ALMA's "greatest hits" album

It isn’t often that our Capital Science Evening speaker hints at soon-to-be-breaking news right from the stage.

Tuesday night, Pierre Cox, Director of the Atacama Large Milimiter/submillimeter Array, a collection of 66 radio telescopes commonly known as ALMA, let the audience know that his organization would be releasing hot news about ancient galaxies the following day.

Or, rather, cold news.


Carnegie Observatories Director John Mulchaey and Carnegie Embryology Director Yixian Zheng jointly will serve in the Office of the President on an interim basis starting January 1, 2018. Their selection as interim co-presidents was a unanimous decision of the Carnegie Board of Trustees. 

Film premiere event urges better ocean stewardship

For more than four decades, Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s beloved research vessel, Calypso, explored the world’s oceans. And on Monday night, we explored his journey from inventor and diving enthusiast to dedicated conservationist as we screened the U.S. premiere of the film L’Odysseé at our DC headquarters.

“He brought the marine world into homes across the globe—including my own—and helped people understand what made these ecosystems so special and worthy of protection,” said Carnegie President Matthew Scott at the start of the evening.

Looking for the Next Computing Leap

“I’m an engineer by training, but a scientist at heart,” Stanford University’s Kwabena Boahen told the crowd at our DC headquarters last week during the final public program of our spring season.

Throughout his talk, “Neuromorphic Computing,” Boahen emphasized how critical it is to use engineering to solve scientific problems.  

And the obstacle he is trying to overcome is a doozy—something that will affect us all.

For the past 50 years, computers have been getting smaller and more-compact, Boahen explained.

Carnegie Marches

On Saturday, Carnegie scientists, families, and friends took to the streets and marched to support science in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Pasadena, and the nation’s capital.

STEM Education: Tips from STEM Experts

Read this new flipbook of Carnegie Science to find out how experts in STEM education believe STEM professionals can advance STEM. Sign up for communications.

Washington, D.C.— Hydrogen—the most abundant element in the cosmos—responds to extremes of pressure and temperature differently. Under ambient conditions hydrogen is a gaseous two-atom molecule. As confinement pressure increases, the molecules adopt different states of matter—like when water ice melts to liquid and then heats to steam. Thus far, at extreme pressures hydrogen has four known solid phases. Now scientists, including Carnegie’s Alexander Goncharov, have combined hydrogen with its heavier sibling deuterium—which has an added neutron in its nucleus—and created a novel, disordered, “Phase IV”-material where the molecules interact differently than have been observed before. The new results, published in the October 21, issue of Physical Review Letters, could be valuable for controlling superconducting and thermoelectric properties of novel hydrogen- bearing materials.

Phase IV of dense, solid, pure hydrogen (H2) and deuterium (D2) was previously discovered by several members of the same team and others. The hydrogen molecules exhibited two very different behaviors. One weakly interacted with its neighboring molecules, while the other strongly bonded with its neighbors, forming hexagonal atomic sheets like graphene, a novel truly two-dimensional form of carbon with fascinating electronic properties. Electronically, these layers behave somewhat like a semiconductor and a semimetal. Semimetals are in between metals and semiconductors with respect to their electronic properties.

This team, led by Ross Howie of the University of Edinburgh, combined experiments and theoretical calculations. They mixed the H2 and D2 in varying concentrations and subjected them to room temperature under different pressures, ranging from about 2,000 times atmospheric pressure (.2 GPa) to about 2.7 million atmospheres (270 GPa).

Goncharov explained: “Before conducting the experiments, we thought that the material could change under pressure by several different processes. The mass differences of the molecules mean that they have very different low energy states, which would affect the outcome. In one scenario, the physics could result in the ordered segregation of the H2 and D2 molecules between strongly and weakly bounded layers.”

Under another scenario, the molecules might be randomly, or disorderly, distributed. Then there is another intriguing prospect they entertained—whether the disordered state affects the waves of atomic vibrations (called phonons) and prevents them from freely propagating, a phenomenon called Anderson localization. Typically, electrons in solids have energy values only within certain ranges. The scientists thought that vibrational wave propagation through a molecular maze might break this energy band depending on the strength of the molecular bonds, the masses, or both, and could affect just a few, local molecules.

