Cosmic Ray Influences On Star Formation in Galaxies (Cosmology)

The triggering of star formation, and also its quenching, is regulated by young massive stars in galaxies which inject energy and momentum into the interstellar medium. Feedback from the supermassive black holes at galaxies’ nuclei plays a similarly important role. These processes drive the massive gas outflows observed in galaxies, for example. However the details including how they work and the relative roles of the different feedback processes are actively debated. Cosmic rays in particular are accelerated in strong shocks formed by supernova explosions and stellar winds (both aspects of star formation), and generate considerable pressure in the interstellar medium. They play a central role in regulating thermal balance in dense molecular clouds where most stars form and may play an important role in regulating star formation, driving galactic winds, and even in determining the character of the intergalactic medium. Astronomers believe that a key property limiting cosmic ray influence is the ability to propagate out of the sites where they are produced into the interstellar medium and beyond the disk, but the details are not very well understood.

CfA astronomer Vadim Semenov and two collaborators used computer simulations to explore how such a variation of cosmic ray propagation can affect star formation in galaxies, motivated by recent observations of gamma-ray emission from nearby sources of cosmic rays including star clusters and supernova remnants. The observations probe the propagation of cosmic rays because a significant fraction of gamma-ray emission is believed to be produced when cosmic rays interact with interstellar gas. The observed gamma-ray fluxes suggest that cosmic ray propagation near such sources can be locally suppressed by a significant factor, up to several orders of magnitude. Theoretical works suggest that such suppression can result from nonlinear interactions of cosmic rays with magnetic fields and turbulence.

The scientists used the simulations to probe the effects of suppressing the transport of cosmic rays near the sources. They find that suppression causes a local pressure buildup and produces strong pressure gradients that prevent the formation of the massive clumps of molecular gas that make new stars, qualitatively changing the global distribution of star formation, especially in massive, gas-rich galaxies which are prone to clump formation. They conclude that this cosmic-ray effect regulates the development of the structure of the galaxy’s disk and is an important complement to the other processes active in shaping the galaxy.

Featured image: An image of a galaxy seen face-on in a simulation. It shows the distribution of gas over the galaxy (red is higher density and blue is lower density); the clumpiness of the gas is apparent. When cosmic ray transport is suppressed, the simulations show that this clumpiness is reduced, in turn reducing the star formation activity. Astronomers modeling cosmic-ray influences on star formation have motivated their simulations with gamma-ray observations to investigate cosmic ray transport. Credit: Semenov et al., 2021


Reference: Vadim A. Semenov et al, Cosmic-Ray Diffusion Suppression in Star-forming Regions Inhibits Clump Formation in Gas-rich Galaxies, The Astrophysical Journal (2021). DOI: 10.3847/1538-4357/abe2a6


Provided by Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

What Happens To Space Time When Cosmic Objects Collide? (Cosmology)

Everything we can observe in the Universe takes place in four dimensions—the three dimensions of space and the dimension of time. This basic system, known as spacetime, can distort in the presence of massive astronomical objects, bending light and even affecting time.

Gravitational Waves and Fluctuations in Spacetime

Based on Albert Einstein’s 1915 General Theory of Relativity, massive objects bend the fabric of spacetime, giving rise to what we know as gravity. But when these objects accelerate, like when two black holes are orbiting each other, they cause tiny disturbances in spacetime, called gravitational waves, that propagate throughout the Universe at the speed of light. 

Gravitational waves are extremely small, roughly one billionth the width of a single atom. As they travel uninterrupted throughout the Universe, they slightly compress and stretch spacetime. We are periodically distorted by gravitational waves, although we cannot sense it. Though the search for gravitational waves has taken decades, technology has only recently advanced to the point where we can directly detect them.

The first directly observed gravitational waves reached Earth on September 14, 2015 after traveling more than a billion light years. By analyzing the signal, astronomers were able to deduce that two black holes were locked in a binary orbit and as they spiraled into each other, they released energy in the form of gravitational waves.

Several more examples of gravitational waves were observed, demonstrating that these events are not that rare in the Universe. Then, on August 17, 2017, a different kind of signal was recorded that corresponded to the merger of two neutron stars, the super dense compact objects created by supernovae. A call went out to the astronomical community, and within hours, an electromagnetic counterpart was discovered.

What We’re Learning

In the few years since the direct detection of gravitational waves, these barely perceptible bends in spacetime have taught us a lot about our Universe.

  • How Old is the Universe? In the case of the neutron star collision, by measuring the strength of gravitational waves, we’re able to compute a distance to the event and its host galaxy, NGC 4993. We know that the further a galaxy is, the faster it moves away. When we measure how the the light from NGC 4993 is stretched, or redshifted, we know how fast it is moving. With these values, we can work backward and calculate the age of the Universe. This novel way of dating the Universe agrees with the currently accepted age of 13.8 billion years.
  • Where Gamma-Ray Bursts Come From. Since the late 60’s, scientists have observed short bursts of high-energy gamma-ray radiation but could not pinpoint their origin. After detecting a gamma-ray burst and the gravitational wave event almost simultaneously and in the same area of the sky, it was determined that neutron star mergers must be the source.
  • Origin of Heavy Elements. Heavy elements like gold and platinum were thought to be created in hot radioactive events, like supernovae explosions. But the amount of these elements observed in supernova remnants was less than sufficient to explain the abundance we see in the Universe. After the 2017 neutron star merger, astronomers saw the radioactive aftermath suggesting that neutron star collisions are the perfect factories for heavy elements. That one collision alone formed several Earth masses of gold and platinum. We now know that these events are responsible for most of the heavy elements in the Universe.
  • Test of Dark Matter. Some theories have attempted to explain the peculiar motion of galaxies and clusters of galaxies without invoking dark matter, the invisible material that makes up 80% of the matter in the Universe. This involved altering the current model of gravity to fit the observations. While the theory of general relativity says that light and gravity travel at the same speed, many of these adjusted models require them to be different. But after traveling 130 million light years, the 2017 gravitational wave arrived 1.7 seconds before the corresponding electromagnetic radiation. This means that the speeds couldn’t differ by more than 1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000. In other words, they’re pretty much equal.

