UNM Research News

Much-anticipated, modern UNM engineering building now complete

Innovative research requires a sophisticated infrastructure to support it. This is why The University of New Mexico invested $25.5 million to renovate the Farris Engineering Center, now open after nearly 18 months of construction.

The renovated building houses the School of Engineering (SOE) departments of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Computer Science and Nuclear Engineering. Farris Engineering Center houses the staff and student offices, computer labs, server rooms, conference rooms and event space for the three departments.
 

"This is a modern, technologically-advanced space that finally is worthy of one of the most innovative and technologically-advanced engineering programs in the country." - Christos Christodoulou, dean, School of Engineering


The renovation utilizes the original concrete structural skeleton of the original building. The project was creatively designed around maximizing reuse, reducing waste in the demolition. The entire project has more than an 85 percent recycling rate for construction waste management.

“Planning, Design & Construction is proud to deliver this high performance facility to our educators, who are all very happy to get back to work in the new, fabulous Farris,” said Amy Coburn, UNM’s University Architect and director of PDC.

Upon entering the Farris Engineering Center, the most notable difference is the natural light that was almost nonexistent in the 1967 Brutalist building. Electrochromic glazing wraps the building envelope and electronically darkens and lightens to manage solar radiation without impeding the vast views of the campus and the surrounding City of Albuquerque. This high-tech glazing is the first of its kind on the UNM campus, making for an energy efficient and comfortable interior environment.

“This is a modern, technologically-advanced space that finally is worthy of one of the most innovative and technologically-advanced engineering programs in the country,” said Christos Christodoulou, Jim and Ellen King Dean of Engineering and Computing. “It is fitting that the School of Engineering have one of the most — if not the single most — modern buildings on campus. The main goal of the renovation has been to enhance student learning and the collaborative environment, and we are excited about the future in the new building.”

Project Specifications
  • Renovation of approximately 67,000 square feet of existing space, with an additional 10,000 square feet added on the first floor.
  • Nearly 25,000 square feet of “shell space” in the basement for future labs and offices.
  • Efficient LED lighting throughout the facility.
  • New high-efficiency mechanical and electrical equipment achieves more than a 50 percent reduction in energy use.
  • Architect: RMKM Architecture, P.C.
  • Contractor: Bradbury Stamm

Interior glass partitions create an open ambiance connecting collaborative spaces, study areas, research, labs and office spaces. Due to the abundance of glass, there are several places where one can see straight through the building and experience a sense of connectedness with the campus environment.

UNM’s Planning, Design, & Construction (PDC), a department within Institutional Support Services, is responsible for the management of the many types of professional services required to execute a project of this magnitude. Beginning in collaboration with the SOE to determine their needs, PDC worked with the architect through the design phase, and finally had oversight as the “building owner” throughout the construction of this new facility.

“This space will offer new and innovative opportunities to our students, with dedicated areas for the many collaborative projects that are now ingrained into our engineering and computer science curriculum,” said Christodoulou. “We are also excited about the future potential of this building. Thanks to a variety of generous donors, we are anticipating major news in the coming months that will transform the basement of Farris into a maker space that will greatly benefit our many hands-on and collaborative student projects, from cars to boats to rockets and technologies we have yet to invent. The Farris renovation truly poises us for greatness.”

A ribbon-cutting ceremony is in the planning stages and will be scheduled in Spring 2018.

]]>Front PageSchool of EngineeringInstitutional Support ServicePlanning, Development and ConstructionResearchWed, 10 Jan 2018 11:00:05 GMTInnovative research requires a sophisticated infrastructure to support it. This is why The University of New Mexico invested $25.5 million to renovate the Farris Engineering Center, now open after nearly 18 months of construction. The renovated building...Rachel Stonehttps://news.unm.edu/news/much-anticipated-modern-unm-engineering-building-now-completeWed, 10 Jan 2018 11:00:00 GMT

Exotic animals and the hunt for gold

Men, women and their families arrived in large numbers to northern California with the dream of striking it rich during the mid-19th century. What most people don’t know about the California Gold Rush is that exotic animals became as much a part of the experience as the exotic medals.

“During the Gold Rush of the 1850s, gold seekers, or Argonauts as they were known, transported exotic and non-native animals to northern California on a regular basis,” said Cyler Conrad, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Anthropology at The University of New Mexico. “Argonauts were hungry, and during the early years of the Gold Rush there was simply not enough local food to sustain their massive population.”

Conrad’s findings, recently published in an article in the journal California History, suggest that some of the exotic animals imported for food include Galápagos tortoises, sea turtles, turkeys and Atlantic cod. Other non-native animals imported during the Gold Rush-era served as support for hygiene and entertainment needs.

Conrad in the anthropology lab researching Gold Rush-era tortoises. 

“In July 1850, in response to the growing rat infestation in San Francisco, Argonauts purchased a shipload of cats from Mexico,” said Conrad. “They correctly assumed that importing a vessel full of cats would help curb the intolerable rat population, which was enormous both in number and in terms of the physical size of the creatures.”

Of all the exotic animals that traversed the waters of the Pacific to reach their destination, it was the Australian kangaroo that not only traveled the farthest, but also played one of the most versatile roles.  

Kangaroos in California

Initially, kangaroo rugs and skins arrived by boat, sold with other leather and calf-skins as a textile to meet the high-demand for clothing for the exploding population. According to Conrad, it was in September 1852 that a living kangaroo first set foot in the Golden State.

“This is the earliest dated evidence for the importation of a living kangaroo into California, but

it is not the last,” noted Conrad. “On December 7, 1859, a kangaroo escaped from a menagerie near Visalia, Calif. where a local entrepreneur had been exhibiting the animal at one ‘bit per sight.’”

Just a few years later, another ship arrived with a load of several cattle, emus, a horse, a kangaroo and two kangaroo dogs, also known as dingos.

According to Conrad, local accounts fail to document what became of these exotic animals, but they were likely put on display for profit, or perhaps even eaten by hungry Argonauts.

While many exotic animals were imported by the thousands for food, it is the kangaroo that escaped the fate of a meal and was instead used for amusement.

“Historical and archaeological evidence now provides an intriguing story of animals during the

Gold Rush,” said Conrad. “Gold Rush Argonauts consumed native and non-native wild animals in great abundance, but new evidence suggests that, instead of serving on an epicure’ s plate, the few kangaroos imported to California were used by Australians to make a quick profit in the dramatic and turbulent Gold Rush-era.”

Conrad’s dissertation research focuses on understanding human-animal interactions in the past, something he says UNM is particularly well suited for.

“UNM is a wonderful institution to study these historical and archaeological questions because of the wealth and diversity of resources available for this type of analysis.”

Whether using the library archives or animal comparative specimens in his advisors, Emily Jones’, Zooarchaeological Laboratory, Conrad indicates that UNM faculty and students continue to be at the forefront of exciting new research into the historical dynamics of western North America.  

]]>Inside UNMAnthropologyResearchMon, 08 Jan 2018 23:00:05 GMTMen, women and their families arrived in large numbers to northern California with the dream of striking it rich during the mid-19th century. What most people don’t know about the California Gold Rush is that exotic animals became as much a part of the...https://news.unm.edu/news/exotic-animals-and-the-hunt-for-goldMon, 08 Jan 2018 23:00:00 GMT

What species is most fit for life?

There are more than eight million species of living things on Earth, but none of them — from 100-foot blue whales to microscopic bacteria — has an advantage over the others in the universal struggle for existence.

In a paper published today (Jan. 8) in the prestigious journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, a trio of scientists from universities in the United States and the United Kingdom describe the dynamic that began with the origin of life on Earth four billion years ago. They report that regardless of vastly different body size, location and life history, most plant, animal and microbial species are equally “fit” in the struggle for existence. This is because each transmits approximately the same amount of energy over its lifetime to produce the next generation of its species.

“This means that each elephant or blue whale contributes no more energy per gram of parent to the next generation than a trout or even a bacterium,” said co-author Charles A.S. Hall, a systems ecologist with the College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) in Syracuse, New York. “We found, rather astonishingly, by examining the production rate and the generation time of thousands of plants, animals and microbes that each would pass on, on average, the same amount of energy to the next generation per gram of parent, regardless of size.

"A single-celled aquatic alga recreates its own body mass in one day, but lives for only a day. A large female elephant takes years to produce her first baby, and lives much longer than the alga. For all plants and animals of all sizes these two factors – rate of biomass production and generation time – exactly balance each other, so each contributes the same energy per gram of parent to the next generation in their lifetime.”

The bottom line, Hall said, is that all organisms are, on average, equally fit for survival.

Hall’s co-author, James H. Brown, a physiological ecologist at The University of New Mexico, said, “The fact that all organisms are nearly equally fit has profound implications for the evolution and persistence of life on Earth.”

The third author on the paper, which was published online, is mathematical biologist Richard M. Sibly of the University of Reading in the United Kingdom.

The scientists tackled an intriguing question about life on the planet, beginning with some common knowledge. On one hand, they noted, microscopic, unicellular bacteria, algae and protists that weigh only a few micrograms live fast, generate much new biomass per day or even per minute, and die young, often within hours. On the other hand, mammals such as a 100-foot blue whale can live up to 100 years but generate new biomass, including babies, much more slowly.

The authors ask a sweeping question: How can such enormous variation in reproduction and survival allow persistence and coexistence of so many species? Their answer: Because there is a universal tradeoff in how organisms acquire, transform and expend energy for survival and production within constraints imposed by physics and biology.

