a>, a platform that detects blood clots prior to surgical failures. </li> </ul> <p>Two of those startups—Sonavex and PapGene–are based out of Johns Hopkins' <a href="">Fast Forward</a> accelerator hub in the Stieff Silver building near the university's Homewood campus, according to Elizabeth Smyth, director of strategic initiatives at <a href="">Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures</a>. ShapeU, Edessa, and Prosica are startups founded by current or recently graduated Hopkins students.</p> <p>A sixth finalist—<a href="">Sisu Global Health</a>, a medical device company for emerging markets, including Sub-Saharan Africa—was a member of this year's DreamIt Health Baltimore bootcamp program, which Johns Hopkins co-sponsors.</p> <p>In addition to Steve Case, judges for the <a href="">RSVP-required pitch competition</a> include Baltimore entrepreneurs Ben Jealous, the former president and CEO of the NAACP and now partner at Kapor Capital; and Chris Jeffery, founder of the OrderUp food delivery app. The event starts with a "fireside chat" with Case.</p> <p>Earlier that day, the "Rise of the Rest" tour through Baltimore will make bus stops at various local startup spaces, including Hopkins' FastForward space at 855 Wolfe St. in East Baltimore. JHU President Ronald J. Daniels, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Maryland Rep. John Delaney are among those expected to participate.</p> <p>After stopping in Baltimore, the tour heads north to Philadelphia; Buffalo; Manchester, New Hampshire; and Portland, Maine. This marks the fourth "Rise of the Rest" tour through various parts of the country.​</p> Wed, 23 Sep 2015 10:00:00 -0400 Jammed cellular highways caused by gene mutations linked to ALS, dementia <p>Researchers at Johns Hopkins University say they have <a href="(">discovered how a common gene mutation causes the brain damage associated with dementia and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis</a>—better known as ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease—and are experimenting with a molecular therapy to address the problem.</p> <p>The research shows that the most common known risk factor for ALS and frontotemporal dementia, or FTD—a gene mutation known as C9orf72—causes cellular highways to jam, impairing brain functions. However, in tests with human and fly cells, the scientists were successful in using a molecular therapy to clear up those jams.</p> <p>A report on this research is <a href="">published in the Sept. 3 issue of the journal <em>Nature</em> </a>.</p> <p>Both ALS and FTD are characterized by degeneration of nerve cells over time. In FTD, the damage causes problems with speech, understanding language, and processing emotions. In ALS, the degeneration affects cells in the spinal cord as well as the brain, and patients gradually lose muscle control.</p> <p>Several years ago, the discovery of the gene mutation linked to ALS and FTD "was really a game changer for the field because it wasn't a typical genetic mutation," says <a href="">Jeffrey Rothstein</a>, a professor of neurology and director of the <a href="">Brain Science Institute</a> and the <a href="">Robert Packard Center for ALS Research</a> at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. "Now we have some information about what it is doing early on to damage brain and spinal cord cells."</p> <p>Scientists have seen that the C9orf72 mutation associated with the two diseases causes long strands of RNA to clog pathways that normally move proteins into a cell's nucleus.</p> <p>To mediate the effect of the mutated RNA, the research group has focused on one protein in particular, RanGAP. Researchers identified this protein as a critical target of C9orf72 repeats that could prevent brain cell death when its function is restored, according to <a href="">Thomas Lloyd</a>, an associate professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins, whose team worked with Rothstein's on this research.</p> <p>In one set of experiments with fly and human stem cells, the scientists found a way to block the repetitive RNA strands from interacting with the RanGAP protein. As a result, the jammed up nuclear pores reopened, allowing key proteins to move once again.​</p> <p>It's possible this effect could be replicated in a drug for patients with ALS and FTD, said Rothstein, who has launched a collaboration with California-based <a href="">Isis Pharmaceuticals</a>. But he cautioned that further studies are necessary before any such commercially available drug is developed.</p> <p>"We still don't know every step between the C9orf72 mutation and cellular death in the brain," Rothstein says. "But our belief is that this is what starts it off, and this is certainly a good therapeutic target."</p> Mon, 21 Sep 2015 14:45:00 -0400 Johns Hopkins chemist Marc Greenberg named Arthur C. Cope Scholar <p><a href="">Marc Greenberg</a>, a professor in the Department of Chemistry in Johns Hopkins University's <a href="">Krieger School of Arts and Sciences</a>, has been awarded a 2016 Arthur C. Cope Late Career Scholars Award by the <a href="">American Chemical Society</a>.