Nearly 40 years of satellite imagery reveals that west Antarctic ice shelves floating in the Amundsen Sea are steadily losing their grip on adjacent bay walls. The research, by glaciologists at The University of Texas at Austin, suggests that the retreat pattern could potentially amplify an accelerating loss of ice to the sea. Read more!

Caption: Rifts and surface crevasses near Pine Island Glacier’s grounding line.
Credit: Ian Joughin, University of Washington

Solar panels are becoming a familiar site in communities across the United States, but what about solar fuels? Chemistry professor Harry Gray and NSF’s CCI Solar are working to make solar fuels a viable option in the future. Read more.


A team of mathematicians from San Francisco State University and the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, has used mathematical modeling to uncover new clues to the three-dimensional organization of mitochondrial DNA in trypanosomes.

Trypanosomes are microscopic, unicellular parasites responsible for widespread, fatal diseases including sleeping sickness. This neglected disease, transmitted by the tse-tse fly, threatens millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa. Its western counterpart, Chagas disease, affects an estimated 8 to 11 million people across North and South America. Read more!

Caption: Network of oriented flat minicirles on a square grid. A tightly packed grid yields high levels of interlocking to form a large network of minicircles. This provides a model for the organization of DNA minicircles in the mitochondria of trypanosomes.
Credit: Javier Arsuaga, San Francisco State University

By harnessing the power of microwaves, materials scientist Holly Shulman and her team at Ceralink are developing ultra-high-temperature, or UHT, ceramics. UHT ceramics can withstand highly extreme conditions, such as the heat coming out of a rocket as it’s launching into space. Read more.


Our first instinct with infection in the body is often to find it and get rid of it. However, engineer Liangfang Zhang had another idea: create a nanosponge to combat drug-resistant infections, such as those caused by Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Read more.


Researchers are using the NSF-funded, 10-meter South Pole Telescope (SPT) to make precise measurements of the primordial radiation known as the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). The researchers have extracted important information on the dynamics of the early universe by measuring the small-scale structure in the CMB. Read more!

Caption: The South Pole Telescope measures structure in the cosmic microwave background.
Credit: Daniel Luong-Van, NSF

With water resources dwindling as the population continues to rise, many communities in the desert southwest are proactively seeking to make the tough choices now, so they can avoid more drastic measures in the future. University of Arizona civil engineer Kevin Lansey and his colleagues are working to redesign Tucson’s water supply infrastructure to help meet the growing water demands, while using less energy and improving water quality. Read more.


Computer simulations of old stars generated by a team of American astrophysicists provide valuable insight into the early universe. Because the simulations include radiation pressure calculations, they demonstrate how this pressure regulates star formation in high-redshift dwarf galaxies, some of the oldest known. Read more!

Caption: The galaxy in the upper right of this simulation is only one-thousandth the mass of the Milky Way but provides the majority of radiation that heats and ionizes its surroundings.
Credit: John H. Wise, Georgia Tech

Black holes collide in space all the time but nobody sees them.

An award-winning, interactive computer simulation of such a collision and the gravitational waves the event would generate was created by a team of 13 Louisiana State University (LSU) researchers and students. Read more!

Caption: An image of the data produced by the Louisiana State University Black Hole simulation showing the gravitational radiation produced during the inspiral.
Credit: Gabrielle Allen, LSU

Fueled by climate change, outbreaks of bark beetle infestations affect millions of forest hectacres in western North America. Because trees are killed, an outbreak can affect water supply, carbon storage, water quality and nutrient cycling in forests. Knowing the precise ecological processes that occur after a beetle infestation enables policymakers and foresters to form strategic management plans. Read more!


Crystal of the Week: Potassium nitrate!


As we all admire things loud and sparkly on the United State’s annual celebration of freedom, it seemed only fitting that our #CrystaloftheWeek (also in celebration of International Year of Crystallography) pay homage to potassium nitrate. Afterall, it’s potassium nitrate that helps put the “boom” in firecrackers and the “spark” in sparklers!

It’s the nitrate(NO3) in potassium nitrate (KNO3) that provides the oxidizer in fireworks. In other words, it produces the oxygen (that O3 part)  that makes the things burn. Mix it with a binder and a fuel, and voila, you’ve got a sparkler. Add in copper chloride or some strontium salts and the next thing you know, you are building blue or red fireworks, respectively.

But potassium nitrate has many uses beyond the 4th of July.  Also known as Saltpeter, potassium nitrate has long been a key ingredient in gunpowder. However, its oxidizing capabilities have made it a good fertilizer as well. Other less explosive uses of this unusually multi-purposed crystal include being an ingredient in toothpastes designed for sensitive teeth, as treatments for high blood pressure, asthma and arthritis, and as a way to preserve meat in the Middle Ages.

The Army, on more than one occasion, has been accused of putting Saltpeter in soldiers’ food and drink to reduce libidos and focus attention on military training, however even Snopes.com has declared that rumor as false. Potassium nitrate would cause serious and very apparent side effects, such as anemia, certain blood disorders and kidney damage.  Additionally, it has never been proven to be an effective anaphrodisiac, having no impact on sex drives. 

But one thing it does do well is help make for great fireworks displays. Happy Independence Day!

Photo credit: http://pdphoto.org


Songbirds are often used as a model to study the overall basis of speech, and specifically the biological mechanisms of vocal learning. Researchers use the model to better understand how experience causes the brain to develop and change. However, little is known about how the brains of songbirds change as they learn a new song. In isolated communities of zebra finches, it is unknown how younger birds process sounds as they learn to imitate older tutors. Read more!

Caption: Zebra finches are often used to study vocal learning.

Image Credit: Beryl John, Zaid Kajani and Melvyn Mathew