In their research, the authors built a model of energy allocation, based on data involving rates of energy investment in growth and reproduction, generation times (commonly considered 22 to 32 years for humans) and body sizes of hundreds of species ranging from microbes to mammals and trees. They found an exactly equal but opposite relationship between growth rate and generation time among all these organisms.

The net result is what the authors call the “equal fitness paradigm.” Species are nearly equally fit for survival because they all devote the same quantity of energy per unit of body weight to produce offspring in the next generation; the higher activity and shorter life of small organisms is exactly compensated for by the slower activity and greater longevity of large organisms. 

Hall said the tradeoff between rate of living and generation time is one reason for the great diversity of life on Earth: No one size or life form has a built-in advantage over another. The apparent benefits of being larger (for example, bigger males are more likely to win in competition for mates) are compensated for by the fact that larger animals are typically less productive over time.

“There is no single way of living and using energy that is best,” Hall and Brown said. “Given the array of environmental conditions on the planet, one kind of organism might gain a temporary advantage, but such gains will soon be countered by other, competing organisms. The result is what evolutionary biologist Leigh Van Valen called the ‘Red Queen phenomenon,’ based on Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass: All species must keep running to keep up with others and stay in the evolutionary race.” 

]]>Front PageBiologyResearchMon, 08 Jan 2018 22:12:49 GMTThere are more than eight million species of living things on Earth, but none of them — from 100-foot blue whales to microscopic bacteria — has an advantage over the others in the universal struggle for existence. In a paper published today (Jan. 8) in...https://news.unm.edu/news/what-species-is-most-fit-for-lifeMon, 08 Jan 2018 17:00:00 GMT

UNM anthropologists honored internationally for research

The University of New Mexico’s research at Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon was recently honored with a Field Discovery Award at the Shanghai Archaeological Forum. The project is one of 10 chosen from more than 100 projects around the world.

“Their selection process seems to be very complicated, so it is truly an honor to be recognized by this group,” said Professor Patricia Crown, who was invited to Shanghai to receive the award.

The Shanghai Archaeological Forum is organized by the Institute of Archaeology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The award recognizes archaeological excavations or surveys that have yielded major discoveries significantly furthering or even altering knowledge of the human past.

Principal Investigators Crown and W.H. Wills, both professors in the UNM Department of Anthropology, have conducted field investigations at Pueblo Bonito since 2004 with close to $1 million in external funding from the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Geographic Society.

The research is an on-going work identifying buried sites and the sequence of flooding in the canyon. It has included re-excavation of trenches placed through the mounds just south of Pueblo Bonito which identified artificial canals that controlled flooding.

They have also discovered chocolate residues in ceramics from the site demonstrating long-distance exchange with Mesoamerica, along with the re-excavation of a room in Pueblo Bonito, originally excavated in 1896, where they discovered that the room used to store ceramic vessels used in drinking chocolate was purposefully burned to the ground around A.D. 1100.

The projects always involve UNM undergraduate and graduate students, many of whom helped prepare the publications, which have included an edited book and 10 peer-reviewed articles to date.

“This is the kind of thing that’s always nice because it recognizes UNM as a place where research that other people, in other parts of the world, are interested in and think is valuable,” said Wills.

For more information about the research at Chaco Canyon visit the department’s Chaco website

]]>Front PageFaculty NewsAnthropologyResearchMon, 08 Jan 2018 20:47:10 GMTThe University of New Mexico’s research at Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon was recently honored with a Field Discovery Award at the Shanghai Archaeological Forum. The project is one of 10 chosen from more than 100 projects around the world. “Their...https://news.unm.edu/news/unm-anthropologists-honored-internationally-for-researchFri, 05 Jan 2018 21:00:00 GMT

UNM's 2017 top-10 research news stories

The University of New Mexico's Office of the Vice President for Research and the University Communication and Marketing (UCAM) Department annually compile a list of its top-10 research news stories during the course of the year. Below is the list of UNM's top-10 research news stories for 2017. The stories are in random order.

Engineered intrinsically disordered proteins provide biomedical insights
Biomedical researchers have engineered the first examples of biomimetic structures composed from a mysterious class of proteins that lack any sort of internal structure.

A desert university’s deep connection to the jungle
Nearly two decades ago, researchers at The University of New Mexico took interest in a project that took them to the lush jungles of southwestern Uganda. Not far from the borders of the Congo, these desert-dwelling Anthropologists established relationships with the local residents of the tree tops—forming a bond that has catapulted UNM to international status as a leader in in the comparison of human and primate physiology.

Shedding light on mental illness brain patterns
Vince Calhoun’s warm smile deeply contrasts with cold plastic of the machine at the center of his distinguished career. During the last quarter century, his research has focused on creating algorithms used in the fMRI scanner to map electrical currents via blood moving through the human brain.

Groundbreaking discovery confirms existence of orbiting supermassive black holes
For the first time ever, astronomers at The University of New Mexico say they’ve been able to observe and measure the orbital motion between two supermassive black holes hundreds of millions of light years from Earth – a discovery more than a decade in the making.

UNM scientist pursues ultrafast laser technology to increase network speeds tenfold
A project to develop new ultrafast laser transmitter technology at UNM is expected to have a revolutionary impact on the physics of semiconductor lasers, with potential applications that could result in ten times the speed of current fiber optic networks.

Fighting fires before they spark: UNM research could impact forest management around the world
With warm, dry summers comes a deadly caveat for the western United States: wildfires. Scientists say the hot, dry climates found west of the Mississippi, along with decades of fire suppression efforts, are creating a devastating and destructive combination – leading to fires like the ones currently burning in California. It’s a problem biologists at The University of New Mexico are looking to put a damper on. Now, new research from UNM is giving forest and fire management teams across the country the upper hand in reducing the severity of these events.

Study finds medical cannabis is effective at reducing opioid addiction
A new study conducted by researchers at The University of New Mexico, involving medical cannabis and prescription opioid use among chronic pain patients, found a distinct connection between having the legal ability to use cannabis and significant reductions in opioid use.

UNM researcher finds stress during pregnancy affects the size of the baby
A new study has been published that suggests babies are physically affected by the stress level of their mother during pregnancy. It has been previously found that adversity in the womb enhances or hampers offspring development and performance. With this new study, researchers are able to pinpoint growth issues in relation to that adversity. 

Gut Instinct: New discovery sheds light on brain disease
A UNM doctor’s expertise with a devastating inherited neurological condition that disproportionately affects New Mexico Hispanics contributed to a new study demonstrating the powerful effect intestinal bacteria can have on brain health.

UNM researchers design patient repository for more effective EEG diagnoses
Researchers at The University of New Mexico hope a new open-source data sharing website will help bring scientists closer to effective diagnoses for psychiatric and neurological disorders. The Patient Repository for EEG Data + Computational Tools (PRED+CT: www.predictsite.com) aims to use novel analyses of electroencephalographic (EEG) signals, or “brainwaves” in order to discover new patient biomarkers.

UNM alumnus returns with new education study
A new National Science Foundation (NSF) grant is allowing researchers at The University of New Mexico to study native Spanish speaking elementary students struggling with math problem solving in New Mexico and California.

]]>Front PageHealth Sciences CenterCollege of Arts & SciencesAnthropologyBiologyPhysics & AstronomyPsychologySchool of EngineeringCollege of EducationMind Research NetworkChemical & Biological EngineeringResearchFri, 29 Dec 2017 13:38:13 GMTThe University of New Mexico's Office of the Vice President for Research and the University Communication and Marketing (UCAM) Department annually compile a list of its top-10 research news stories during the course of the year. Below is the list of...https://news.unm.edu/news/unm-s-2017-top-10-research-news-storiesFri, 29 Dec 2017 13:00:00 GMT

UNM chemists provide theoretical interpretation to understand chemical reactions

In a lot of ways, understanding quantum mechanical equations in an effort to predict what will happen between reactants such as atoms and molecules resulting in complex phenomena in chemistry can be exhausting, and mind boggling to many. Yet, without the theoretical insights, experimental chemists would largely be unable to understand what they are observing.

Researchers at The University of New Mexico, led by Distinguished Professor of Chemistry Hua Guo, have been working with experimentalists to help them gain an understanding by providing theoretical interpretations of experimental observations. 

“When scientists probe molecules they see spectral features, but it is very difficult to interpret those features because they are just lines in the spectrum,” said Guo. “That’s where we come in and provide a theoretical interpretation of their experimental observations.”

“In order to control a chemical reaction, you have to understand how it proceeds through the transition state. You have to design clever ways to do that.”

– Distinguished Professor Hua Guo, UNM Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology

One such joint study by Guo’s team is published recently with a group of researchers at Cal-Berkeley in the prestigious journal Nature Chemistry titled “Feshbach resonances in the exit channel of the F + CH3OH→HF + CH3O reaction observed using transition-state spectroscopy”. Characterizing the transition state of a reaction has long been a goal for both experimental and theoretical physical chemists since the 1930s. This is because the transition state governs how chemical bonds form and break during a chemical reaction. The transition state is a very short-lived complex, only a few femtoseconds, billions of billionths of seconds.

“In order to control a chemical reaction, you have to understand how it proceeds through the transition state,” said Guo. “You have to design clever ways to do that.”

Negative ions typically have a geometry that is very close to the transition state of the corresponding neutral reactions.

Guo’s collaborators at Berkeley first make a stable anion. It happens that these negative ions typically has a geometry that is very close to the transition state of the corresponding neutral reactions, as shown in the figure, scientists can start out with this anion and strip the electron away from these molecules using a laser light.

“You use a laser to shoot the molecule and it gets the electron kicked out,” said Guo. “Then, this molecule is placed at the transition state and you watch it fall apart. That’s how they detect the transition state. They see spectral features, but it is hard to interpret them. That’s where we come in and provide a theoretical interpretation of their experimental observation.”