</p> <p>Greenberg is one of four scholars receiving the award, which recognizes and encourages excellence in organic chemistry among researchers who have at least 25 years of experience since receiving their terminal degree.</p> <p>Greenberg uses organic chemistry to address questions concerning the reactivity, function, structure, and uses of nucleic acids.</p> <p>"When I started graduate school more than 30 years ago, I never imagined receiving such an honor," Greenberg said. "I am grateful to past and current trainees in my lab whose efforts made this possible. This recognition of our research helps motivate me to continue searching for additional discoveries."</p> <p>Taking chemical and biochemical approaches to the study of DNA damage and repair and their applications, Greenberg studies how DNA damage occurs, how it can be detected, the biological results of this damage, and how it can be fixed. DNA plays a critical role as the carrier of genetic information, and the DNA damage and repair processes are important in aging and a variety of genetically based diseases, such as cancer.</p> <p>His research group co-pioneered the approach for studying how nucleic acids are oxidized using organic chemistry to generate reactive intermediates that are produced by ionizing radiation, antitumor antibiotics, and other DNA-damaging agents.</p> <p>Greenberg earned his PhD in chemistry from Yale in 1988. He spent the early part of his academic career in the Chemistry Department of Colorado State University before coming to Hopkins in 2002. He is a member of the graduate program in the <a href="">Department of Pharmacology and Molecular Sciences</a> in the School of Medicine and also a faculty participant in the <a href="">Program in Molecular Biophysics</a> and the <a href="">Chemistry–Biology Interface Program</a>. Greenberg was the founding director of the latter program, which is supported by an NIH training grant.</p> <p>Greenberg has held fellowships from the American Cancer Society and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and is an American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow.</p> Mon, 21 Sep 2015 14:30:00 -0400 Johns Hopkins theoretical physicist honored for 'Particle Fever' documentary <p><a href="">David E. Kaplan</a>, a Johns Hopkins University professor, theoretical particle physicist, and documentary producer, recently received the 2015 Communication Award of the <a href="">National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine</a> for his contributions to <a href="">the production of the 2014 documentary film <em>Particle Fever</em></a>.</p> <p>The award, which is supported by the <a href="">W.M. Keck Foundation</a> as part of the Keck Futures Initiative, includes a $20,000 prize and recognizes excellence in communicating science, engineering, and medicine to the general public. Kaplan and the film's director and co-producer, Mark Levinson, won the award in the TV/Film/Radio category for their feature-length documentary about the identification of the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland in 2012. <em>Particle Fever</em> was one of five journalistic works to be honored by the National Academies this year.</p> <p><em>Particle Fever</em> was selected from more than 300 entries of works published or aired in 2014 and was cited by the awards selection committee as "an engrossing, minute-by-minute diary of the roller-coaster nature of scientific discovery."</p> <p>The film, which has received critical acclaim for making complex theoretical arguments about particle physics comprehensible, was shot over seven years and follows both experimental and theoretical physicists as they approach the announcement from CERN of the confirmed existence of the Higgs boson, popularly referred to as the "God particle."</p> <p>"Our goal was to make a film that allowed people to experience my world through this dramatic time in scientific history," Kaplan said. "We are honored to receive this award."</p> Thu, 17 Sep 2015 09:46:00 -0400 Johns Hopkins researchers identify neurons that can abruptly halt a planned behavior <p>You're about to drive through an intersection when the light suddenly turns red. But you're able to slam on the brakes, just in time.</p> <p>Johns Hopkins University researchers, working with scientists at the <a href="">National Institute on Aging</a>, <a href="">have identified the precise nerve cells that allow the brain to make this type of split-second change of course</a>. In the latest issue of the journal <em><a href="">Nature Neuroscience</a></em>, the team shows that these feats of self control happen when neurons in the basal forebrain are silenced.</p> <p>"The study discovered a new role for basal forebrain neurons in the control of action," said <a href="">Michela Gallagher</a>, the Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience. "This work opens the door to novel approaches focused on this circuit in certain neurological and psychiatric conditions that affect basic cognitive functions of the brain."</p> <p>The ability to rapidly stop a behavior is critical for everyday functioning—allowing people crossing the street to freeze if a car surprises them, to not reach for their phone when it vibrates in their pocket during a meeting or, in the case of a batter, to stop from swinging at a bad pitch. A better understanding of the cognitive mechanics behind what's known as reactive inhibition, could help people suffering from neurological conditions where such control is diminished—everything from Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and normal aging.