Ecologist to present public lecture on mountaintop removal mining

An expert in ecosystem ecology and biogeochemistry will discuss the impact of mountaintop removal mining on the environment March 22 at Indiana University Bloomington.

Emily Bernhardt. Courtesy Duke University

Emily Bernhardt. Courtesy Duke University

Emily Bernhardt of Duke University will deliver the 36th Joan Wood Lecture from 4 to 5 p.m. in Myers Hall, Room 130. Her lecture is titled “The remaking of Appalachian ecosystems by mountaintop removal coal mining.”

The talk, hosted by the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Biology, is free and open to the public.

Over the past several decades, mountaintop removal practices have affected an estimated 10 percent of the Central Appalachian forests, an approximately 800-mile range that encompasses regions such as the Blue Ridge Mountains of West Virginia and the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee.

“The associated impacts of surface coal mining on air, water and wildlife resources in this region have been profound and extend well beyond the permit boundaries of individual mines,” Bernhardt said. “This talk will explore a decade-long effort to answer a series of basic questions about the individual and aggregate effects of mountaintop mines on Appalachian rivers and watersheds.”

The lecture will also address the connection between environmental research and policy.

“Emily is one of the leading experts on how human impacts like climate change, chemical pollution and land cover change are affecting the way ecosystems work,” said Richard Phillips, associate professor in the IU Bloomington Department of Biology. “She’s also an exceptionally broad thinker whose willingness to tackle environmental problems that cross disciplinary boundaries have allowed her to become one of the most accomplished biogeochemists of her generation.”

Bernhardt’s lab conducts research on topics such as soil priming, nanomaterial toxicity, ecosystem development, wetland restoration, stream restoration, urban thermal pollution, saltwater incursion and watershed nitrogen cycling. She is president of the Society for Freshwater Science and holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a doctorate in ecology and evolutionary biology from Cornell University.

Established in 1990, the Joan Wood Lecture Series was created to highlight women in science-related careers and encourage undergraduate women to pursue advanced degrees in science. It is named in honor of IU Bloomington Department of Biology alum and medical geneticist Joan Wood.

Places & Spaces: Mapping Science exhibition to debut new ‘macroscopes’ at Vanderbilt University

Post by IU Newsroom intern Laura Ellsworth:

Places & Spaces: Mapping Science, a traveling exhibition founded and curated by IU professor Katy Bӧrner, will debut its 2017 iteration at Vanderbilt University on Jan. 23.

This international collection of world-class data visualizations will be on display in conjunction with the theme “Our Lives Online.”

Bӧrner is an IU Distinguished Professor of Information Science and Intelligent Systems Engineering in the IU School of Informatics and Computing. She will also deliver a keynote lecture at Vanderbilt on Jan. 27.


An visitor explores a macroscope during an exhibition of Places & Spaces at the IU Art Museum in September 2016.

The Places & Spaces exhibit, established at IU in 2005, showcases the visualization of complex data in innovative formats, helping many to make sense of large streams of data. Each year, new visualizations are added, selected from international and interdisciplinary submissions.

The current exhibition includes 100 science maps, sculptures, hands-on activities and interactive visualizations called macroscopes. The macroscopes — accessed via a 46-inch touchscreen display introduced into the exhibit upon its 10th anniversary two years ago — present data visually to make new perspectives possible. Visitors are encouraged to “touch the data” and engage with the macroscopes on a touchscreen kiosk. Three to five new macroscopes are expected to be added to the exhibit each year through 2024.

“In the information age, being able to ‘read and write’ data visualization is becoming as important as being able to read and write text,” Bӧrner said. “The visualizations displayed in this exhibition showcase the power of data visualizations to save lives, to make decisions informed by high-quality data, and to communicate the beauty and value of science to a general audience.”

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IU scientist joins mentor and collaborator for Nobel Prize events in Sweden

Amar Flood studied under 2016 Nobel Laureate J. Fraser Stoddart as a postdoctoral scholar at UCLA

Last month, members of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences — the organization that awards the Nobel Prize — honored three experts in the field of molecular machines with one of the highest honors in the field of science and research during a ceremony Dec. 10 in Stockholm, Sweden.