Chemistry is governed by quantum mechanics, so scientists solve the quantum mechanical equation called the Schrodinger equation, which is the equivalent of Newton’s equation in the small world – way down under – electrons, atoms, molecules – they actually don’t follow Newton’s Law, they follow Schrodinger’s Law so that theory is what we call quantum mechanics. The quantum mechanical interpretation tells scientists a lot of insights.

“We can actually predict what these quantum states look like and that’s what they see in experiment,”Guo said. “As it turns out, our theory can actually pinpoint what the spectral peaks are coming from. In this case, these peaks correspond to the so-called Feshbach resonances.”

In the second paper titled, “Encoding of vinylidene isomerization in its anion spectrum,” published in another top journal Science, the work was designed to understand the quantum mechanical nature of a particular type of reaction called isomerization, where you go from one form of a molecule to another. The approach the experimentalist took is the same as the other paper.

This is a unimolecular reaction involving a single molecule, vinylidene. The nice thing about this reaction is you can see the two hydrogens connected with one carbon in one isomer. With the other isomer, one hydrogen is connected with each of the two carbons, so that is the reaction. In organic chemistry, it is called a 1:2 hydrogen shift.

“When the molecule isomerizes, somehow these two hydrogens need to move around the carbon framework doing a vibrational motion. It is thus important to figure out which vibrational mode helps this reaction to take place. That’s the key point. Perhaps more interestingly, the isomerization does not go over the barrier, it actually goes under the barrier. It’s what’s called tunneling, as if there’s a tunnel for the hydrogen atoms to go through.

“Tunneling is what scientists call a quantum mechanical property because hydrogen is very light, it’s quantum mechanical, and it can sometimes tunnel. We have evidence showing that.”

This isomerization problem has been around a long time, Guo explained. But fundamentally it wasn’t understood until very recently when this paper was published.

“That’s the significance where we bridged the gap and told people “here’s exactly what happens – it involves tunneling and it involves a rocking mode of the vibration,” Guo said. “I would like to view this like when you ski. You go up to a hump and then you go all the way downhill. Energetically that’s what happens. The tricky thing with molecules is that it doesn’t go over the hump, it goes underneath and tunnels through. Because these things are quantum mechanical, it’s a surprising effect.”

Guo’s research is supported by a three-year, $300,000 grant, from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

]]>Front PageCollege of Arts & SciencesChemistryResearchThu, 28 Dec 2017 19:35:59 GMTIn a lot of ways, understanding quantum mechanical equations in an effort to predict what will happen between reactants such as atoms and molecules resulting in complex phenomena in chemistry can be exhausting, and mind boggling to many. Yet, without the...Steve Carrhttps://news.unm.edu/news/unm-chemists-provide-theoretical-interpretation-to-understand-chemical-reactionsThu, 28 Dec 2017 18:48:00 GMT

Developing Next Generation Sensing Technologies

Researchers at The University of New Mexico are part of a team of scholars looking for more efficient ways to heat, cool and ventilate buildings.

Recently, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) announced $20 million in funding for 15 projects that will develop a new class of sensor systems to enable significant energy savings via reduced demand for heating and cooling in residential and commercial buildings. Researchers from the University of New Mexico, along with the Center for Lighting Enabled Systems & Applications (LESA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, are working to create a low cost, privacy preserving sensor technology for counting, locating and tracking occupants in any commercial space. Funding for the entire project, including development and testing, is $2,375 million over three years.

Researchers at UNM are partnering with Rensselaer to create a low-cost, privacy-preserving sensor technology for counting, locating and tracking occupants in any commercial space that will be developed and tested.

Currently, about 13 percent of all energy produced in the United States is used to heat, cool and ventilate buildings, according to ARPA-E. Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) is the largest consumer of energy in commercial buildings, totaling 37 percent of all energy used in this sector. Much of this energy is wasted by heating, cooling and over-ventilating unoccupied or partially occupied spaces. Due to a lack of accurate and reliable occupancy information, existing building automation and control systems are limited in their ability to substantially reduce HVAC energy use.  

ARPA-E’s Saving Energy Nationwide in Structures with Occupancy Recognition (SENSOR) program supports innovative and highly accurate presence sensors and occupant counters that optimize heating, cooling, and ventilation (HVAC) of buildings while reducing cost and slashing energy use. 

“The award from ARPA-E allows LESA to build on its fundamental research showing the power of digitized light, which, when reflected from any object in the space, generates privacy preserving occupancy and activity data,” said Robert F. Karlicek Jr., LESA director, who also serves as a professor in the Department of Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering at Rensselaer. “In this program, the LESA team will apply its lighting toolkit concepts to achieving better energy efficiency in buildings, but this is only the start of how digitized illumination will become an essential part of any Internet of Things (IoT) platform for smart buildings, healthcare, horticulture, new 5G wireless communications and cognitive environments. We are honored to work with our partners from The University of New Mexico and ABB to take our game-changing energy technology research to the next level.”

According to the Karlicek, the sensor significantly extends infrared (IR) based time of flight (TOF) distance measurement technology previously developed by LESA. The new TOF sensor system will use a patented plenoptic (a light field that captures information about the light field emanating from a scene)

detector technology developed by LESA academic partner, The University of New Mexico, and will integrate additional sensor signal processing circuitry developed by the LESA optoelectronic Illumination and Communication (IC) team at Rensselaer.

“The miniature, low cost TOF sensor array can then be built into lighting fixtures or installed in the ceiling,” Karelicek said. “In addition, several sensors distributed throughout the space will form a sparse network, scanning the entire space for distance information to map the precise number, location and movement of occupants. It cannot identify people, thus preserving personal privacy.”

The University of New Mexico will work on the development of a sensor array that provides multiple spatially separated time of flight signals using a unique integrated optical technology developed at UNM, which was recently awarded U.S. Patent 9,766,123 through STC.UNM. The UNM technology uses a grating coupled waveguide as a spectral and angular filter. The input coupling region is displaced from the silicon detection region to provide a unique plenoptic sensor that provides unparalleled spectral and angular resolution while being fully compatible with mature silicon integrated circuit manufacturing technology to ensure low cost.

“It is exciting to see the ideas of digital light that LESA pioneered as aspirational targets become real products that will have a significant societal impact; this is very much a goal of the NSF ERCs, to drive multidisciplinary projects that go from fundamental science to practical application,” said Steven R.J. Brueck, Ph.D., UNM Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Electrical and Computer Engineering, UNM lead for LESA, and emeritus director of the Center for High Technology Materials.

According to the researchers, the data from the sensor network uses the motion and position information to maintain an extremely accurate count of the number of people in the space, and uses a specialized algorithm to track people who may be temporarily lost when moving between sensors, thus reducing the number of sensors needed. The new ToF image processing algorithms will extend the current ToF sensing technology developed previously by LESA’s image processing and controls group at Rensselaer in order to take advantage of the new capabilities of the plenoptic ToF IC that will be developed by the combined Rensselaer and UNM teams.

Occupancy data is then sent to the building control system to manage heating, cooling, and air conditioning (HVAC) energy consumption in order to maximize building efficiency, according to LESA industry member ABB. The goal is to provide optimal human comfort at reasonable cost. ABB, through its U.S. Corporate Research organization in Raleigh, North Carolina, will work closely with the Rensselaer team to validate sensor performance via EnergyPlus modeling and hardware-in-the-loop tests to document energy savings for several types of office settings. The ABB team will also support commercialization efforts, a key deliverable of the DOE’s ARPA-e SENSOR program.

]]>Front PageSchool of EngineeringCHTMResearchThu, 21 Dec 2017 00:02:09 GMTResearchers at The University of New Mexico are part of a team of scholars looking for more efficient ways to heat, cool and ventilate buildings. Recently, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) announced $20 million in funding for 15...https://news.unm.edu/news/developing-next-generation-sensing-technologiesWed, 20 Dec 2017 23:08:00 GMT

New catalyst meets challenge of cleaning exhaust from modern engines

As cars become more fuel-efficient, less heat is wasted in the exhaust, which makes it harder to clean up the pollutants being emitted. Researchers at The University of New Mexico (UNM) and Washington State University have created a catalyst capable of reducing pollutants at the lower temperatures expected in advanced engines.

Their work, published this week in the journal Science, presents a new way to create a more powerful catalyst while using smaller amounts of platinum, the most expensive component of emission-control catalysts.

Catalysts have been an integral part of diesel- and gasoline-powered engines since the mid-1970s as federal regulations called for reductions of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides. Catalytic converters convert the pollutants to benign gases such nitrogen, carbon dioxide and water.

Researchers at The University of New Mexico, WSU and PNNL have developed a better catalyst for catalytic converters that change vehicle pollutants to relatively benign forms of nitrogen, carbon dioxide and water.

The researchers addressed the daunting challenge of designing a catalyst that could endure engine exhaust temperatures of up to nearly 750 degrees Celsius (about 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit) encountered under high engine loads.  Yet, the catalyst would still have to work when an engine is started cold and must clean up the exhaust before reaching 150 degrees Celsius, more than 100 degrees Celsius less than current systems.

“The lower operating temperatures during cold start are due to increasing fuel efficiency in advanced combustion engines, which leaves less energy in the tailpipe exhaust,” said Abhaya Datye, a distinguished professor at UNM’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering and study co-author.

The recent findings grew out of a collaboration between research groups led by Yong Wang, who holds a joint appointment in Washington State University’s Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Datye’s catalysis group at New Mexico.

