Archive for the ‘University of Texas’ Category

Glaciers in Antarctica are being melted not only by warmer ocean waters but also by underwater volcanoes, a change in our basic understanding of what’s happening underneath West Antarctica’s ice sheet, scientists say.

Geothermal heat from underneath is helping melt the region’s Thwaites Glacier, in the headlines recently for its rapid melt and retreat, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin say.

Scientists in the university’s Institute for Geophysics say they used ice-penetrating radar aboard aircraft to find significant geothermal heat sources — hotter and spread over a broader area than previously thought — underneath the glacier.

Caused by magma moving underground and volcanic activity associated with that movement, geothermal heat might represent a significant factor in changing the stability of the ice mass above, they researchers reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Rather than a uniform region of heat beneath, like a pancake griddle, geothermal sources under the Thwaites Glacier more resemble a stove top with a multitude of burners emitting heat in different locations and at different levels, research scientist Don Blankenship says.

“It’s the most complex thermal environment you might imagine,” he says. “And then you plop the most critical dynamically unstable ice sheet on planet Earth in the middle of this thing, and then you try to model it. It’s virtually impossible.”

The geothermal heat under the glacier averages around 100 milliwatts in each square meter, the researchers said, with some hotspots putting out 200 milliwatts per square meter.

Under the Earth’s other continents the average is less than 65 milliwatts per square meter, they said.

The Thwaites Glacer is an outflow glacier — pushing into the Amundsen Sea — that is the size of Florida and hold the key to trying to predict possible future rises in sea levels, they said.

Studying it could help yield clues to the future state of the entire West Antarctic Ice sheet, they added.

A complete collapse of Thwaites Glacier could push global sea levels up by three to six feet, and a melting of the entire ice sheet could double that, the researchers said.

The combination of warm ocean water and underlying geothermal heat makes the future of the glacier difficult to predict, lead study author Dusty Schroeder says.

“The combination of variable subglacial geothermal heat flow and the interacting subglacial water system could threaten the stability of Thwaites Glacier in ways that we never before imagined,” he says.

http://www.techtimes.com/articles/8268/20140610/underground-volcanoes-spur-antartic-glaciar-melt.htm

Advertisements

Scientists probing the link between depression and a hormone that controls hunger have found that the hormone’s antidepressant activity is due to its ability to protect newborn neurons in a part of the brain that controls mood, memory, and complex eating behaviors. Moreover, the researchers also showed that a new class of neuroprotective molecules achieves the same effect by working in the same part of the brain, and may thus represent a powerful new approach for treating depression.

“Despite the availability of many antidepressant drugs and other therapeutic approaches, major depression remains very difficult to treat,” says Andrew Pieper, associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine and Department of Veterans Affairs, and co-senior author of the study.

In the new study, Pieper and colleagues from University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center led by Jeffrey Zigman, associate professor of internal medicine and psychiatry at UT Southwestern, focused on understanding the relationship between depression, the gut hormone ghrelin, and the survival of newborn neurons in the hippocampus, the brain region involved in mood, memory, and eating behaviors.

“Not only did we demonstrate that the P7C3 compounds were able to block the exaggerated stress-induced depression experienced by mice lacking ghrelin receptors, but we also showed that a more active P7C3 analog was able to complement the antidepressant effect of ghrelin in normal mice, increasing the protection against depression caused by chronic stress in these animals,” Zigman explains.

“The P7C3 compounds showed potent antidepressant activity that was based on their neurogenesis-promoting properties,” Pieper adds. “Another exciting finding was that our experiments showed that the highly active P7C3 analog acted more rapidly and was more effective [at enhancing neurogenesis] than a wide range of currently available antidepressant drugs.”

The findings suggest that P7C3-based compounds may represent a new approach for treating depression. Drugs based on P7C3 might be particularly helpful for treating depression associated with chronic stress and depression associated with a reduced response to ghrelin activity, which may occur in conditions such as obesity and anorexia nervosa.

Future studies, including clinical trials, will be needed to investigate whether the findings are applicable to other forms of depression, and determine whether the P7C3 class will have antidepressant effects in people with major depression.

The hippocampus is one of the few regions in the adult brain where new neurons are continually produced – a process known as neurogenesis. Certain neurological diseases, including depression, interfere with neurogenesis by causing death of these new neurons, leading to a net decrease in the number of new neurons produced in the hippocampus.