Amar Flood, left, with his wife, Michiko Owaki, and Fraser Stoddart. Credit: Nobel Foundation.

Amar Flood, left, with his wife, Michiko Owaki, and Fraser Stoddart. Credit: Nobel Foundation.

Joining those scientists for a week of scientific talks, formal events and intellectual stimulation were dozens of close collaborators, colleagues and friends, among whom could be found Amar Flood, a professor in the Indiana University Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Chemistry, who attended the activities with his wife and children at the invitation of J. Fraser Stoddart, one of the 2016 Nobel Laureates and a mentor to Flood during his time as a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California at Los Angeles.

“It was extremely rewarding to see a mentor and colleague get this tremendous honor… tears of joy came in the place of words,” said Flood, who joined 15 invited guests of Stoddart and their families in Stockholm from Dec. 5 to 13. “This award raises the profile and credibility of the whole field of molecular machines.”

Stoddart was honored for the design and synthesis of molecular machines, which are nanoscopically small groups of precisely designed molecules that can perform specific tasks when energy is added. Flood’s own work focuses on the creation of highly specialized molecular structures, or “supramolecules,” with industrial and environmental applications. Recently, for instance, his lab reported the first evidence for a new molecule with potential applications in the safe storage of nuclear waste and reduction of chemicals that contaminate water and trigger large fish kills.

As a postdoctoral scholar studying molecular electronics and molecular machines under Stoddart from 2002 to 2005, Flood said the senior scientists’ influence sparked a lifelong interest in molecular machines, as well as taught him other critical skills as a researcher, such as how to write strong research papers, engage in productive collaborations and lead research groups.

More broadly, Flood said Stoddart’s influence taught him to “pursue high standards of research, to collaborate with the best people, and to win over the hearts and minds of your colleagues.”

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Indiana University scientist named American Physical Society fellow

Indiana University professor J. Timothy Londergan has been elected as a fellow in the Division of Nuclear Physics of the American Physical Society, the pre-eminent organization of physicists in the United States.

Timothy J. Lundergan

J. Timothy Londergan

An emeritus professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Physics, Londergan was honored for his “work on approximate parton of symmetries, such as charge and flavor symmetry, and for models of the scattering behavior of quarks and hadrons.”

A symmetry is a physical or mathematical feature that remains unchanged or preserved throughout a transformation. Quarks are subatomic particles that come in a number of types, or “flavors,” and combinations, including hadrons, which are composed of three quarks. Scattering refers to particle-particle collisions between these objects.

As a physicist, Londergan is particularly interested in “broken symmetries” of quarks, which provide direct evidence for “non-perturbative” quark effects, or effects that cannot be understood with standard mathematical methods. Broken symmetries are significant since they can reveal new insights about the nature of these subatomic particles.

A former Rhodes Scholar, Londergan holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Rochester and a Ph.D. from Oxford University. He served as chair of the IU Bloomington Department of Physics from 1990 to 1997 and director of the Herman B Wells Scholars Program from 2003 to 2013. He also served three terms as a director of the IU Nuclear Theory Center.

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IU scientists earn ‘BioArt’ award for image of beetle brain on cusp of metamorphosis

Work to be displayed at the National Institutes of Health in early 2017

A stunning image of an insect’s brain and nerve cord captured by three Indiana University scientists will be on display at the National Institutes of Health early next year.

The winning image shows the central nervous system in a species of horned dung beetle.

The winning image shows the central nervous system in a species of horned dung beetle.

Eduardo Zattara, Armin Moczek and Jim Powers of the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Biology are among the winners of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology’s 2016 BioArt competition, an annual contest to share the beauty and breadth of biological research.

Zattara is a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Moczek, a professor in the department. Powers is an assistant research scientist and manager of the IU Light Microscopy Imaging Center, where the image was generated.

The winning image from IU shows a highly detailed picture of the central nervous system in a species of horned dung beetle, Onthophagus sagittarius. The image was captured close to the insect’s emergence from the pupal to adult stage.