The work builds on research, published in Science last year, in which the Wang and Datye groups found a novel way to trap and stabilize individual platinum atoms on the surface of cerium oxide, a commonly used component in emissions control catalysts. The so-called single-atom catalyst uses platinum more efficiently while remaining stable at high temperatures. Platinum typically trades at prices close to or even greater than gold.

For their latest paper, the researchers steam-treated the catalyst at 750 degrees Celsius, nearly 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit. This made the already stable catalyst become very active at the low cold-start temperatures.

“We were able to meet the challenges of both the high-temperature stability and the low-temperature activity,” Wang said.

The work was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. 

]]>Front PageSchool of EngineeringChemical & Biological EngineeringResearchSat, 16 Dec 2017 00:05:12 GMTAs cars become more fuel-efficient, less heat is wasted in the exhaust, which makes it harder to clean up the pollutants being emitted. Researchers at The University of New Mexico (UNM) and Washington State University have created a catalyst capable of...Eric Sorensen, WSUhttps://news.unm.edu/news/new-catalyst-meets-challenge-of-cleaning-exhaust-from-modern-enginesSat, 16 Dec 2017 00:00:00 GMT

UNM researchers design patient repository for more effective EEG diagnoses

Researchers at The University of New Mexico hope a new open-source data sharing website will help bring scientists closer to effective diagnoses for psychiatric and neurological disorders.

The Patient Repository for EEG Data + Computational Tools (PRED+CT: www.predictsite.com) aims to use novel analyses of electroencephalographic (EEG) signals, or “brainwaves” in order to discover new patient biomarkers. 

EEG recordings are particularly well-suited for this approach.  EEG reflects the activities of large groups of interactive neurons, making them a uniquely insightful measure of brain function. Numerous candidate EEG biomarkers of different psychiatric and neurological diseases have already been advanced, but none have made it into the clinic yet.

“It’s difficult to achieve this goal,” said James Cavanagh, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at UNM, “but not for the reasons you may think”. “Industry is solving phenomenally complex problems, and they’re doing it with the same machine learning algorithms we use here,” said Cavanagh. “Yet the reason that they’re so successful is that they have a ton, a ton, a ton of data. I realized that if we are going to succeed, we too need a ton of data: more than any single lab can provide”.

Along with Abdullah Mueen, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science, this work was funded by a grant from UNM’s Office of Vice President for Research. They used the grant to hire a couple of very smart undergrads at UNM (Chris Wu and Arthur Napolitano) who put the website together. PRED+CT allows anyone to upload or download data, speeding discovery.

“You can download entire studies,” Cavanagh said. ”We also provide computational tools including pre-processing scripts, a lot of fancy high-level analysis and pattern classification machine learning scripts. We’re totally open source, totally free for anyone to download.” Cavanagh is also asking colleagues to submit their data as well.

Cavanagh and Mueen seeded the site with data and scripts from a recently published collaboration where they advanced a candidate biomarker for cognitive deficits in Parkinson’s disease, achieving 80 percent discriminability between groups. Maybe there’s a computer science student who’s got a brand new algorithm and is just looking to apply it to a dataset. Well, Cavanagh wants to have the red carpet rolled out for them. “Here’s the data; here’s the scripts; this is as good as I can do, but maybe someone else can do better,” Cavanagh said.

“I have a lot of faith this approach is going to have meaningful biomedical utility,” said Cavanagh. “The reason for that is because every major hospital in the world has a neurophysiological unit where they are already applying clinical grade EEGs to patients largely for epilepsy diagnosis and treatment monitoring. This approach aims to capitalize on this existing infrastructure with knowledge advancements”.

“The end goal,” Cavanagh added, “is highly-feasible.  The whole bench-to-bedside implementation is extremely inexpensive, extremely fast, extremely easy, and with zero risk to patients. I think the promise is there, we just needed the initiative.”     

]]>Front PageCollege of Arts & SciencesPsychologyResearchFri, 15 Dec 2017 00:19:04 GMTResearchers at The University of New Mexico hope a new open-source data sharing website will help bring scientists closer to effective diagnoses for psychiatric and neurological disorders. The Patient Repository for EEG Data + Computational Tools...Steve Carrhttps://news.unm.edu/news/unm-researchers-design-patient-repository-for-more-effective-eeg-diagnosesThu, 14 Dec 2017 23:30:00 GMT

UNM student awarded scholarship from the New Mexico Space Grant Graduate Research Scholarship

Neil McFadden has been awarded $10,000 from the New Mexico Space Grant Graduate Research Scholarship to pursue his Ph.D. The scholarship, awarded by the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium (NMSGC), will enable McFadden to continue work on his research involving tonne-scale experiments that will search for neutrinoless double-beta decay with germanium detectors.

Neil McFadden awarded a 10,000 scholarship from the N.M. Space Grant Consortium.

The neutrino plays a central role in many puzzles in particle physics and cosmology. Future measurements of its properties in both laboratory and space-based experiments hope to resolve many of these puzzles and, possibly, point to new physics beyond the standard model.

McFadden is working on a liquid argon active veto scheme that would shield the neutrino-less double beta decay germanium detectors. He is looking at the light yield from 105 liters of ultrapure liquid argon that is “doped” with 10 parts per million of xenon. No one has ever done this study with such a large volume of cryogen. McFadden is hoping to show that this system produces a lot of light and is able to be sustained for long periods of time.

McFadden is a member of a UNM group that is part of the international LEGEND collaboration. His research advisor is Professor Dinesh Loomba.

The New Mexico Space Grant Consortium is a member of the Congressionally funded National Space Grant College Scholarship and Fellowship Program, administered by NASA. Its fellowships and scholarships are competitively awarded based on application information, faculty recommendation, GPA, the research project and NASA’s Mission. New Mexico Space Grant Consortium is located at New Mexico State University.

For more information, visit New Mexico Space Grant Consortium.

]]>Inside UNMCollege of Arts & SciencesPhysics & AstronomyStudent SuccessResearchThu, 14 Dec 2017 20:23:00 GMTNeil McFadden has been awarded $10,000 from the New Mexico Space Grant Graduate Research Scholarship to pursue his Ph.D. The scholarship, awarded by the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium (NMSGC), will enable McFadden to continue work on his research...https://news.unm.edu/news/unm-student-awarded-scholarship-from-the-new-mexico-space-grant-graduate-research-scholarshipThu, 14 Dec 2017 19:56:00 GMT

2018 New Mexico Women of STEM calendar now available

Twelve pioneering STEM women, including three with ties to The University of New Mexico, will be featured in the 2018 New Mexico Women of STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) calendar.

The theme for this year’s calendar is the "Passion Flower," signifying the passion that guided these women to pursue their careers. These women represent the diversity of New Mexico and they were chosen for the grace and grit at which they pursue life and career.

The calendar, sponsored by the Supercomputing Challenge, is sent to middle and high school math and science teachers throughout the state to be used as posters that model successful women in STEM-related fields in an effort to create student interest.

Honorees featured in the calendar from UNM include Karissa Culbreath M.D., Department of Pathology, and Valerie Romero-Leggott M.D., Health Sciences Center/Office of Diversity. Additionally, former UNM Board of Regent Sandra Begay, now with Sandia National Laboratories, is also featured in the calendar.

Additional honorees include:

  • Anita Lee Gallegos, Leidos
  • Marisol Gamboa, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
  • Sara Hartse, Delphix
  • Angela Palacios James, New Mexico Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office
  • Rochelle Larson, CDM Smith
  • Hanna Makaruk, Los Alamos National Laboratory
  • Marie Reyes, South Valley Academy
  • Katie Richardson, Office of U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich - State Science and Development

The calendar is made possible with donations from the Albert I Pierce Foundation, DataONE, EPSCoR, Lodestar Reinsurance, UNM STEM-H and the Office of Diversity, and two private donations.

Individuals may purchase the calendar as a gift of inspiration. The calendar cost is $5. Shipping is also available at an additional cost of $5. Calendars may be purchased using a credit card or via PayPal via the link on the Challenge website.

Founded in 1990, the Supercomputing Challenge is a not for profit educational organization that sponsors an annual computational science competition for middle and high school students in New Mexico. Over 25 years, the Supercomputing Challenge, which is run like an academic marathon, has engaged over 10,000 New Mexico students in computational science projects that prepare them for future endeavors in science and high-technology fields.

Past participants have succeeded in private industry at companies such as Cray computers, and have become research scientists at Los Alamos, Sandia, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories. Major funding for the Supercomputing Challenge comes from National Laboratories, local businesses and individual donors.

For more information, visit Supercomputing Challenge.

]]>Inside UNMCollege of Arts & SciencesBiologyChemistryEarth & Planetary SciencesPhysics & AstronomySchool of EngineeringResearchWed, 13 Dec 2017 18:40:04 GMTTwelve pioneering STEM women, including three with ties to The University of New Mexico, will be featured in the 2018 New Mexico Women of STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) calendar. The theme for this year’s calendar is the "Passion...https://news.unm.edu/news/2018-new-mexico-women-of-stem-calendar-now-availableWed, 13 Dec 2017 17:04:00 GMT

University of New Mexico Inventors Elected Fellows of the National Academy of Inventors

Two Distinguished Professors from The University of New Mexico, Plamen Atanassov and Dr. Cheryl Willman, were among a cohort of 155 inventors from around the world elected as 2017 National Academy of Inventors Fellows.

Atanassov and Willman, who were nominated by the STC.UNM Board of Directors, now join a select group of more than 900 inventors representing over 250 countries worldwide who have been elected as NAI Fellows.