Ghrelin, which is produced mainly by the stomach and is best known for its ability to stimulate appetite, also acts as a natural antidepressant. During chronic stress, ghrelin levels rise and limit the severity of depression caused by long-term stress. When mice that are unable to respond to ghrelin experience chronic stress they have more severe depression than normal mice.

In the new study, Pieper and Zigman’s team showed that disrupted neurogenesis is a contributing cause of depression induced by chronic stress, and that ghrelin’s antidepressant effect works through the hormone’s ability to enhance neurogenesis in the hippocampus. Specifically, ghrelin helps block the death of these newborn neurons that otherwise occurs with depression-inducing stress. Importantly, the study also shows that the new “P7C3-class” of neuroprotective compounds, which bolster neurogenesis in the hippocampus, are powerful, fast-acting antidepressants in an animal model of stress-induced depression. The results were published online April 22 in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

Potential for new antidepressant drugs

The neuroprotective compounds tested in the study were discovered about eight years ago by Pieper, then at UT Southwestern Medical Center, and colleagues there, including Steven McKnight and Joseph Ready. The root compound, known as P7C3, and its analogs protect newborn neurons from cell death, leading to an overall increase in neurogenesis. These compounds have already shown promising neuroprotective effects in models of neurodegenerative disease, including Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and traumatic brain injury. In the new study, the team investigated whether the neuroprotective P7C3 compounds would reduce depression in mice exposed to chronic stress, by enhancing neurogenesis in the hippocampus.

http://now.uiowa.edu/2014/04/protecting-new-neurons-reduces-depression-caused-stress

CrazyAnts_m_0214

By Tanya Lewis, LiveScience

All over the southern United States, miniature foes are engaging in fierce battle. Invasive “crazy ants” have been displacing fire ants, and a curious defensive strategy may be behind the crazy ants’ bold takeover.

Fire ants pack potent venom that kills most ants that come into contact with it. But when crazy ants get stung, they secrete a substance and rub it all over themselves to neutralize the venom, new research finds.

This detoxifying behavior — the first example of an insect capable of detoxifying another’s venom — may be the reason crazy ants have been able to compete with the venomous fire ants, according to the study detailed online on Feb. 13 in the journal Science.

“As this plays out, unless something new and different happens, crazy ants are going to displace fire ants from much of the southeastern U.S. and become the new ecologically dominant invasive ant species,” study leader Ed LeBrun, a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, said in a statement.

Fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) invaded the U.S. South in the 1930s, hailing from their native South America home. Another South American species, tawny (or raspberry) crazy ants (Nylanderia fulva) — named for their color and their quick, erratic movements — invaded Texas and Florida in the early 2000s, and have been steamrolling fire ant populations in the South ever since.

When fire ants attack, they dab their enemies with powerful venom that usually kills other insects. But LeBrun’s team noticed that after crazy ants were dabbed with the venom, they would stand on their hind and middle legs, curl their abdomens — which are covered in glands that secrete formic acid — and smear the acid all over their bodies.

To study how the detoxing substance worked, the researchers sealed off the crazy ants’ glands with nail polish and then placed the ants in a container with red fire ants. Only about half of these crazy ants survived after being dabbed with venom by the fire ants, compared with 98 percent of unpainted crazy ants.

The researchers aren’t sure exactly how the formic acid protects crazy ants from the fire ant venom. The acid may protect the crazy ant by destroying venom proteins and preventing them from penetrating the ant’s exoskeleton.
Crazy ants and fire ants are both native to northern Argentina, Paraguay and southern Brazil, where their territories overlap. The crazy ants likely evolved their detoxifying behavior alongside their venomous neighbors, the researchers said.

In contrast to fire ants, crazy ants don’t confine themselves to mounds in the garden. They crawl inside homes and even swarm inside electronic appliances — shorting out phones, air conditioners and other devices.

“When you talk to folks who live in the invaded areas, they tell you they want their fire ants back,” LeBrun told Live Science previously.

Crazy ants don’t have as painful a sting as fire ants, but they multiply more quickly and don’t eat the same ant poison bait, scientists say. Fortunately, the crazy ant invasion moves slowly, advancing only about 600 feet (180 meters) per year, except if transported in potted plants or vehicles. LeBrun recommends that people check plants for ant nests before buying them, and check their cars before traveling if they live in crazy ant-infested areas.

