NSM Faculty/Staff Newsletter

From the Office of the Dean

Recognition & Honors

Xiaojia Chen (Physics, TcSUH) is corresponding author of “Synthesis and superconductivity in yttrium-cerium hydrides at high pressures” in Nature Communications. The research addresses the synthesis, phonon and structural properties, and superconductivity in hydrides. To date, only a few hydrides were found to exhibit superconductivity at relatively high temperatures — above liquid nitrogen boiling temperature of 77 K and near room temperature of 300 K. YH9 and LaH10 were recognized as two high-temperature superconducting hydrides. However, their superconductivity needs the application of pressure near 300 GPa; the pressure level near the inner core of the Earth. This is far beyond the capabilities of general laboratories. This paper reports the discoveries of the synthesis and superconductivity in Y0.5Ce0.5H9, revealing this hydride can hold relatively high superconducting transition temperature at modest pressures. The work involved colleagues at the Center for High Pressure Science and Technology Advanced Research, Harbin Institute of Technology, Shanghai Advanced Research Institute, Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology, and Zhejiang University in China, Italy’s National Institute of Optics and European Laboratory for Non-Linear Spectroscopy, and Sungkyunkwan University in Korea.

Pete Copeland (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences) received a four-year, $1M grant from the National Science Foundation to support enhanced field trip opportunities for undergraduates to study geologic formations in their actual setting. The program is called FIELDGeo — Field Investigations and Education Leading to Degrees in Geoscience. The program, funded through mid-2027, will involve up to a total of 200 students taking eight-day field trips to west Texas and southeast New Mexico in the first week of each year. The program also includes participation from teachHOUSTON and Wharton County Junior College students. Pre-trip student seminars describe the rocks and formation types to be encountered in person. After the field trip, advanced students can follow up with deeper research. All student expenses are covered in the program, even necessary gear for novice campers. Other EAS faculty involved include Rob Stewart, Mike Murphy, Brandee Carlson, and Jinny Sisson.

Minako Righter (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences) returned from her second trip with the Antarctic Search for Meteorites (ANSMET). The expedition ran from late November to early February. Righter was part of an eight-person team that recovered more than 200 meteorites. ANSMET is a U.S.-led field-based science project that recovers meteorite specimens from Antarctica. Since 1976, more than 23,000 specimens have been recovered from meteorite stranding surfaces along the Transantarctic Mountains. These specimens are a reliable, continuous source of new, non-microscopic extraterrestrial material and support thousands of scientists from around the globe as they seek essential “ground-truth” concerning the materials that make up the asteroids, planets, and other bodies of our solar system. ANSMET is funded by NASA and run by Case Western Reserve University. After each field season, the newly recovered specimens are shipped (still frozen) to the Antarctic Meteorite Laboratory at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

Madhan Tirumalai (Biology & Biochemistry) published “Education and public outreach: communicating science through storytelling” in the Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education (American Society for Microbiology journal). In the article, he describes his experience in what began as a one-off participation at an outreach event and led to a series of public speaking events at several astronomy clubs/societies, observatories, and other locations in Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Colorado. His talks have often involved the use of motifs and characters from popular science fiction, literature, and movies to explain microbiology, extremophiles, and astrobiology. This approach has led to audience involvement. His paper addresses how innovative means of communication in science, when used effectively, can make an impact in the STEM fields.

Quentin Vicens (Biology & Biochemistry, CNRCS) published “Zα Domain of ADAR1 Binds to an A-Form-like Nucleic Acid Duplex with Low Micromolar Affinity” in the journal Biochemistry with colleagues from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. Z-RNA biology is an emerging area of research with implications in auto-immune diseases and cancer. The team’s experimental evidence reveals that a protein domain known to stabilize left-handed Z-RNA double helices also binds to the more common right-handed double helix, only somewhat more loosely. This work helps address some aspects of our mechanistic understanding of the right-to-left transition of RNA double helices. These findings also illuminate approaches that aim to identify Z-RNA in cells.

Arthur Weglein (Physics) will deliver an invited keynote presentation at the Global Congress on Physics and its Applications (GCPA). The conference, scheduled for March 21–23, will be held in Rome. Weglein will present “Advances in Fundamental Directed Seismic Physics Research: Translational Opportunities in Other Areas of Inverse Scattering/Target Identification.” GCPA 2024’s objective is to provide a unique platform for discussing the most recent innovations, practical challenges encountered, and solutions adopted in physics.

Julia Wellner (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences, corresponding author), Ph.D. graduate Rachel Clark (lead author), graduate student Asmara Lehrmann, and former undergraduate Georgina Garcia-Barrera published a new study in the journal PNAS that suggests that significant thinning and retreat of Thwaites Glacier began in the 1940s. Their results on the Thwaites Glacier coincide with previous work that studied retreat of Pine Island Glacier and found its retreat began in the ’40s as well. Clark and the study authors posit that the glacial retreat was likely kicked off by an extreme El Niño climate pattern that warmed the west Antarctic region. Since then, the glacier has not recovered and is currently contributing to 4% of global sea-level rise. The work was part of the Thwaites Offshore Research project, or THOR, an international collaboration whose team members are authors of the study. Wellner is the U.S. lead investigator of THOR. Other authors are from the British Antarctic Survey, University of Alabama, University of Virginia, Cardiff University, Columbia University, University of Cambridge, University of Leipzig, and Ion Beam Physics in Zurich.
     Wellner also delivered a public talk for North Shepherd Brewing’s Pint-Sized Science series. Her talk, “The Science of Antarctica’s Ice Edge” addressed the geology, sedimentology, oceanography, glaciology, and climate change of Antarctica. She also talked about how one goes about studying these things in Antarctica.