“The STC Board believed that these distinguished faculty inventors’ accomplishments made them outstanding candidates for selection as 2017 NAI Fellows and nominated them,” said STC.UNM Board Chair Sandra Begay. “We are absolutely delighted that they have been chosen.”

“Dr. Willman and Dr. Atanassov are outstanding examples of how individual innovators can be institutional innovators as well,” said STC.UNM CEO Lisa Kuuttila. “Both have had a tremendous impact on fostering a culture of innovation at the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center and The University of New Mexico that is felt on local, national, and international levels.  The social and technological impact of new cancer drugs for leukemia and fuel cells that reduce greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale are why these two gifted inventors are so deserving of this national honor.”

Distinguished Professor Plamen Atanassov

Atanassov, a Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering and Director of the UNM Center for Micro-Engineered Materials, dedicates a good part of his research to designing catalysts for fuel cells; primary among those is designing non-platinum group (PGM) electrocatalysts.

Catalysts are important in many industrial processes, but concerns over greenhouse gases and oil consumption have focused energy research today on alternative fuel sources. A fuel cell is a device that changes the fuel’s chemical energy into electricity by chemically reacting with oxygen or another oxidizing agent. Through this process, fuel cells are able to produce clean electricity.

The catalyst helps the fuel to oxidize so fuel-cell efficiency is determined by how well the catalyst performs. The catalysts of choice for fuel cells are platinum group metals because they are durable and highly active in reducing oxygen reactions. However, platinum is scarce, making it very expensive and an obstacle to widespread commercialization of fuel cells. As much as 40 percent of the cost of fuel cell stacks is the platinum-based catalyst. 

Atanassov responded to this problem by creating a platinum-free catalyst for hydrogen fuel cells composed of inexpensive, earth-abundant metals, such as iron, that fully replaces the rare and expensive platinum.  It is especially applicable for the automotive market where fuel cells will play a major role in reducing greenhouse gases.

His most notable achievements over the last few years have been the development of the catalysts materials for the first platinum group metal-free (PGM-free) fuel cell vehicle (FCV) in collaboration with Daihatsu Motor Co., a Toyota company, which was introduced at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show.

Distinguished Professor Dr. Cheryl Willman 

Willman, a Distinguished Professor of Pathology and Director & CEO of the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center, studies the genetic make-up of leukemia, and uses the tools of genomics to understand and discover underlying mutations in leukemia cells. Willman and her team look at gene expression patterns and underlying genetic events to identify groups of patients with targetable characteristics. By taking advantage of the specific features of these expression groups, it is possible to develop focused therapies to treat these patients with maximum efficacy and minimal side effects. 

High-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) patients have high treatment failure and death rates.  Hispanic and Native American children with the disease have even worse survival rates (30-50 percent). Accurately diagnosing these patients who are high-risk for relapse and treating them with targeted therapies may greatly enhance their outcomes.

Willman and her team began a field of research to apply next generation, deep sequencing and genomic technologies to the problem.  They discovered a novel form of ALL termed Philadelphia-Like (Ph-like) ALL among 22-30 percent of all high-risk ALL patients and developed an FDA-approved genomic diagnostic for treatment with tyrosine kinase inhibitors.  They also discovered that Hispanic and Native American children represent a subgroup within Ph-like ALL patients that have different leukemia-causing mutations. The work, published in Nature Genetics, was the first to report a specific spectrum of mutations associated with genetic ancestry in leukemia.  

Election to NAI Fellow status is a high professional distinction accorded to academic inventors who have demonstrated a prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development, and the welfare of society.  

With the election of the 2017 class, there are now 912 NAI Fellows, representing over 250 research universities and governmental and non-profit research institutes. The 2017 Fellows are named inventors on nearly 6,000 issued U.S. patents, bringing the collective patents held by all NAI Fellows to more than 32,000 issued U.S. patents.

Included among all NAI Fellows are more than 100 presidents and senior leaders of research universities and non-profit research institutes; 439 members of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; 36 inductees of the National Inventors Hall of Fame; 52 recipients of the U.S. National Medal of Technology and Innovation and U.S. National Medal of Science; 29 Nobel Laureates; 261 AAAS Fellows; 168 IEEE Fellows; and 142 Fellows of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, among other awards and distinctions.

The 2017 Fellows will be inducted on April 5, 2018, as part of the Seventh Annual Conference of the National Academy of Inventors in Washington, D.C. at the Mayflower Hotel. Commissioner for Patents, Andrew H. Hirshfeld, will provide the keynote address for the induction ceremony. In honor of their outstanding accomplishments, Fellows will be presented with a special trophy, medal, and rosette pin.

The 2017 NAI Fellows will be recognized with a full-page announcement in The Chronicle of Higher Education Jan. 19, 2018 issue.

To be elected, the 2017 NAI Fellows were evaluated by the 2017 selection committee, which included 18 members comprised of NAI Fellows; U.S. National Medals recipients; National Inventors Hall of Fame inductees; members of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; senior officials from the USPTO; and members of the National Institute of Standards and Technology; the Association of American Universities; the American Association for the Advancement of Science; the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities; and the Association of University Technology Managers.

See also the NAI press release and list of 2017 Fellows.     

]]>Front PageHealth Sciences CenterFaculty NewsSchool of EngineeringResearchTue, 12 Dec 2017 20:56:50 GMTTwo Distinguished Professors from The University of New Mexico, Plamen Atanassov and Dr. Cheryl Willman, were among a cohort of 155 inventors from around the world elected as 2017 National Academy of Inventors Fellows. Atanassov and Willman, who were...https://news.unm.edu/news/university-of-new-mexico-inventors-elected-fellows-of-the-national-academy-of-inventorsTue, 12 Dec 2017 20:16:00 GMT

Zundel awarded New Mexico Space Grant Undergraduate Research Scholarship

Undergraduate Lauren Zundel has been awarded the New Mexico Space Grant Undergraduate Research Scholarship. This award will give Zundel the resources to better understand the optical response of arrays of nanostructures, with applications in solar energy harvesting and biosensing.

“It’s very exciting and a great honor to receive this award,” said Zundel, a junior in the UNM Physics and Astronomy Departmrnt. “It feels really amazing knowing that the work I do and enjoy so much is contributing to the advancement of both technology and fundamental knowledge about physics—and that it’s important enough that NASA cares about it too!”

Lauren Zundel received a New Mexico Space Grant Undergraduate Research Scholarship.

Zundel’s research looks at how the behavior of arrays of nanostructures changes as the number of structures is increased. This is something worth investigating because it’s quite convenient (and common) to assume infinite arrays for simulations and calculations—but there is no such thing as a truly infinite array. Zundel wants to discover how big a system needs to be before it can be considered “infinite.” This research can help in designing systems that absorb light well, which is useful for solar energy harvesting.

Zundel has already published two research papers on this subject, and has also given several research talks. In October, she received the "Best Undergraduate Research Talk" award at the 2017 Four Corners Meeting of the American Physical Society, held in Fort Collins, Colo.

The Undergraduate Research Scholarship opportunity is open to full time undergraduate students enrolled at any community college or university in the state of New Mexico majoring in the field of science, technology, engineering or math. Scholarships are competitively awarded based on application information including research project, its alignment to NASA, faculty letter of recommendation and GPA. These awards fund students to work on research at the level of $5,000 for two academic semesters.

For more information, visit Undergraduate Research Scholarships Application.

]]>Inside UNMCollege of Arts & SciencesPhysics & AstronomyStudent SuccessResearchWed, 06 Dec 2017 01:22:36 GMTUndergraduate Lauren Zundel has been awarded the New Mexico Space Grant Undergraduate Research Scholarship. This award will give Zundel the resources to better understand the optical response of arrays of nanostructures, with applications in solar energy...Seairra Sheppardhttps://news.unm.edu/news/zundel-awarded-new-mexico-space-grant-undergraduate-research-scholarshipTue, 05 Dec 2017 19:06:00 GMT

Role of carbon dioxide in climate evolution more significant than previously thought

New research has identified that the storage of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the deep solid earth and its release into our atmosphere has a much greater role in shaping past climate variations than previously thought.

The research, published recently in Nature Geoscience, shows that continents are 100-150 times more important in releasing carbon into the atmosphere than previously thought. Essentially, it’s as much CO2 as released from the mid ocean ridges, and it also goes directly into the atmosphere from the volcanoes, not needing to find its way through the water, giving it a more immediate effect.

In this study, the researchers including Professor Tobias Fischer of The University of New Mexico’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, and Professor Stephen Foley, from McQuarie University in Sydney, Australia, matched the measured release of CO2 in the East African Continental Rift with its complex, long-term accumulation in the continents.

“We have long recognized that volcanoes at active continental margins and at mid ocean ridges release carbon into the atmosphere, however, the role of carbon degassing from continental rifts, like the East African or the Rio Grande Rifts, have not yet been taken into consideration for the global carbon budget,” said Fischer. “This work shows that carbon from the Earth’s mantle can accumulate below the continents over geologic time scales and be the source of C release from the rifts.”

Current understanding on the shaping of our climate has mapped the role of the ocean crust in releasing CO2 into the atmosphere, because here the crust is thin and the CO2 can get through more easily than in the continents.

“Currently, we as humans are conducting an experiment by rapidly pumping about one hundred times more carbon into the atmosphere than all volcanoes combined. Based on what we know about the role of carbon dioxide in climate evolution, it is no surprise that this experiment should result in the rapid climate change that we are already experiencing today.”