Other than human activities, geology and climate are the only factors standing in the way of these determined insects, which continue their relentless takeover of the South.

http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/stories/crazy-ants-use-a-secret-weapon-to-aid-their-invasion-of-the-southern

John-McKetta-in-1931

Dean-McKettas-portrait-1984

More-about-McKetta-1

More-about-McKetta-2

By Forrest Preece
West Austin News

Part 1

In 1903, a 14-year-old Ukrainian boy named John McKetta packed a suitcase and headed for Pennsylvania for $25, ($15 of which he gave to his father), a job in the coal mines, and a place to live.

That youngster had a lot on his mind – mainly how to survive in a new country and how to adjust to working deep underground for long hours. It’s doubtful he would have imagined his namesake son would become the world’s most prominent chemical engineer; receive the “International Chemical Engineering Award” in Venice, Italy; be one of the most revered professors ever to teach at The University of Texas, with a large academic department named after him; and serve as an energy adviser to five United States presidents. All of that would take a while.

When John, Jr., the subject of this column, was born in 1915, he faced the bleak prospect of finishing public school and then a lifetime of backbreaking work in the coal mines. That was the only career option – six days a week in the mines – the same as his father and uncle and the other men in Wyano, Pa., population 200. But before John could start the first grade, he and the other kids his age had to learn English. So they began a month early, were given primers, and they could all speak English when it was time for school to start. (“It can be done — that’s why I don’t like the idea of having double-language schools,” he says.)

For three years after he finished high school, John, Jr. went 475 feet underground into a seven-foot coal vein, six days a week.
”At least we could stand up! The men in Kentucky were in four-foot veins and had to stoop and crawl around all day,” he says.

During those three years, the most he ever made in a week was $3, based on 25 cents per ton of coal he brought out of the ground. In that era, the workers had no electric equipment to use. It was strictly pick-and-shovel manual labor.

“I hated every minute of it,” John says.

Then one day, he saw a book that changed his life. It was by a man named Porter about the process of carbonization that extracted energy from coal.

“There were people called chemical engineers who made this happen,” John says. “I wanted to be one of them.”

So he obtained a list of colleges in the country that had chemical engineering programs and determined to keep writing to them until one would accept him. With no typewriter or even a pen to use, he kept grinding out pencil-written letters.

”About the best I could do was three or four letters a night.”

Of the first 54 colleges he applied to, none even gave him the courtesy of a rejection letter. Finally, President Burton Handy of Tri-State University in Angola, Indiana wrote him back. His letter said, “If we admit you, we will provide you with a job that will help you pay for your tuition and your lodging. Please come talk to us.”

That was on a Friday. The next day, he put $10.20 in his pocket and hitchhiked across Ohio to Indiana.

“In those days, people would pick up a kid with a suitcase.”

When he arrived on Monday, he made a beeline for the registrar’s office. When he got there, he gave the receptionist his name. She flipped through her files, looked startled and said, “Oh yes, Mr. McKetta, President Handy wants to see you.”

John says that the president leaped out of his chair, came over and gave him a slap on the back. “He admired me for being willing to apply.”

The upshot of the conversation they then had was that John would have a job making twenty cents an hour, twenty hours a week. Of that $4.00 total weekly salary, he’d pay $2.00 for tuition and $2.00 for a room at a house off campus run by a lady named Mrs. Nichols.

After meeting Mrs. Nichols, and seeing his room that he’d be sharing, he decided to get a cup of coffee at a local diner. As it happened, the owner of the diner was just preparing a “Dishwasher Wanted” sign to put in his window. John asked about it and found out that it paid no money, but for every hour worked, it meant a free meal. He took the job and was just beaming over all his good fortune.

Then things got even better. He ran into a local bandleader named Ray Bodie who needed a second trumpet and John had played that instrument in the Wyano Volunteer Fire Department Band.

He told Bodie that he could sit in on Wednesday and Saturday nights, if he could find a trumpet to use. That was even more income. A year later, he started his own 12-piece band called JJKK – “Johnny Jay and the Kampus Kollegians” an, started playing gigs all over the thriving 3,000-person metropolis of Angola.

He paid himself $1.01 (sometimes $1.50) and hi musicians got 75 cents for their performances. All the while, he was diligently studying every night and he kept a coal miner’s cap on his desk for a very good reason.

“When some of the guy would ask me to go shoot pool, I’d just look at that cap and remember being in the mine and say ‘No, I have to study.”

