Monday, March 31, 2014 - Rachael Livermore is finding the most distant galaxies known.

31Mar

Astronomer Rachael Livermore is finding the most distant galaxies in the universe.  Because the galaxies are so far, the light from them has been traveling for a duration just short of the age of the universe.  We're seeing back in time.  This ability to look back in time allows us to ask the question, "How have galaxies changed in time?".  Rachael describes the tools with which she has made discoveries- the biggest, best telescopes on Earth.  Specifically Rachael uses the tremendous light collecting ability of the Keck telescopes and their powerful instruments, to gauge the distance (or redshift) of the galaxies based on the extent to which the spectrum of the object is stretched in wavelength.  Dr. Livermore's most recent work has been on the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) "Frontier Fields".  This special project combines HST's precision, with a special phenomenon of space called gravitational lensing.  The frontier fields are revealing the most distant galaxies humans have ever detected- galaxies in the infancy of the Universe.

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Monday, March 24, 2014 - Director of the Luc Hoffman Institute, Dr. Joshua Tewksbury, tackles the biggest challenges facing global conservation and sustainability development.

24Mar

Dr. Joshua Tewksbury, the Director of the Luc Hoffman institute, joined us in the studio today to talk about the biggest challenges the world must solve in the next decade. Josh is a trained ecologist, natural historian, and conservation biologist and is the Walker Professor of Natural History at the University of Washington. His research group has worked on a broad array of research questions, ranging from the ecological and evolutionary consequences of climate change to the chemical ecology of chilis to the whole ecosystem consequences of bird loss.  In 2013, he joined the World Wildlife Fund in Geneva to launch the Luc Hoffmann Institute, which is a global conservation organization operating at the science to policy interface. Josh discusses how the LHI bridges the gap between scientists and NGO's so that a more sustainable relationship between people and the rest of the planet can be fostered. The objective of the LHI international fellows program is not solely to solve immediate conservation questions but to develop scientific leadership in countries that need it the most. Josh also explains the roles he envisions for science and civil society in solving the most pressing issues in conservation and sustainable development. The biggest issues that impact biodiversity must be presented to decision makers in their terms, and we must create value for the natural capital societies use and embed this value in our economic systems. 

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Monday, March 17, 2014 - Elizabeth Milano, current research on cellulosic ethanol and switchgrass genetics

17Mar

Elizabeth Milano, a PhD student in Integrative Biology at UT-Austin, joined us to talk about her research on the underlying genetic architecture of switchgrass  (Panicum virgatum), a major candidate biofuel crop. Cellulosic ethanol derived from perennial feedstocks, such as switchgrass, produces higher returns on energy inputs and less greenhouse gases and is less damaging to ecosystems than corn-based ethanol. Additionally, switchgrass is native across most of the United States, requires less water and fertilizer, and can be grown on marginal land. Elizabeth, along with her colleagues in the Juenger group at UT, study the genetics of locally-adapted ecotypes of switchgrass that grow in different environments. In particular, their research focuses on finding genetic markers associated with high yield in certain areas so that breeders can grow more efficient grasses in these locations.

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Monday, March 3, 2014 - Astronomer Chalence Safranek-Shrader simulates the first stars in the cosmic dark ages 13 billion years ago.

3Mar

The cosmic dark ages is the name for an epoch in history 13 billion years ago, when stars did not yet exist.  UT Austin theoretical astrophysicist Chalence Safranek-Shrader simulates the first stars in the cosmic dark ages.  His tools include pen and paper, laptops, and the super computer "Stampede" at the Texas Advanced Commuting Center (TACC).  Chalence's cosmological simulations are special because they enforce cosmological initial conditions of the Universe.  The approach is to treat little lightyear-sized parcels of the universe as chunks of discretized gas.  The specific technique Chalence prefers is called Adaptive Mesh Refinement, which can follow these discretized parcels of gas, with all the known laws of physics in a huge differential equation.  The super computer can take up to months to crunch all the numbers, generating terabytes of data.  Chalence is finding out behavior of the second generation of stars that formed the bulk of the heavy elements beyond Hydrogen and Helium, and how that led to the end of the cosmic dark ages.  There is not much hope to observe the first stars with a telescope.  However, the next generation James Webb Space Telescope, could detect clusters of first stars, their supernovae, or the first galaxies.

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