– Professor Tobias Fischer, UNM Earth and Planetary Sciences

In recent years, scientists have put more emphasis on studying the cycling of carbon deep in the solid Earth with a view to understanding the role of CO2 in the whole planet and not only in the atmosphere. The solid Earth has enormous reservoirs of carbon, which enters the atmosphere at volcanoes and along faults – huge cracks in the crust that are the sites of earthquakes.

“We know that CO2 is important in the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas, but there is much more in the solid Earth than in the atmosphere,” said Foley. “However, we don’t know much about how the two systems are linked, meaning at what rates how much of the CO2 within the Earth is released into the atmosphere, or by which mechanisms.”

Continental rifts are long, narrow fracture zones bound by faults along which continents eventually break apart in the plate tectonic process. These rifts have unusually high concentrations of carbonate-rich volcanic rocks and they are also the sites of massive degassing of CO2 along faults and at volcanoes – much higher than in other areas around the world. Despite this, attempts to budget carbon cycling through the inner Earth have not accounted for the role of continental rifts before now.

The key to the accumulation of CO2 in the continents is the depth of geological time: melts in the mantle formed over about three billion years have been sponged up at the bottom of the continents over that enormous time frame and released whenever rifts form. We know from high-pressure experiments that these melts contain large amounts of carbon.

Arrows show fluxes in Mt C yr. Solid storage of C in the arc crust is inferred from imbalance between C release from subducted slab and arc volcanoes. Longer-term solid storage in continental mantle lithosphere is the result of redox freezing and episodic melt infiltration events. This provides a temporal filter due to gradual accumulation of solid carbon, followed later by its catastrophic release during continental rifting.


Continental rifts are usually active for about 40 million years (just one per cent of the age of the Earth). Professors Foley and Fischer calculate that the carbon collected in this way is enough to account for the release of around 75 million tons of CO2 every year for the entire 40 million year history of a continental rift. This research promises to ‘close’ the carbon cycle, improving the links the solid Earth and climate carbon cycles.

“We know from other work that a significant portion of the carbon that is stored in the ocean crust and subducts at the edges of continents is transferred into the deep mantle of the Earth,” said Fischer. “This work shows that this subducted carbon can over time accumulate below the continents and along with the carbon that is transported from the even deeper mantle by mantle plumes is eventually released back to the atmosphere by the rifting activity. So in essence, this realization helps close the deep carbon cycle.”

An intriguing consequence of the role of continental rifts in the carbon budget concerns times at which all continents have been collected together, such as Pangaea about 250 million years ago. Pangaea was a supercontinent that existed during the late-Paleozoic and early-Mesozoic eras. It assembled from earlier continental units approximately 335 million years ago, and it began to break apart about 175 million years ago.

“The life of these ‘supercontinents’ ends with them being broken up by an unusual abundance of continental rifts: at these significant times in Earth’s history, more than 600 million tons of CO2 per year may have been released, possibly directly contributing to warming of the atmosphere,” concluded Foley.

This work on the linking between solid Earth and atmosphere should eventually lead to a complete picture of the evolution of climate – an explanation of how the current climate came into being. Unlike our neighbor Venus, Earth, over the past billions of years, has maintained a temperature range that is quite hospitable for life.

“This is in part due to the slow cycling of carbon between the Earth surface and its interior,” said Fischer. “While carbon reservoirs in the Earth are huge, its transfer and emission to the surface and atmosphere occurs very slowly. This slowness allows the Earth system to adjust and sequester some of this carbon and therefore regulate the climate effect of the greenhouse gas.”

Of course, there were times in Earth’s history when the climate was warmer or colder than it is now and this may indicate that the carbon cycle was somewhat out of balance.

“Currently, we as humans are doing an experiment by rapidly pumping about one hundred times more carbon into the atmosphere than all volcanoes combined,” Fischer said. “Based on what we know about the role of carbon dioxide in climate evolution, it is no surprise that this experiment should result in the rapid climate change that we are already experiencing today.”

Story by Emma Casey, Macquarie University. with UNM additions from Steve Carr.

]]>Front PageCollege of Arts & SciencesEarth & Planetary SciencesResearchTue, 05 Dec 2017 22:20:52 GMTNew research has identified that the storage of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the deep solid earth and its release into our atmosphere has a much greater role in shaping past climate variations than previously thought. The research, published recently in...https://news.unm.edu/news/role-of-carbon-dioxide-in-climate-evolution-more-significant-than-previously-thoughtTue, 05 Dec 2017 21:20:00 GMT

Yale University professor to present annual Kahn Lecture on Sept. 29

The University of New Mexico Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology is hosting this year’s Milton Kahn Annual Lectureship on Friday, Sept. 29 at 4 p.m. in SMLC 102.

Professor Mark Johnson

The lecture will feature Mark Johnson, the Arthur T. Kemp Professor in the Department of Chemistry at Yale University. Johnson is known for the development and exploitation of experimental methods that capture and structurally characterize transient chemical species, such as reaction intermediates, using cryogenic ion chemistry in conjunction with multiple resonance laser spectroscopy.

The lecture, ‘Mass Spec Meets FTIR: The Genesis of Cryogenic Ion Vibrational Spectroscopy (CIVP)’, is free and open to the public.

Lecture Summary:
The coupling between ambient ionization sources, developed for mass spectrometric analysis of biomolecules, and cryogenic ion processing, originally designed to study interstellar chemistry, creates a new and general way to capture transient chemical species and elucidate their structures with optical spectroscopies. Advances in non-linear optics over the past decade allow single-investigator, table top lasers to access radiation from 550 cm-1 in the infrared to the vacuum ultraviolet. When spectra are acquired using predissociation of weakly bound rare gas “tags,” the resulting patterns are equivalent to absorption spectra and correspond to target ions at temperatures below 10K.

Taken together, what emerges is a new and powerful structural component to traditional mass spectrometric analysis. Moreover, because the spectral features of the cold ions are sharp, the evolution of bond-specific transitions can be used to follow the docking arrangements of host-guest complexes and the local contact points between the ionic constituents of ionic liquids. Recent applications ranging from the mechanisms of small molecule activation by homogeneous catalysts to the microscopic mechanics underlying the Grotthuss proton relay mechanism in water emphasize the generality and utility of the methods in contemporary chemistry.

]]>Inside UNMCollege of Arts & SciencesChemistryResearchThu, 28 Sep 2017 20:56:51 GMTThe University of New Mexico Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology is hosting this year’s Milton Kahn Annual Lectureship on Friday, Sept. 29 at 4 p.m. in SMLC 102. Professor Mark Johnson The lecture will feature Mark Johnson, the Arthur T. Kemp...http://news.unm.edu/news/yale-university-professor-to-present-annual-kahn-lecture-on-sept-29Thu, 28 Sep 2017 20:24:00 GMT

UNM researcher finds stress during pregnancy affects the size of the baby

A new study has been published that suggests babies are physically affected by the stress level of their mother during pregnancy. It has been previously found that adversity in the womb enhances or hampers offspring development and performance.

Researchers from The Universities of New Mexico and Göttingen, as well as the German Primate Center, have now proposed a hypothesis that largely predicts why there are highly variable patterns in the growth rates of disadvantaged offspring across 719 studies on 21 mammal species.

“The idea is that prenatal stress affects offspring in two different ways depending on the timing of the stressor during pregnancy—yielding different outcomes before birth, after birth, and after weaning” says Andreas Berghänel, evolutionary anthropologist at The University of New Mexico and lead author of the study.

For example, prenatal maternal stress late in gestation causes mothers to invest less energy in their offspring, which leads to slower grow in the womb and during infancy. Once the baby has reached nutritional independence, however, they are no longer affected directly by their mother’s provisioning, and consequently grow at the same rate as non-disadvantaged offspring. Thus, maternal stress late in gestation leads to slow growth during dependent phases, but doesn’t affect growth later.

By contrast, prenatal maternal stress early in gestation additionally causes the fetus to be entirely reprogrammed to deal with a reduced life expectancy. To “make the best of a bad job,” the early challenged offspring switches to an accelerated pace of life and grows and matures faster than unchallenged offspring to ensure that it reproduces before it dies. Once set on the fast track, the offspring under early prenatal maternal stress remain on this trajectory even after weaning and therefore overshoot the usual body size for age throughout development.

"These new results may bear some translational value for understanding why girls start their menstrual cycles earlier in poorer neighborhoods."

In combination, an infant’s acceleration of their developmental processes together with a deceleration due to reduced maternal investment could then cancel each other out during phases of intense maternal investment—gestation and lactation. It is not until the infant is nutritionally independent that the programming effects become clear.

This new comparative study finds all of these predictions are supported in a large sample of studies that each measured the effects of prenatal stress on offspring size and growth compared to an unchallenged control group.

“We found that stress during late gestation reduces offspring growth during dependence, resulting in a reduced body size throughout development, whereas stress during early gestation results in largely unaffected growth rates during dependence but accelerated growth and increased size after weaning,” says Berghänel.

All stressors seem to have the same effect, and the results are stable across a variety of experiments. Whether mothers were exposed directly to stressors via food restriction or other adversities or were experimentally manipulated to increase their “stress hormones” for example, cortisol, the patterns of offspring growth across developmental stage relative to the timing of the stressor remained the same.

Significance
These new results may bear some translational value for understanding why girls start their menstrual cycles earlier in poorer neighborhoods, why teenage pregnancies are more frequent in disadvantaged families, and why adverse conditions during early development, particularly in formula-fed children, often lead to obesity and other metabolic health problems later in life.