Part 2
What can you say about a 98-year-old college professor who still goes to his office at The University of Texas at Austin three days a week, around 6 a.m. and stays for several hours to visit with researchers? Who still calls eight to ten of his former students a day -and laments how fast they are dying? And who still operates at a level of energy and good-hearted enthusiasm that would shame most 40- year-olds?

John McKetta, Jr. does all of that and more. In a recent interview with him at his apartment at Westninster Manor, where he has resided for eight years, John told me about his life. It has been quite a journey: from his post-high school years laboring in the coal mines of rural Pennsylvania to his career in chemical engineering, where he gained worldwide recognition for his teaching, research, publications and administrative ability.

He also told me about his family: his beloved wife Helen “Pinky” McKetta, who he married in 1943 and who passed away in 2011; his sons Charles, Mike and Randy and his daughter Mary Anne.

If you read part one of my column about him last week, you know that through dogged perseverance, he was accepted as a student at Tri-State University in Angola, Indiana, where he excelled in the chemical engineering program.

“The faculty members were so wonderful to me! And when I graduated, they got me job at the Michigan Alkali, CO. in Wyandotte, Michigan, near Detroit.”

His work there was exciting, but he started hearing about this company called Dow that was doing amazing things in the realm of producing chemicals from gas and oil.

Dr. George Granger Brown (or as he was jokingly called, “Great God” Brown), was a chief consultant to Dow and the chairman of the chemical engineering department at the University of Michigan. One day John drove his 1928 Ford up to meet this notable man. Soon he was a student again, working toward his Ph.D.

One night in an off-campus coffee shop, he met Pinky Smith, the love of his life. Who married him a few months later. Her name still crawls across his home office’s computer screen.

While he was at Michigan doing his Ph.D. research, John and one of his professors, Dr. Donald Katz, developed a set of tables relating to underground temperature and pressure in gas and oil wells that reveal the composition of the surrounding terrain. These McKetta and Katz tables are still in widespread use.

Partially thanks to his desire to be “where the oil and gas was underground,” he came to Texas. Besides that, Dow Chemical in Freeport was doing amazing things.

“God was with me when I decided to come to Texas and I got hired at the University in 1946.”

John would progress up the ladder at UT from assistant professor to professor, to chairman of the Department of Chemical Engineering to dean of the College of Engineering.

For a while, he was executive vice-chancellor for the UT system under Chancellor Harry Ransom. That was during the period when they were establishing UT Permian Basin, UT Dallas, UT El Paso and UT San Antonio and John was the key executive in that effort.

One conversation John recalls from his early days on the faculty is when, in 1948, he was having lunch with his colleagues in the College of Engineering and Professor Bill Cunningham (not the man who would later be president of UT) brought in a list of the top 50 engineering schools. UT wasn’t on it; Rice was number 26.

He laughs and says, “As of last year, we were number four on a similar list. For 40 years, he was on the payroll and taught at UT for another 20 years, he donated his time to teaching courses.

Also, with the $6,900,000 in the McKetta Fund which he established with a $964,000 personal gift, many outstanding students have scholarships so they concentrate on their studies. “It’s just wonderful for these students to have this financial support,” he says.

What changes has he seen in his field? He warms to the subject of bioengineering which is a topic that only recently has come to the fore.

“Forrest, when I wave my hand at you like this, there are something like 80,000 cells in my body involved. Your whole body is a chemical plant.”

Long story short, there are researchers at UT Austin who are zeroing in on being able to provide pinpointed medication to the parts of the body that cure certain diseases. John says that years ago, he went to the chairman of the board of directors of St. David’s Hospital and asked him to bring some of his MDs over to talk to the engineering faculty on a regular, voluntary basis about bioengineering.

Something like 80 percent of his engineering faculty members showed up for the talks, because they were all interested in this new field of research.

As a result, now there is a new $60,000,000 Bioengineering Building on the UT Austin campus. So what advice would he give to a student starting in engineering? First, they have to be interested in the field. And he says that there are two traits he looks for: curiosity and “judicious discontent.”

“I like kids who ask ‘why’ and ‘what can I do about it?’”

One last note – for many years, Dr. McKetta kept a miner’s cap on his UT office desk, as a reminder of how much better it is to be a professor than working in the mines. Oh – and being a Longhorn football fan to the max, he says that Mack Brown is going to have a terrific season this year.

http://www.che.utexas.edu/2013/09/06/a-journey-to-greatness-started-in-a-coal-mine/

Thanks to Dr. Rajadhyaksha for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.