Researchers, scholars and experts from The University of Texas at Austin are sought by news outlets every week for their knowledge, expertise and insights. Here’s a selection of some big media hits from the past month.
A team of scientists from the Jackson School of Geosciences traveled to Long Island to survey the sea floor. They’re looking for the sand and sediment from area beaches and barrier islands that Hurricane Sandy washed away. Christopher Joyce, of NPR News, took a trip into Long Island Sound with the team, capturing the sights and sounds of their chilly work. Here’s an excerpt:
Once we’re out in the sound, chief scientist John Goff turns on one of its sonar scanners, called a CHIRP. It starts, well, chirping. Relentlessly. Goff laughs. “That’s the CHIRP … what we get to listen to,” he says.
We drive back and forth in the sound. Goff calls it “mowing the lawn.” Goff admits this part of sea-floor mapping is boring. What’s interesting is the interaction between the shore and the sea-floor. “They feed off each other,” he says. “You know the sea-floor sand could be a source for replenishing the beach, you know, naturally as well as artificially. Or the beach can be sending sediment out to the ocean. So it goes back and forth.”
Goff learned to locate refugee sand in the Gulf of Mexico after Hurricane Ike in 2008. He’s trying to perfect the method. He thinks shore communities are going to need it. “We’re going to expect more storms in the future if global warming continues,” he says, “so understanding the impact of these storms is really important.”
John Goff and Jamie Austin are joined on the survey trip by University of Texas Institute for Geophysics colleagues Steffen Saustrup, seismic data acquisition specialist, and graduate student Cassandra Browne.
What’s Holding Energy Tech Back? The Infernal Battery
Time, Associated Press, Washington Post
Lithium ion batteries, the rechargeable power source for today’s ubiquitous electronic devices, were a major engineering milestone when they first appeared 25 years ago. They store more energy at a higher voltage and lighter weight than other batteries. But, as the Associated Press notes in a story that also ran in Time and the Washington Post, lithium ion batteries have limitations — including overheating, short-circuiting and exploding — that limit their effectiveness in larger applications, such as electric cars and efficient airplanes (Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliners have been grounded worldwide because of a rash of well-publicized problems).
Looking to the future of batteries, the Associated Press sought comment from engineering professor John Goodenough, whose breakthrough led to the commercialization of lithium ion batteries more than two decades ago. “I’m working on it,” said the 90-year-old scholar, who will receive the National Medal of Science in February.
Obama Comes Out Swinging for Second Term
Los Angeles Times
In the lead up to President Obama’s second inauguration, the Los Angeles Times offered an analysis of the President’s approach to bipartisanship and driving his legislative agenda. The article noted that a president’s second term may feel shorter than his first, given how quickly a reelected leader transforms into a lame duck.
“In second terms the window of opportunity is pretty narrow, maybe 18 months,” said University of Texas professor H.W. Brands, one of a group of historians who have met several times with Obama for off-the-record dinners to discuss the presidency. “After that, they are really lame ducks.”
“Some vaccines we have on the market now are not as good as they need to be…and there is the possibility that there could be something we cannot vaccinate now that this system could help with,” said M. Stephen Trent, associate professor of molecular genetics and microbiology, in a story on KUT News about new research about improving vaccines.
The researchers have developed 61 strains of genetically engineered E. Coli bacteria to be used as adjuvants, the substances mixed in with vaccines that stimulate and improve the human body’s immune response to vaccinations.
ABC News, along with other media outlets, reported on a potential new treatment for HIV that addresses the volatility of the virus. Sara Sawyer and researchers from Stanford used genetically modified cells to prevent HIV from causing infection. Here’s an excerpt from the story:
Using genetic modification to treat HIV could create cells that are resistant to the two major types of the virus, preventing it from evolving into AIDS, according to a new study.
Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine and the University of Texas at Austin used a method known as targeted trait stacking to paste a series of HIV-resistant genes into T cells — immune cells targeted by the AIDS virus — blocking infection as HIV tries to enter the cell by altering the two major entry ways into the cells, CCR5 and CXCR4. Any truly useful treatment for HIV would have to protect against entry via both of these receptors.
“We inactivated the CCR5 gene, and then introduced 3 additional genes,” Dr. Matthew Porteus, an associate professor of pediatrics at Stanford and lead investigator in the study, told ABC News. “When cells had all four of these traits, we found that after 25 days the cells were completely resistant to both types of HIV.”
One of the major obstacles to treating HIV is the high mutation rate of the virus. Patients must use a cocktail mix of drugs, known as Highly Active AntiRetroviral Therapy (HAART), in order to fight the virus at different stages.
“HIV is a great shape shifter,” said Sara Sawyer, an assistant professor of molecular genetics and microbiology at the University of Texas at Austin and co-author of the study. “It can come up with new solutions, so a single drug does not work very well. That’s why HIV patients are given multiple drugs at once.”