Maternal stress during gestation causes numerous effects on infant physiology that extend well into adulthood. Empirical tests of this hypothesis across mammals suggest that the timing of the stressor during gestation and a simultaneous consideration of maternal investment and adaptive growth plasticity effects are crucial for a full comprehension of prenatal stress effects on offspring growth. The results support an adaptive life history perspective on maternal effects that is relevant for evolutionary biology, medicine, and psychology.

Original publication: Berghänel A, Heistermann M, Schülke O, Ostner J (2017): Prenatal stress accelerates offspring growth to compensate for reduced maternal investment across mammals. PNAS 2017.

]]>Front PageCollege of Arts & SciencesAnthropologyResearchTue, 28 Nov 2017 17:00:09 GMTA new study has been published that suggests babies are physically affected by the stress level of their mother during pregnancy. It has been previously found that adversity in the womb enhances or hampers offspring development and...https://news.unm.edu/news/unm-researcher-finds-stress-during-pregnancy-affects-the-size-of-the-babyTue, 28 Nov 2017 17:00:00 GMT

High-altitude observatory sheds light on origin of excess anti-matter

A mountaintop observatory in Mexico, built and operated by an international team of scientists, has captured the first wide-angle view of gamma rays emanating from two rapidly spinning stars. The High-Altitude Water Cherenkov Gamma-Ray Observatory, or HAWC, provided the fresh perspective on high-energy light streaming from these stellar neighbors, casting serious doubt on one possible explanation for a mysterious excess of anti-matter particles near Earth.

The research paper, “Extended gamma-ray sources around pulsars constrain the origin of the positron flux at Earth,” was published in the journal Science, and included scientists from the University of Maryland, The University of New Mexico, Los Alamos National Labs and others.

In 2008, astronomers observed an unexpectedly high number of positrons — the anti-matter cousins of electrons — in orbit a few hundred miles above Earth’s atmosphere. Ever since, scientists have debated the cause of the anomaly, split over two competing theories of its origin.

Some suggested a simple explanation: the extra particles might come from nearby collapsed stars called pulsars, which spin around several times a second and throw off electrons, positrons and other matter with violent force. Others speculated that the extra positrons might come from processes involving dark matter — the invisible but pervasive substance seen so far only through its gravitational pull.

Using new data from the HAWC observatory, researchers made the first detailed measurements of two pulsars previously identified as possible sources of the positron excess. By catching and counting particles of light streaming from these nearby stellar engines, HAWC collaboration researchers found that the two pulsars are unlikely to be the origin of the positron excess. Despite being the right age and the right distance from Earth, the pulsars are surrounded by an extended murky cloud that prevents most positrons from escaping, according to results.

“This new measurement is tantalizing because it strongly disfavors the idea that these extra positrons are coming to Earth from two nearby pulsars, at least when you assume a relatively simple model for how positrons diffuse away from these spinning stars,” said Jordan Goodman, professor of physics at the University of Maryland and the U.S. spokesperson for the HAWC collaboration. “

Francisco Salesa Greus, the lead contributing author of the new paper and a scientist at the Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Krakow, Poland, added that “we are closer to understanding the origin of the positron excess after excluding two of the main source candidates.”

An eye in the sky
As with an ordinary camera, collecting lots of light allows HAWC to build sharp images of individual gamma-ray sources. The most energetic gamma rays originate in the graveyards of big stars, around stellar remains like the spinning pulsar remnants of supernovae. But that light doesn’t come from the stars themselves. Instead, it's created when the spinning pulsar accelerates particles to extremely high energies, causing them to smash into lower-energy photons left over from the early universe.

The size of the debris field around powerful pulsars, measured by the patch of sky that glows bright in gamma rays, tells researchers how quickly matter moves relative to the spinning stars. This enables researchers to estimate how quickly positrons are moving and how many positrons could have reached Earth from a given source.

Using a recently published HAWC catalog of the high-energy sky, scientists have absolved the nearby pulsar Geminga and its sister — the pulsar PSR B0656+14 — as sources of the positron excess. Even though the two are old enough and close enough to account for the excess, matter isn’t drifting away from the pulsars fast enough to have reached the Earth.

Professor John Matthews, Research Assistant Professor Robert Lauer, and graduate student Zhixiang Ren in UNM’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, are members of the HAWC Collaboration and co-authors of this publication. Matthews designed the system to calibrate the 1,200 photo-sensors that are HAWC’s “eyes,” while Lauer led the design and implementation of the software that is used to produce and analyze the sky maps for all gamma-ray analyses, including the modeling of the pulsars, which allows scientists to use the HAWC data to test arbitrary scenarios for the shape or spectrum of a gamma-ray source.

This measurement wouldn’t have been possible without HAWC’s wide view provided by the UNM scientists. It continuously scans about one-third of the sky overhead, which provided researchers with a broad view of the space around the pulsars. Other observatories watching for high-energy gamma rays with a much narrower field of view missed the extended nature of the pulsars.

Together with Patrick Younk and Hao Zhou, scientists at Los Alamos National Labs, Lauer realized that the observation of extended objects like Geminga or variable emission from other sources required a new approach for analyzing the gamma-ray sky maps.

The HAWC Observatory sits at an elevation of 13,500 feet, flanking the Sierra Negra volcano inside Pico de Orizaba National Park in the Mexican state of Puebla. It consists of more than 300 massive water tanks that sit waiting for cascades of particles initiated by high-energy packets of light called gamma rays—many of which have more than 10 million times the energy of a dental X-ray.

Matthews designed the laser calibration system, in which a central laser sends light through a network of optical fibers to all 1,200 photo-multipliers (i.e. photo sensors) in the HAWC water tanks. This calibration allows scientists to measure the arrival time of each particle in the gamma-ray shower with a precision of less than a nanosecond.

When these gamma rays smash into the upper atmosphere, they blast apart atoms in the air, producing a shower of particles that moves at nearly the speed of light toward the ground. When this shower reaches HAWC’s tanks, it produces coordinated flashes of blue light in the water, allowing researchers to reconstruct the energy and cosmic origin of the gamma ray that kicked off the cascade.

“Our advanced analysis method was crucial for not only detecting Geminga and its sister, but actually extracting the science about how the gamma rays are distributed,” said Lauer.

“Thanks to its wide field of view, HAWC provides unique measurements on the very-high-energy gamma ray profiles caused by the particle diffusion around nearby pulsars, which allows us to determine how fast the particles diffuse more directly than previous measurements,” Zhou said.

It’s possible that a new insight about the astrophysics of these pulsars and their local environments could account for the positron excess at Earth, but it would require a more complicated theory of positron diffusion than physicists in the collaboration think is likely. On the other hand, dark matter may provide the right explanation, but more evidence will ultimately be needed to decide.

"The small UNM group has made a disproportionate contribution to the science of HAWC by identifying tasks that are of prime importance for the experiment,” added Matthews.

The National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy and Los Alamos National Laboratory provided funding for the United States’ participation in the HAWC project. The Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACyT) is the primary funder for Mexican participation. 

]]>Front PageCollege of Arts & SciencesPhysics & AstronomyResearchThu, 16 Nov 2017 21:30:04 GMTA mountaintop observatory in Mexico, built and operated by an international team of scientists, has captured the first wide-angle view of gamma rays emanating from two rapidly spinning stars. The High-Altitude Water Cherenkov Gamma-Ray Observatory, or...https://news.unm.edu/news/high-altitude-observatory-sheds-light-on-origin-of-excess-anti-matterThu, 16 Nov 2017 21:30:00 GMT

Study finds medical cannabis is effective at reducing opioid addiction

A new study conducted by researchers at The University of New Mexico, involving medical cannabis and prescription opioid use among chronic pain patients, found a distinct connection between having the legal ability to use cannabis and significant reductions in opioid use.

The study titled, “Associations between Medical Cannabis and Prescription Opioid Use in Chronic Pain Patients: A Preliminary Cohort Study,” and published in the open access journal PLOS ONE, was conducted by Drs. Jacob Miguel Vigil, associate professor, Department of Psychology and Sarah See Stith, assistant professor, Department of Economics. The results from this preliminary study showed a strong correlation between enrollment in the New Mexico Medical Cannabis Program (MCP) and cessation or reduction of opioid use, and that whole, natural Cannabis sativa and extracts made from the plant may serve as an alternative to opioid-based medications for treating chronic pain.

UNM Economics Assistant Professor Sarah See Stith and Psychology Associate Professor Jacob Vigil.

Today, opioid-related drug overdoses are the leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States killing approximately 100 Americans every day. Conventional pharmaceutical medications for treating opioid addiction, such as methadone and buprenorphine-tapering, can be similarly dangerous due to substantial risks of lethal drug interactions and overdose.

“Current levels and dangers of opioid use in the U.S. warrant the investigation of harm-reducing treatment alternatives,” said Vigil, who led the study. “Our results highlight the necessity of more extensive research into the possible uses of cannabis as a substitute for opioid painkillers, especially in the form of placebo-based, randomized controlled trials and larger sample observational studies.”

Cannabis has been investigated as a potential treatment for a wide range of medical conditions from post-traumatic stress disorder to cancer, with the most consistent support for the treatment of chronic pain, epilepsy and spasticity. In the U.S., states, including New Mexico, have enacted MCPs in part for people with chronic, debilitating pain who cannot be adequately or safely treated with conventional pharmaceutical medications.

Like other states, New Mexico only permits medical cannabis use for patients with certain debilitating medical conditions. All the patients in the study had a diagnosis of “severe chronic pain,” annually validated by two independent physicians, including a board-certified specialist.

New Mexico, Vigil notes, is among the U.S. states hardest hit by the current opioid epidemic, although the number of opioid-related overdose deaths appears to have fallen in recent years, perhaps the result of increased enrollment in the NM MCP, which currently includes more than 48,000 patients.