The scientists used a technique called Raman spectroscopy, which measures the tiny quantum behavior of vibrational energy, rotational energy, and other motion in a molecular system when a laser light interacts with the molecules. They then confirmed their experiments with theoretical calculations.

The scientists found that above 1.9 million atmospheres, the vibrational waves show Anderson localization. The extent of this localization depends on the concentration of H2 and D2 and whether these molecules belong to weakly or strongly bound layers. For instance in one layer, H2 molecules vibrated in separate groups of 2 to 3 molecules at frequencies that weakly depended on the neighboring environment. As the hydrogen concentration increased, the different H2 clusters grew and started to couple. This is the first study where Anderson localization from vibrational energy has been observed by interacting with mass differences in a material.


Goncharov remarked, “The Anderson localization of vibrational excitations in hydrogen mixtures provides a new mechanism for optimizing thermoelectric and electronic behaviors, for example in superconductivity.”
This work as supported by a grant from the U.K. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.


Explore this Story

Stanford, CA—When it comes to cellular architecture, function follows form.

Plant cells contain a dynamic cytoskeleton which is responsible for directing cell growth, development, movement, and division. So over time, changes in the cytoskeleton form the shape and behavior of cells and, ultimately, the structure and function of the organism as a whole. New work led by Carnegie’s David Ehrhardt hones in on how one particular organizational protein influences cytoskeletal and cellular structure in plants, findings that may also have implications for cytoskeletal organization in animals. It is published in Current Biology.

A cell’s cytoskeleton features microtubules, which consist of the protein tubulin assembled into long tubular polymers. Tubulin and tubulin-like proteins are highly conserved evolutionarily, found in some bacteria, fungi, higher plants, and animals. They play critical roles in how cells of these organisms grow and divide.

The work from Ehrhardt’s team—which includes Carnegie’s Ankit Walia (the lead author), Masayoshi Nakamura, and Dorianne Moss—focuses on microtubule involvement in the growth of plant cells after cell division and discovers a new role for a protein previously known to be crucial for cell division in mammals.

The role of microtubules in animal cell division is well understood. As all school-children learn, cells divide using a process called mitosis, which consists of a number of phases during which duplicate copies of the cell's DNA-containing chromosomes are separated into two distinct cells. A scaffold made of microtubules is crucial for pulling the duplicated halves of the chromosome apart and directing them to each of the new daughter cells.

There is a major difference between microtubule-assisted cell division in plants and animals, however. In animal cells (as well as yeast cells), the microtubules that act to separate chromosomes during cell division are usually organized around a central structure. The arrays of microtubules facilitating plant cell division lack these kinds of central hubs. (Although sometimes in animal cells there are also microtubule arrays that don’t form around a center, either.)

How microtubules are properly positioned to perform their function without the aid of a central organizing structure is poorly understood and is the focus of Ehrhardt’s present research.

“The quantitative live-cell studies that we have helped to pioneer in plant cells has allowed us to visualize molecular mechanisms underlying the organization of microtubules that lack a central hub structure,” Ehrhardt said.

What they found is that a protein called GCP-WD, which plays a key role in the central microtubule organizational structure in mammals, is also crucial in plants. It is key for positioning the formation of individual microtubules in plant cells and also important for the organization and function of plant cell skeletons overall, beyond just the division process.

Thus, GCP-WD is a key factor in determining the form and the function of plant cells, by influencing their architecture.

“In addition to the new insights into plant cell microtubule organization, these observations of GCP-WD function will be of interest to scientists studying microtubules in animals, where GCP-WD has been challenging to observe it in action,” Ehrhardt added.


Caption: Microtubule images courtesy of Ankit Walia. 

This work was supported by endowment funds of the Carnegie Institution for Science and an HFSP fellowship for a post-doctoral fellow.

Explore this Story