</p> <p>Scientists had assumed the ability to stop a planned behavior occurred in the basal ganglia, an area in the brain responsible for a variety of motor control functions including the ability to start an action or a behavior. However, this study demonstrates that the stop response happens in the basal forebrain, a part of the brain best known for regulating sleep, but also recognized as a site for early neurodegeneration in Alzheimer's disease.</p> <p>The researchers trained rats to play a game where if the rats quickly moved after hearing a tone, they got a treat. The rats were also rewarded if they stopped moving when a light flashed. All the while the team monitored the rats for electrical signals in the basal forebrain.</p> <p>The researchers trained rats to move quickly to get a treat. After hearing a tone, the rats would rush into a new port to lick sucrose water. But, when the tone was followed by a flash of light, the rats would have to immediately stay in place to get a treat. In other words, when the light flashed, the rule of reward reversed—instead of moving quickly to get reward, the rats had to cancel that planned response and stay still to get their treat.</p> <p>While the rats performed the tasks, the team monitored the activity of individual basal forebrain neurons. The researchers were also able to get the rats to stop without using the flash of light by stimulating the same neurons with a small pulse of electricity.</p> <p>"In the lab, we were able to manipulate these neurons, which caused rats to stop their behavior even though they had no reason to do so," said lead author Jeffrey D. Mayse, who conducted the research as a Johns Hopkins doctoral student and who is now a postdoctoral fellow at Brown University.</p> <p>"Understanding how these cells are involved in this form of self-control expands our knowledge of the normal brain circuits involved in everyday decision-making and will be absolutely critical to developing future treatments and therapies for diseases and disorders with impaired reactive inhibition as a symptom."</p> <p>In addition to Gallagher and Mayse, the research team included Geoffrey M. Nelson, Irene Avila and Shih-Chieh Lin of the National Institute on Aging.</p> Mon, 14 Sep 2015 15:28:00 -0400 Scientists report earlier date of shift in human ancestor diet <p>Millions of years ago our primate ancestors turned from trees and shrubs in search of food on the ground. In human evolution, that has made all the difference.</p> <p>The change marked a significant step toward the diverse eating habits that became a key human characteristic, and would have made these early humans more mobile and adaptable to their environment.</p> <p>New evidence just published by a research team led by a Johns Hopkins University scientist shows that this significant shift took place about 400,000 years earlier than experts previously thought, providing a clearer picture of a time of rapid change in conditions that shaped human evolution.</p> <p><a href="">Naomi E. Levin</a>, the lead author of the <a href="">report</a> published this week in <em><a href="">Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</a></em>, said the diet shift is one of an array of changes that took place around the same time during the Pliocene era—2.6 to 5.3 million years ago—when the fossil record indicates the presence of additional species of human ancestors who were starting to spend more time walking on two feet. Understanding the timing of these events can help show how one change related to another.</p> <p>"A refined sense for when the dietary changes took place among early humans, in relation to changes in our ability to be bipedal and terrestrial, will help us understand our evolutionary story," said Levin, an assistant professor in the <a href="">Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences</a>.</p> <p>The paper reports on an analysis of fossil teeth found in Ethiopia that shows the shift from a diet based on trees and shrubs to one that included grass-based foods took place about 3.8 million years ago – roughly 400,000 years earlier than the date supported by previous research. Grass-based foods could include not only grasses and their roots, but also the tissues of animals that ate grass, such as bird eggs and insects.</p> <p>That shift would have broadened our ancestors' horizons, Levin said.</p> <p>"You can then range wider," Levin said of the human precursors that would have included several species including Australopithecus afarensis, extinct some 3 million years ago and represented most famously in the fossil informally known as "Lucy." "You can be in more places, more resilient to habitat change."</p> <p>"This research reveals surprising insights into the interactions between morphology and behavior among Pliocene primates," said co-author Yohannes Haile-Selassie of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. "The results not only show an earlier start to grass-based food consumption among hominins and baboons but also indicate that form does not always precede function. In the earliest baboons, dietary shift toward grass occurred before its teeth were specialized for grazing."