A fiery debate about volcanoes

In a Perspective in the May 9 issue of Science, geochemist Don DePaolo and geodynamicist Michael Manga defend a fundamental assumption of Earth science, the mantle plume model of hotspots, against an outbreak of seismic skepticism.
DePaolo and Manga are members of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Earth Sciences Division and the University of California at Berkeley’s Department of Earth and Planetary Science. DePaolo studies the chemical signatures of geological structures like the lava beneath the island of Hawaii. Manga studies volcanism and other fluid processes using a variety of techniques, including physical models.

Microgel polymer beads may provide general vehicle for vaccines, gene therapy

A simple method of shuttling proteins into cells via microscopic polymer beads shows promise as a general way of carrying vaccines or bits of DNA for gene therapy, according to chemists at the University of California, Berkeley, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The polymer beads are imbedded with a protein – a vaccine antigen, for example – and made large enough to attract the attention of the immune system’s scavenger cells, which engulf them and try to digest them with acid.

A new branch on the tree of life

The family tree of life has a newly discovered branch. Genetic studies comparing mitochondrial DNA have revealed that what has long been thought to be the group from which insects arose, the Collembola — wingless hexapods (or “six legs”) commonly called springtails — turns out not to be closely related to insects after all. Instead, these creatures belong to a separate evolutionary lineage that predates even the separation of insects and crustaceans.

Tracking Cancer in 3-D, One Cell at a Time

Hoping to track cancer as it spreads cell-by-cell through the body, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researchers have developed a way to shape high-resolution microscopy images into three-dimensional renditions of tissue such as mammary ducts. The result is a microscopic look at the molecular and genetic underpinnings of cancer on a glandular scale. The system, which couples a computer-assisted microscope to powerful visualization programs, stacks two-dimensional microscopy images into a lifelike structure packed with genes, hormone receptors, and proteins.

NASA-funded research looking at El Ni?o events to forecast western US snowfall

A NASA-funded study uses a computer model to understand an observed link between winter and spring snowfall in the Western U.S. and El Ni?o Southern Oscillation. Almost 75 to 85 percent of water resources in the Western U.S come from snow that accumulates in the winter and early spring and melts as runoff in spring and summer. Understanding this connection and using it to predict future snowfall rates would greatly help both citizens and policy makers.

'Periodic Table' of proteins helps make sense of structure

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have taken the first stab at a “periodic table” of the protein structures – an organized map of the building blocks used over and over again to construct the billions of complex proteins that make up life on Earth. The three-dimensional map depicts similarities and differences among the building blocks, letting scientists visualize the universe of possible protein structures – the many possible twists, turns and folds – and see evolutionary changes that may have occurred with time.

Cal Team Charts History, Fate of the Universe

What time did the universe begin? When did the first star appear? How long will the universe last? A colorful, graphically rich chart that illustrates and summarizes what is now known about the history and fate of the universe has been developed by scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) in collaboration with the Contemporary Physics Education Project (CPEP). More than 11,000 copies of this chart are being distributed this month through The Physics Teacher magazine to high school science teachers across the nation for field-testing with their students.

Researchers discover how embryo attaches to the uterus

Researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health have discovered how an embryo initially attaches to the wall of the uterus?what appears to be one of the earliest steps needed to establish a successful pregnancy. Specifically, the researchers found that 6 days after an egg is fertilized, the embryo uses specialized molecules on its surface and molecules on the surface of the uterus to attach itself to the wall of the uterus.

Supernova Factory announces 34 supernovae in one year

The Nearby Supernova Factory (SNfactory), an international collaboration based at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, today announced that it had discovered 34 supernovae during the first year of the prototype system’s operation — all but two of them in the last four months alone. The announcement was made at the 201st meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle. “This is the best performance ever for a ‘rookie’ supernova search,” said Greg Aldering of Berkeley Lab’s Physics Division, principal investigator of the SNfactory. “We have shown we can discover supernovae at the rate of nine a month, a rate other searches have reached only after years of trying.”

Disappearing Neutrinos Support the Case for Neutrino Mass

Results from the first six months of experiments at KamLAND, an underground neutrino detector in central Japan, show that anti-neutrinos emanating from nearby nuclear reactors are “disappearing,” which indicates they have mass and can oscillate or change from one type to another. As anti-neutrinos are the anti-matter counterpart to neutrinos, these results provide independent confirmation of earlier studies involving solar neutrinos and show that the Standard Model of Particle Physics, which has successfully explained fundamental physics since the 1970’s, is in need of updating. The results also point the way to the first direct measurements of the total radioactivity of the earth.

Accidental finding could lead to full-spectrum solar cell

Researchers have found that the electrical properties of the semiconductor indium nitride are different from what been previously thought — by a wide margin. The result is that an alloy incorporating the material can convert virtually the full spectrum of sunlight — from the near infrared to the far ultraviolet — to electrical current. “It’s as if nature designed this material on purpose to match the solar spectrum,” said one researcher involved.