What the microscope did to unlock the secrets of biology, the “chemiscope” is intended to do, to revolutionize chemistry. The ultimate goal for chemist Ara Apkarian and colleagues is to observe chemistry in the act, to see the making and breaking of bonds in real-space and real-time. Read more.


In a tsunami, devastation is created by far more than the wave itself. Debris that hits homes and other structures plays a huge role in a tsunami’s destructive power. Engineers from across the country have teamed up to design and carry out a series of large-scale tests aimed at better understanding exactly what happens when debris strikes. Read more. 


A High-Performance First Year for Stampede

Sometimes, the laboratory just won’t cut it.

After all, you can’t recreate an exploding star, manipulate quarks or forecast the climate in the lab. In cases like these, scientists rely on supercomputing simulations to capture the physical reality of these phenomena—minus the extraordinary cost, dangerous temperatures or millennium-long wait times.

When faced with an unsolvable problem, researchers at universities and labs across the United States set up virtual models, determine the initial conditions for their simulations—the weather in advance of an impending storm, the configurations of a drug molecule binding to an HIV virus, the dynamics of a distant dying star—and press compute.

And then they wait as the Stampede supercomputer in Austin, Texas, crunches the complex mathematics that underlies the problems they are trying to solve.

By harnessing thousands of computer processors, Stampede returns results within minutes, hours or just a few days (compared to the months and years without the use of supercomputers), helping to answer science’s—and society’s—toughest questions.

Stampede is one of the most powerful supercomputers in the U.S. for open research, and currently ranks as the seventh most powerful in the world, according to the November 2013 TOP500 List. Able to perform nearly 10 trillion operations per second, Stampede is the most capable of the high-performance computing, visualization and data analysis resources within the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE).

Find out more about Stampede and the discoveries it enabled in its first year.


Working to understand how brain circuitry controls how we move, bioengineer Gert Cauwenberghs and his colleagues are hoping to develop new technologies to help patients with Parkinson’s disease and other debilitating medical conditions. Read more. 


Imagine robots no bigger than your finger tip scrambling through the rubble of a disaster site to search for victims or to assess damage. Using insects as inspiration, engineer Sarah Bergbreiter and her research team at the University of Maryland are building micro-robots to traverse rough terrain at high speeds. Read more.


Crystal of the Week: Calcium hypochlorite


Some like it hot, but most would prefer to go swimming!  That’s our thought as the summer heat churns on, and we seek a reprieve at the local swimming pool. In fact, it was in that spirit as we contemplated the International Year of Crystallography and our #CrystaloftheWeek. The obvious choice was that bright yellow white crystal that keeps so many pools around the world sanitized and beautiful: calcium hypochlorite.

Ah yes, it smells just like the bleach used to whiten and brighten your t-shirts and disinfect your shower tiles because all these products contain calcium hypochlorite or other iterations of chlorine. Calcium hypochlorite is used for water treatment, whether it’s drinking water or swimming water.  Because the compound is highly polar, it dissolves relatively well in water, which is also polar. During this process, the hypochlorite ions actually react with the water molecules, forming hypochlorous acid. This acid form reacts strongly with organics, such as bacteria, to keep water from harboring dangerous microbes that can be harmful to human health. This characteristic is also why you can sometimes find calcium hypochlorite in moss and algae removers, as well as weedkillers.

Generally, commercial calcium hypochlorite is sold in a hydrated form, which means that water is added to the compound, mixed with various other impurities. This added water helps prevent spontaneous combustion of the calcium hypochlorite, which is a strong oxidizer, in cases of accidental mixture with a fuel source. The downside of using calcium hypochlorite in pools is that direct exposure to harsh ultraviolet radiation causes the chlorine to “boil” off in gaseous form more quickly. To enhance the longevity of calcium hypochlorite as a disinfectant in outdoor pools, cyanuric acid is often added as a stabilizer.

Despite being commonly used in drinking water (in small amounts!) and its ability to help keep pools sanitary, calcium hypochlorite can be dangerous to skin, eyes and one’s respiratory system, meaning that anyone who works with it must handle it with care. That’s why you should never store calcium hypochlorite in a used container that once held grease or paint, no matter how clean it looks!

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons


Hoping to contribute to the next generation of robotic fish and underwater submersibles, aerospace engineer Michael Philen and his team at Virginia Tech are investigating the biomechanics of fish locomotion. Read more.


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.