</p> <p>Researchers analyzed 152 fossil teeth from an array of animals including pigs, antelopes, giraffes and human ancestors gathered from a roughly 100 square-mile are of what is now the Afar region of Ethiopia. Among the samples were teeth from hominins—including contemporary humans and our extinct ancestors—believed to represent 16 different individuals, said Levin, one of four co-authors of the paper. Along with Haile-Selassie, Levin's collaborators were Stephen R. Frost of the University of Oregon and Beverly Z. Saylor of Case Western Reserve University.</p> <p>The teeth were examined for their carbon isotope distribution that can act as a marker distinguishing the type of foods that the animals were eating. The data showed that both human ancestors and members of a now-extinct, large species of baboon were eating large amounts of grass-based foods as early as 3.76 million years ago. Previous research dated the earliest evidence for grass-based foods in early human diets to about 3.4 million years ago.</p> <p>The researchers could not firmly establish a link between external environmental change and the diet of hominins and baboons, but instead attribute the dietary expansion to changes in relations among members of the African primate communities, such as the appearance of new species of primates.</p> <p>"Timing is critical to understanding the context for this dietary expansion among early humans in relationship to what's happening in global climate, in vegetation communities in Africa, among other mammals, and in terms of the other evolutionary changes that are happening among early humans," Levin said. "If we know the timing of events we can start to relate them to one another."</p> Fri, 11 Sep 2015 16:05:00 -0400 Latest Pluto images from New Horizons reveal planet's varied, complex surface <p>New close-up images of Pluto from <a href="">NASA's <em>New Horizons</em> spacecraft</a> reveal a bewildering variety of surface features that have scientists reeling because of their range and complexity.</p> <p>"Pluto is showing us a diversity of landforms and complexity of processes that rival anything we've seen in the solar system," said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. "If an artist had painted this Pluto before our flyby, I probably would have called it over the top—but that's what is actually there."</p> <p><em>New Horizons</em> began its yearlong download of new images and other data over the Labor Day weekend. Images downlinked in the past few days have more than doubled the amount of Pluto's surface seen at resolutions as good as 400 meters—or 440 yards—per pixel. They reveal new features as diverse as possible dunes, nitrogen ice flows that apparently oozed out of mountainous regions onto plains, and even networks of valleys that may have been carved by material flowing over Pluto's surface. They also show large regions that display chaotically jumbled mountains reminiscent of disrupted terrains on Jupiter's icy moon Europa.</p> <p>"The surface of Pluto is every bit as complex as that of Mars," said Jeff Moore, leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging team at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. "The randomly jumbled mountains might be huge blocks of hard water ice floating within a vast, denser, softer deposit of frozen nitrogen within the region informally named Sputnik Planum."</p> <p>New images also show the most heavily cratered—and thus oldest—terrain yet seen by <em>New Horizons</em> on Pluto next to the youngest, most crater-free icy plains. There might even be a field of dark wind-blown dunes, among other possibilities.</p> <p>"Seeing dunes on Pluto—if that is what they are—would be completely wild, because Pluto's atmosphere today is so thin," said William B. McKinnon, a GGI deputy lead from Washington University, St. Louis. "Either Pluto had a thicker atmosphere in the past, or some process we haven't figured out is at work. It's a head-scratcher."</p> <p>Images returned in the past days have also revealed that Pluto's global atmospheric haze has many more layers than scientists realized, and that the haze actually creates a twilight effect that softly illuminates nightside terrain near sunset, making them visible to the cameras aboard <em>New Horizons</em>.</p> <p>"This bonus twilight view is a wonderful gift that Pluto has handed to us," said John Spencer, a GGI deputy lead from Southwest Research Institute. "Now we can study geology in terrain that we never expected to see."</p> <p>The <em>New Horizons</em> spacecraft is now more than 3 billion milesfrom Earth, and more than 43 million miles beyond Pluto. The spacecraft is healthy and all systems are operating normally. Mission updates are available at <a href=""></a> and <a href=""></a>.</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 New Horizons spacecraft and manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. Southwest Research Institute leads the science mission, payload operations, and encounter science planning.</p>