Visible in the image are the beetle’s optic lobes, which are in the process of growing and extending toward the outer surface of the head to form a pair of compound eyes. The colors are the result of different fluorescent labels used to highlight physical structures and chemical processes involved in the transformation. Structural proteins appear in red; serotonin, a neurotransmitter, in green; and genetic material in blue.

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IU scientists to participate in Ask Me Anything session on Reddit

On Dec. 7, three IU scientists will invite the public to “Ask Me Anything.”

Hui-Chen Lu, Yousuf Ali and Hunter Allen will participate in a Q-and-A session from 1 to 2 p.m. EST on r/Science, the science message board of Reddit.

Yu and colleagues will participate in PLOS Science Wednesdays AMA Series on Dec. 7.

Lu and colleagues will participate in PLOS Science Wednesdays AMA Series on Dec. 7.

The massively popular social media platform, which hosts daily Ask Me Anything sessions, or “AMAs,” regularly attracts an audience of over 10,000 people to these online events.

The session is organized by the online peer reviewed journal PLOS as part of the PLOS Science Wednesdays AMA Series.

Earlier this year, Lu and colleagues published a paper in PLOS reporting evidence that the enzyme NMNAT2 appears to exert a protective effect on memory.

The study is significant since the research could affect how scientists understand the mechanisms behind a range of neurodegenerative diseases known as “proteinopathies,” which include Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases, as well as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

These diseases are called as proteinopathies because they occur when proteins “misfold,” causing them to grow “sticky” and clump up in the brain. These clumps of proteins are often referred to as “plaques,” or “tangles.”

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Virtual liver model could help reduce overdose risk from acetaminophen, other drugs

Biocomplexity Institute researchers at IU Bloomington create computer simulation to analyze drug absorption at the cellular to whole-body level

Researchers at Indiana University’s Biocomplexity Institute have developed a virtual model of the human liver to better understand how the organ metabolizes acetaminophen, a common non-prescription painkiller and fever-reducer used in over-the-counter drugs such as Tylenol.

The study, reported in the peer-reviewed online journal PLOS ONE, suggests that virtual tissues models could play an important role in modern pharmacokinetics, the branch of pharmacology concerned with the movement of drugs within the body.

“This image shows an overview of the multi-scale computer model for drug metabolism. The images on the left show the three biological scales in the model – the whole-body level, the liver organ level and the cellular level.”

An overview of the multi-scale computer model for drug metabolism. The images on the left show the three biological scales in the model: the whole-body level, the organ level and the cellular level.

Specifically, the study employs “virtual tissue” technology developed at the institute to model the distribution of drugs in the human body at multiple scales — time and location in the body — an ability that could help contribute to more personalized prescription guidelines that reduce the risk of overdose.

Acetaminophen metabolism is significant because poisoning from a liver metabolite of acetaminophen is the leading cause of acute liver failure in the United States, resulting in over 33,000 hospital admissions and 500 deaths each year. Acute liver failure can lead to death since the liver is the primary organ responsible for the metabolism and clearance of toxins, including drugs, from the body.

“Although this model of acetaminophen toxicity isn’t currently directed at developing interventions to accidental overdoses, it suggests a surprisingly large degree of difference in sensitivity to the drug across large populations,” said James Sluka, a research scientist at the Biocomplexity Institute, who is a co-lead author on the paper. “According to our model, as many as one in a thousand people may be unusually sensitive to the drug’s toxicity.”

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IU informatics researcher earns three federal patents to strengthen user control in the ‘app economy’

“The future is apps” is a phrase commonly uttered by technology experts. Anyone who has ever struggled to find the right app at the right time might not share that opinion, however.


Sameer Patil

Sameer Patil‘s efforts to strike at the heart of this modern dilemma — and also strengthen user privacy in the “app economy” — was recently recognized by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which has issued three patents to the assistant professor in the IU School of Informatics and Computing for his efforts on app search and discovery.

The work that led to the patents was conducted in 2014 at Quixey, a Mountain View, California-based company that aims to connect people with apps. A research scientist at Finland’s Helsinki Institute for Information Technology at the time, Patil spent four weeks during the summer of 2014 as a consultant at Quixey. He jokingly calls the job his “summer vacation” that year.