“MCPs are unique, not only because they allow patients to self-manage their cannabis treatment, but because they operate in conflict with U.S. federal law, making it challenging for researchers to utilize conventional research designs to measure their efficacy,” Vigil said.

The purpose of the researchers’ preliminary, cohort study was to help examine the association between enrollment in a MCP and opioid prescription use. The study observed 37 habitual opioid using, chronic pain patients that chose to enroll in the MCP between 2010 and 2015, compared to 29 patients with similar health conditions that were also given the option, but ultimately chose not to enroll in the MCP. 

“Using informal surveys of patients enrolled in the MCP, we discovered a significant proportion of chronic pain patients reporting to have substituted their opioid prescriptions with cannabis for treating their chronic pain,” said Vigil. 

The researchers used Prescription Monitoring Program opioid records over a 21-month observation period (first three months prior to enrollment for the MCP patients) to more objectively measure opioid cessation – defined as the absence of opioid prescriptions activity during the last three months of observation, with use calculated in average daily intravenous [IV] morphine dosages. MCP patient-reported benefits and side effects of using cannabis one year after enrollment were also collected.

By the end of the observation period, the data showed MCP enrollment was associated with a 17 times higher age- and gender-adjusted odds of ceasing opioid prescriptions, a 5 times higher odds of reducing daily prescription opioid dosages, and a 47 percentage point reduction in daily opioid dosages relative to a mean change of positive 10 percentage points in the non-enrolled patient group.

Survey responses indicated improvements in pain reduction, quality of life, social life, activity levels, and concentration, and few negative side effects from using cannabis one year after enrollment in the MCP.

The researchers’ findings, which provide clinically and statistically significant evidence of an association between MCP enrollment and opioid prescription cessation and reductions and improved quality of life warrant further investigations on cannabis as a potential alternative to prescription opioids for treating chronic pain.

According to Stith, “The economic impact of cannabis treatment should also be considered given the current burden of opioid prescriptions on healthcare systems, which have been forced to implement costly modifications to general patient care practices, including prescription monitoring programs, drug screening, more frequent doctor-patient interactions, treatment of drug abuse and dependence, and legal products and services associated with limiting opioid-related liability.”

“If cannabis can serve as an alternative to prescription opioids for at least some patients, legislators and the medical community may want to consider medical cannabis programs as a potential tool for combating the current opioid epidemic,” Vigil said.

]]>Front PagePsychologyResearchThu, 16 Nov 2017 19:30:03 GMTA new study conducted by researchers at The University of New Mexico, involving medical cannabis and prescription opioid use among chronic pain patients, found a distinct connection between having the legal ability to use cannabis and significant...https://news.unm.edu/news/study-finds-medical-cannabis-is-effective-at-reducing-opioid-addictionThu, 16 Nov 2017 19:30:00 GMT

Shared Knowledge Conference winners showcase diverse Lobo research

What do poop, cancer and snails have in common? They are the topics of the three winners of the LoboBITES competition, held Nov. 8 as part of the Shared Knowledge Conference.

1st place
James Fluke
Characterization of Bacterial Impairment along the Rio Grande near Albuquerque

2nd place
Cristabelle De Souza
Tackling a tumor suppressor gone rogue: Can we OVARcome ovarian cancer?

3rd place
Erin Watson-Chappell
Exploring snail immunology using the common garden snail

Fluke, an engineering master’s student from Bernalillo, gave a colloquial account of E. coli concentrations in both the Rio Grande river and the soil, investigating source and transport. Cristabelle, recently transferred from the University of Kansas, explained out how genetics can alter and manipulate cancer-causing mutations, preventing disease progression and reducing cancer health disparities among women. Watson-Chappell, a Las Cruces native and doctoral biology student, explored the immune system of snails, explaining their commercial value in everything from spa treatments to escargot.

Each year, the Shared Knowledge Conference (SKC) celebrates UNM graduate students and their outstanding research and scholarship. The conference provides a venue for students to engage with the UNM and larger New Mexico communities, to cross the borders that too-often divide academia from the larger world, and in so doing spark conversations and collaboration towards a world of equity, innovation, discovery and growth. Previously, the conference was held in the spring; but it has been moved to the fall to allow the winner of the LoboBITE showcase to participate in the annual Western Association of Graduate Schools regional competition, held each spring.

This year, the SKC was held where UNM began, at the historic Hodgin Hall on main campus, serving as an inspiring venue for the memorable event. Poster sessions were spread throughout Hodgin's series of warm, inviting meeting and gathering spaces, providing a unique opportunity for participants and attendees to share ideas and engage dialogues in a distinguished setting. The LoboBITES competition was held in the Bobo Room, a stunning presentation hall on the third floor. It was there that a diverse group of graduate students, from eight of UNM’s colleges, distilled their work into a three-minute sound bite, presented to non-academic, community judges. Three finalists were selected from each of four heats. Video of the final heat, along with student abstracts, can be accessed in the UNM digital repository, or by clicking here.

]]>Inside UNMAlumniResearchWed, 15 Nov 2017 18:42:52 GMTWhat do poop, cancer and snails have in common? They are the topics of the three winners of the LoboBITES competition, held Nov. 8 as part of the Shared Knowledge Conference. 1st place James Fluke Characterization of Bacterial Impairment along the Rio...Julie Coonrodhttps://news.unm.edu/news/shared-knowledge-conference-winners-showcase-diverse-lobo-researchTue, 14 Nov 2017 21:38:00 GMT

The beauty created by the ‘Destroyer of Worlds’

Martin Pfeiffer, or Marty as he prefers to be called, knows his way around our state’s nuclear fallout site—he’s dug through the debris left behind in this remote part of the desert. You could call him curious, but the fact is, as Ph.D. student in Anthropology at The University of New Mexico, Pfeiffer is more curious about the people, who are curious about the gems found in the scorched earth.

“I’m particularly interested in how sites and places have become nuclear heritage, like the Trinity Site where Trinitite comes from,” said Pfeiffer. “I am particularly interested especially in how nuclear weapons are constructed at those sites through heritage processes.”

Part of the heritage Pfeiffer is speaking of is the physical legacy of atomic bombs. A jewel-like mineral Trinitite, was created from the first detonation in the 1940s.

“It’s basically radioactive fallout that we gave a pretty name to. Literally,” says Pfeiffer. “It’s sand that was sucked up into the mushroom cloud or into the fireball, melted and rained down as glass mixed with weapon debris.”

As a result of the plutonium-based nuclear bomb test at the Trinity Site outside Alamogordo, N.M. in the 1945, a large depression was formed. Bits and chunks of Trinitite were scattered in the depression. Some of the stone was removed before most of it was bulldozed and buried by the United States Atomic Energy Commission in 1953. The stone was sold to mineral collectors as a novelty.

"Almost 75-years later, intrigue still drives a demand for Trinitite." 

Trinitite, usually a lightshade of green, is quite complex in its make-up and is still radioactive.  Similar minerals, still referred to as Trinitite, have been produced at other nuclear test sites. The color of the stone is based on soil chemistry: Black Trinitite is caused by iron from a shot tower. Red Trinitite is made from copper wire from diagnostic equipment.

“One of the things that has really fascinated me, is how Trinitite, as radioactive fallout, got picked up and mobilized for a variety of purposes,” said Pfeiffer. “On one hand it’s radioactive fallout, and on the other it a popular souvenir where it occupies a space as a remnant of history. They even had an actress wear jewelry made of Trinitite to dispel claims of lingering radiation injury to the Japanese.”

It is illegal now to take Trinitite from nuclear test sites. Which could account for one possible reason why people are buying it online or in gift shops. A small stone, roughly the size of a dime, is going for $35 on Amazon. Other collectors have the stones priced higher depending on their color and composition.

There are also multiple websites dedicated to helping collectors determine the authenticity of the stones they purchase.

“I’ve seen multiple artifacts circulated from nuclear sites,” said Pfeiffer. “It’s not the economic circulation, but the social circulation that fascinates me. People are so curious about Trinitite. Some people physically recoil when they are told what it is.”

“The fascinating part of it is, that people aren’t reacting to the property inherent to Trinitite itself, but they are clearly engaging with it through their cultural, social and inerrant belief experiences.”

Pfeiffer’s anthropological work is focused on ethnology—the study of the characteristics of various peoples and the differences and relationships between them. By studying the behaviors of people, he hopes to be able to engage in more productive conversations about nuclear deterrents, a conversation he has had more regularly with the current state of relations with North Korea.

“I’ve had more conversations lately about what the process is for the U.S. using nuclear weapons. Certainly people are re-experiencing or coming to experience a heightened or more intense sense of nuclear arrest,” he said. “One of my hopes is that by examining how we are constructing beliefs and values about nuclear weapons, I can help to identify points that help us alter the process or understand it better.”

Almost 75-years later, intrigue still drives a demand for Trinitite. But Pfeiffer has high-hopes for what it stands for.

“Anthropology is a very optimistic discipline—the whole cultural determinism thing,” he said. “You can look at things that Trinitite represents, and know it doesn’t have to be this way and here’s how we can do it differently.” 

]]>Front PageAnthropologyResearchTue, 07 Nov 2017 16:55:48 GMTMartin Pfeiffer, or Marty as he prefers to be called, knows his way around our state’s nuclear fallout site—he’s dug through the debris left behind in this remote part of the desert. You could call him curious, but the fact is, as Ph.D. student in...Katie Williamshttp://news.unm.edu/news/the-beauty-created-by-the-destroyer-of-worldsThu, 02 Nov 2017 15:15:00 GMT

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