BRITTANY STEFF | Science Writer

Purdue astronomer speechless in the face of new images from space telescope

Star birth, star death, exoplanets, galaxies and a window that looks back to the universe 13.1 billion years ago: That’s what the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) delivered when it released its first handful of scientific images on July 12. As he has from the beginning, astronomer Danny Milisavljevic watched with fellow astronomers, witnessing the universe unfold before his eyes. “These images were incredible,” Milisavljevic said. “JWST just launched a new era of space exploration. The images pushed the envelope of my understanding – of my ability to even explain what I was seeing. These images reveal all sorts of structures that we have never seen before and led me to ask all sorts of questions that I had never even thought to ask.”

Fossils in the ‘Cradle of Humankind’ may be more than a million years older than previously thought

The earth doesn’t give up its secrets easily – not even in the “Cradle of Humankind” in South Africa, where a wealth of fossils relating to human evolution have been found. For decades, scientists have studied these fossils of early human ancestors and their long-lost relatives. Now, a dating method developed by a Purdue University geologist just pushed the age of some of these fossils found at the site of Sterkfontein Caves back more than a million years. This would make them older than Dinkinesh, also called Lucy, the world’s most famous Australopithecus fossil.

What the Nose Doesn’t Know Helps Wildlife: Using Olfactory Cues to Protect Vulnerable Species

Animals – both herbivores and predators – follow their noses for a broad range of food sources. The principle applies to hunters trying to ferret out easy prey or grazers searching for the richest plants. Now, behavioral ecologists have discovered a way to harness animals’ olfactory ability to protect vulnerable plants and endangered animals.

Undergraduate students conduct hands-on research: Soil-dwelling bacteriophages may hold the future of medicine, honor President Daniels

At Purdue University, undergraduates get to get their hands dirty in the lab. Metaphorically, of course – their hands and labs are clean, but their understanding of the in-depth complexities of the research process as an organic and opportunistic process is richly rooted in lived experience. Even during the pandemic, students and their professors adapted to ensure that students continued to get hands-on practice, discovering new, potentially therapeutic viruses.

Physicists discover method for emulating nonlinear quantum electrodynamics in a laboratory setting

On the big screen, in video games and in our imaginations, lightsabers flare and catch when they clash together.That clashing, or interference, happens only in fiction – and in places with enormous magnetic and electric fields, which happens in nature only near massive objects such as neutron stars. Physicists have discovered that it is possible to produce this effect in the laboratory using a class of novel materials

Purdue scientist helps guide the eyes of soon-to-launch Webb Space Telescope, successor to Hubble

The sight of the stars the first time he peered into a telescope floored Danny Milisavljevic. There, right before his eyes, was an entire universe full of planets and details, unexplored and unexpected. Now an assistant professor of physics and astronomy in Purdue University’s College of Science, Milisavljevic is helping bring details from the world’s newest and most powerful telescope: the James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, which allowed humans to see farther into space and deeper into time.

Training computers to tease out the subtext behind the text

It is hard enough for humans to interpret the deeper meaning and context of social media and news articles. Asking computers to do it is a nearly impossible task. Even C-3PO, fluent in over 6 million forms of communication, misses the subtext much of the time. Natural language processing, the subfield of artificial intelligence connecting computers with human languages, uses statistical methods to analyze language, often without incorporating the real-world context needed for understanding the shifts and currents of human society. To do that, you have to translate online communication, and the context from which it emerges, into something the computers can parse and reason over.

Researchers study the link between vitamin D and inflammation

An active metabolite of vitamin D—(not the over-the-counter version) — is involved in shutting down inflammation, which could potentially be beneficial in patients with severe COVID-19. Previous studies have shown vitamin D’s ability to reduce the inflammation caused by T cells — inflamed cells in the lung characteristic of the most severe and dangerous cases of COVID-19. But as important as understanding that a drug works is understanding the how and the why. This is both to maximize benefit and minimize harm (such as preventing people from eating livestock dewormer or injecting household cleaners into their veins) as well as to pave the way for future treatments.

Black-Footed Ferrets: Top Milestones for a Species Once Presumed Extinct

Black-footed ferrets, North America’s only native ferret species, were thought to have gone extinct in 1979. On Sept. 26, 1981, a black-footed ferret was discovered on the Wyoming prairie. From that unlikely occurrence, an entire species began its comeback — one of the most remarkable conservation stories on Earth. In honor of the 40th anniversary of the discovery of the last black-footed ferret colony, here are five of this miraculous species’ momentous conservation milestones.

Putting a price tag on the priceless: Real-world property values in Kenya aid conservation decisions

Wildlife is priceless, but wildlife conservation is far from free. Being able to assess the value of land is vital to the success of land conservation. In an effort to bolster this understanding, a Kenyan ecologist, Peter Tyrrell of the University of Oxford and the South Rift Association of Landowners, turned to data science methods to mine data from real estate websites to determine how land is valued across Kenya.

Farm-dwelling Tree Swallows are Feeding Their Chicks Pesticide-laced Prey

On agricultural landscapes, pesticides travel through food webs and can negatively affect local wildlife populations. However, few studies have considered the long-term, cumulative effect of multiple pesticides on avian species, and most are carried out with treated food in a laboratory setting, not in the living landscape. Other studies have analyzed pesticides in the soil and water, but not in the food web itself.
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Spe·cies rich·ness  (noun)

  1. A technical term from the field of ecology. The number of different species present in an ecological community, landscape, or region.
  2. More philosophically, a lovely and poetic phrase that conveys the value and wonder inherent in the range of species on the planet and in all the amazing detail of the living world.
  3. A freelance science writer's call sign (see above).

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