“The two major U.S. players in app search — Google’s Play Store and the Apple App Store — need improvement on two major fronts: relevance and accuracy, and search,” said Patil, who joined IU in August. “There currently isn’t a good way to sort or filter or find apps, and both services are overly focused on precise queries. If you don’t know an app happens to be called ‘Yelp,’ for example, you might not be able to find it. A search for ‘app for finding places to eat’ doesn’t cut it.”

His work at Quixey, which involved designing and conducting focus groups with users to understand their practices and preferences regarding finding and using mobile apps, generated insight that resulted in eight patent applications, three of which have been granted within the past couple of months. The common thread connecting the patents is their focus on protecting individual privacy while also opening up the convenience of social app search to a wider audience.

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Philosopher Dennett to lecture at IU Bloomington

Post by IU News and Media Specialist Steve Hinnefeld who normally writes for the Policy Briefings blog:

Daniel Dennett has been called “one of our most important living philosophers,” a “Darwinian fundamentalist” and quite a few other things, positive and negative. As Julian Baggini observed in a profile for the Guardian, big thinkers make big targets, and they don’t come much bigger than Dennett.

Dan C. Dennett

Daniel C. Dennett | Tufts University

Expect thought-provoking analysis and lively discussion this week when Dennett presents two lectures at IU Bloomington as the inaugural event in the Department of Philosophy distinguished speaker series.

Dennett will speak Nov. 10 on “From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds” and Nov. 11 on “A Magician’s View of Consciousness.” Both lectures will be from 4 to 6 p.m. in Whittenberger Auditorium of the Indiana Memorial Union. They are free and open to the public.

“For almost five decades now, Daniel Dennett has been a powerful and influential advocate for explaining minds and behavior in scientific terms,” said Gary Ebbs, professor and chair of the philosophy department. “He draws on results from biology, psychology and neuroscience to demystify the mind.  His writings and lectures weave together vivid, thought-provoking examples, informed expositions of scientific results and high-level clarifications of key concepts and experiences of our mental life.”

Dennett is co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, where he is also University Professor and Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy. He is the author of “Breaking the Spell,” “Freedom Evolves”, “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” and other books. He co-edited “The Mind’s I,” published in 1981, with IU College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor Douglas Hofstadter.

His most recent books include “Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking” and “Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind.” His latest, “From Bacteria to Bach and Back,” is in press. His TED Talks, including “The Illusion of Consciousness” and “Dangerous Memes,” have been viewed millions of times.

The author of over 400 scholarly articles, Dennett has received two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Fulbright Fellowship and a Fellowship at the Center for Advanced Studies in Behavioral Science. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1987. He was an Indiana University William T. Patten Lecturer in 2006.

For more on Dennett and his IU lectures, see Hussain Ather’s article in the Indiana Daily Student.

Robots invade and volcanos erupt on campus at third annual Science Fest

Post by IU Newsroom intern Sheila Raghavendran

On Saturday, Oct. 22, IU was overrun with robots.

These robots — machines such as PARO, the therapeutic robotic seal — were on site for holding and petting as part of the School of Informatics and Computing’s activities at the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ third annual Science Fest.

Parents and youngsters examine rocks during Science Fest outside Owen Hall on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016.

Parents and children explore rocks outside Owen Hall at IU’s third annual Science Fest.

Many science departments in the college, including chemistry, astronomy, physics and psychological and brain sciences, also hosted activities for students and the general public.

When Science Fest started in 2014, it was the first time these departments and other groups were brought together to hold an event to share science with the public all on one day, according to Tina Gilliland, outreach liaison for the College of Arts and Sciences’ Office of Science Outreach.

This year there were 15 departments and groups holding activities — the highest number Science Fest has seen.

Along with PARO, Science Fest also offered a station for people to try their hand at designing 3D models with the help of Matt Francisco, a visiting lecturer at the School of Informatics and Computing, and his students.

“The kids learn that they need to provide us with enough information to create a 3D model,” Francisco said. “They’re often very good at drawing one perspective, but it’s not enough information to do 3D modeling, so I have my assistants, who are getting them to do at least two views.”

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