Archive for October, 2012

Satellite imagery used to study remote ecosystems

Remote ecosystems provide a number of obstacles for researchers wishing to study them — that’s why they’re still remote. Moving and maintaining equipment, limited low-impact observation methods and accurate controls are just a few examples. 

A team of researchers, including Matteo Convertino from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, have developed software that utilizes satellite photos of an area to determine a broad range of observations.

Convertino is helping the team make better use of the images, according to the press release.

“There’s currently not a lot of satellite imagery used in ecological studies,” said Convertino, with UF’s agricultural and biological engineering department. “Part of the reason is, there’s a strong need to improve mathematical formulas for analyzing the data, and that’s what we’re doing here.”

Their current system uses light frequencies to find the number of plant species in an image, where they were and how many of each were in the area.

The method is being used in other areas too, from microscopic stem cells to the analysis of soil and water by satellite. 

Obviously these kinds of discoveries have extensive use in science, but I’d also be interested in its use for human population studies. Demographic measurements of busy pedestrian areas, such as theme parks, could be pretty useful.

Soil variability provides challenges for storing carbon

Many types of soil lack carbon, and are being looked at as a possible treatment for climate change. The process of taking carbon out of the atmosphere and putting it elsewhere is called carbon sequestration. Some landowners could make money in the future by sequestering the carbon from government or private industries in their soil.

However, according to a study put out by the University of Florida on October 22, Florida’s soil makeup has a patchwork arrangement. The patchy nature of the soil in regard to the amount of carbon it contains makes it difficult for large-scale carbon sequestration in an area.

Beyond climate change implications, soil carbon is an important factor in agriculture. It plays a significant part in the soil’s quality and that of the plants growing in it, and is therefor helpful for farmers. 

New nanostructure assembly process discovered

Last Friday researchers at the University of Florida discovered a new process to produce unique structures from nanorods.

The research focuses on finding structures with new properties, which is similar to how hydrogen and oxygen can combine to produce either water or hydrogen peroxide. In this study, two different structures were produced. One of them was grown into a thin film about one quarter the size of a postage stamp and could possibly be used to make more efficient LED television and computer screens.

The other structure produced a superparticle which emits a polarization useful for producing 3-D LED displays. This structure is much more complex than the other, and could be a major breakthrough.

The press release provided some perspective for those not up-to-speed on nanostructure:

“I’ve worked in nanoparticle assembly for a decade,” said Dmitri Talapin, an associate professor of chemistry at the University of Chicago who was not involved with the study. “There are all sorts of issues to be overcome when assembling building blocks from nanoscale particles. I don’t think anyone has been able to get them to self-assemble into superparticles like this before.”

Throwback Post: Joseph Kittinger

I’m sure many of you have been following, or at least seen, the Red Bull Stratos jump today. Felix Baumgartner broke several world records related to high-altitude jumping when he leaped from about 128,000 feet.

Previous record holder and Baumgartner’s main contact during the jump was Colonel Joseph Kittinger II, a University of Florida alumni. Kittinger attended UF for two years before joining the U.S. Air Force.

He spent time flying in West Germany, before eventually being reassigned to the Air Force Missile Development Center and then the Aerospace Medical Research Laboratories. There Kittinger become the jumper for the Excelsior missions, designed to test the effects of high altitude and G-forces on Air Force pressure suits and the human body.

On the third mission, Kittinger set the previous records for longest free-fall, highest balloon ascent, highest parachute jump, longest drogue-fall (four minutes), and fastest speed by a human being through the atmosphere. Even more incredibly, the hand of his suit depressurized and his hand swelled to twice it’s normal size on the way up, where he jumped anyway.

While Baumgartner broke the highest balloon ascent, highest parachute jump, and fastest speed by a human through the atmosphere, he only free-fell for 4 minutes and 22 seconds, 14 seconds shy of Kittinger’s record.

Kittinger maintains that it’s not about the records now any more than it was when he jumped, and that the primary reason was to allow high-altitude medical and scientific research to be done.

Just goes to show that the Gator Nation really is everywhere, from 102,800 feet and down again.

Trying to get things over

So with WordPress’ import function for Tumblr still being down, I looked around and found an alternative method that seems to have worked pretty well.

– Reblog titles don’t transfer nicely, most posts therefor have no title.

– Tags and categories still wonky, and too many to go through all at once. In the future, I’ll try and clean up each post.

– Imports everything at once. The actual Tumblr import tool previously only imported new ones, but the program I used requires the whole thing to be done. Maybe I’ll just delete everything right before I upload it? We’ll see.

For my purposes and comfort, until WordPress fixes their Tumblr import, most content will continue to be on there.

If Tumblr isn’t your jam, you can also follow me on Twitter at


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$9 million citrus greening grant awarded

Huanglongbing (HLB) doesn’t sound threatening, but the disease could mean calamity for Florida’s $9 billion citrus industry.

Also known as citrus greening, it is the focus of a $9 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant awarded Monday to the Citrus Research and Development Foundation (CRDF), a University of Florida direct-support organization.

“We’re really excited about it, and hope it complements what we’re already doing in trying to solve this problem,” said Harold Browning, Chief Operating Officer for the CRDF, in an interview with Southeast AgNet.

The Foundation and the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, along with several other research groups across the nation, plan to use this money on limiting the ability of the Asian citrus psyllid to carry the citrus greening bacterium. Through the modification of the psyllid and its ability to carry or pass on the bacteria, researchers aim to dilute the wild populations with one that can not infect citrus trees.

“I must commend Secretary Vilsack for his leadership on this issue and understanding that the key to beating this insidious disease lies in the laboratory,” said Michael Sparks, executive VP/CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual, in a press release.

In the meantime, the CRDF is focusing on ways to limit the disease’s spread, which has already cost the industry more than $3.63 billion since 2006, according to a UF study earlier this year.

Bubble-eyed goldfish. Full time jazz musician.

So it seems that we should expect full genome sequences to be quite cheap within the next several years, if this trend is anything to go by. I think it’s time to start thinking about what effect this might have on health insurance.

Is a genetic disposition toward risk or alcoholism or cancer a pre-existing condition? Should it be treated as such? For what might a sequence be legally requested?

As far as things like personal medicine and gene therapy and the like go, the rapid decrease in sequencing cost is a big step forward. It also exposes an extremely private part of us, one that we shouldn’t want to be disseminated to government or corporations without a clear set of rules.



75 scientific mysteries, illustrated by 75 of today’s most exciting artists

This is “what existed before the Big Bang?”, but don’t miss the rest at the link above.

Gooood morning everybody


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