Of course, we’re not done learning from gravitational waves. By continuing to study these flickers in spacetime, we may be rewarded with the discovery of new particles, new models for what happens to matter at extreme densities, and a deeper understanding of gravity itself. Gravitational waves have opened a new realm of astronomy.

Our Work

1×10-21 meters, Size of the average gravitational wave

The detection of gravitational waves was a testament to incredible engineering and the power of the theory of general relativity. But it also showed what was possible when the astronomical community banded together. Within hours of the August 17, 2017 gravitational wave event, many major observatories were looking for the optical counterpart, with over 70 eventually participating. Since the event occured in the Southern Hemisphere, only certain telescopes could observe that region of the sky.

A few hours after the gravitational wave detection, as night set in Chile, CFA astronomers used the powerful Dark Energy Camera on the Blanco telescope to search the region of sky from which the gravitational waves emanated. In less than an hour they located a new source of visible light in the galaxy NGC 4993.

NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory tried observing the optical counterpart two days after gravitational waves detected but with no luck. Undeterred, Chandra observed again after another week and discovered X-rays right where they should be.

But the delay was curious. CFA scientists determined, using radio observations with the Very Large Array in New Mexico, that the collision blasted a narrow jet of high energy radiation about 30 degrees away from us. It was only when this energy heated the surrounding medium, around nine days after the collision, that Chandra was able to detect X-rays.

The discovery of a electromagnetic event coupled with a gravitational wave event is a first for “multi-messenger” astronomy. By combining the two messengers, we are learning more about the source than we ever would separately.

Featured image: An artist’s conception of the collision between two neutron stars. These collisions produce phenomenal amounts of energy in the form of gravitational waves, as observed using the LIGO and Virgo gravitational wave observatories. Credit: National Science Foundation/LIGO/Sonoma State University/A. Simonnet


Provided by CFA Harvard

Scientists Detect Signatures Of Life Remotely (Astronomy)

It could be a milestone on the path to detecting life on other planets: Scientists under the leadership of the University of Bern and of the National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) PlanetS detect a key molecular property of all living organisms from a helicopter flying several kilometers above ground. The measurement technology could also open up opportunities for remote sensing of the Earth.

Left hands and right hands are almost perfect mirror images of each other. But whatever way they are twisted and turned, they cannot be superimposed onto each other. This is why the left glove simply won’t fit the right hand as well as it fits the left. In science, this property is referred to as chirality.

Just like hands are chiral, molecules can be chiral, too. In fact, most molecules in the cells of living organisms, such as DNA, are chiral. Unlike hands, however, that usually come in pairs of left and right, the molecules of life almost exclusively occur in either their “left-handed” or their “right-handed” version. They are homochiral, as researchers say. Why that is, is still not clear. But this molecular homochirality is a characteristic property of life, a so-called biosignature.

A schematic illustration of the FlyPol spectropolarimeter. Image credit: Lucas Patty.

As part of the MERMOZ project (see info box), an international team led by the University of Bern and the National Centre of Competence in Research NCCR PlanetS, has now succeeded in detecting this signature from a distance of 2 kilometers and at a velocity of 70 kph. Jonas Kühn, MERMOZ project manager of the University of Bern and co-author of the study that has just been published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics, says: “The significant advance is that these measurements have been performed in a platform that was moving, vibrating and that we still detected these biosignatures in a matter of seconds.”

An instrument that recognizes living matter

“When light is reflected by biological matter, a part of the light’s electromagnetic waves will travel in either clockwise or counterclockwise spirals. This phenomenon is called circular polarization and is caused by the biological matter’s homochirality. Similar spirals of light are not produced by abiotic non-living nature”, says the first author of the study Lucas Patty, who is a MERMOZ postdoctoral researcher at the University of Bern and member of the NCCR PlanetS,

Measuring this circular polarization, however, is challenging. The signal is quite faint and typically makes up less than one percent of the light that is reflected. To measure it, the team developed a dedicated device called a spectropolarimeter. It consists of a camera equipped with special lenses and receivers capable of separating the circular polarization from the rest of the light.

The spectropolarimeter instrument FlyPol aboard the helicopter, with which the team carried out the experiment. Image Credit: Jonas Kühn

Yet even with this elaborate device, the new results would have been impossible until recently. “Just 4 years ago, we could detect the signal only from a very close distance, around 20 cm, and needed to
observe the same spot for several minutes to do so”, as Lucas Patty recalls. But the upgrades to the instrument he and his colleagues made, allow a much faster and stable detection, and the strength of the signature in circular polarisation persists even with distance. This rendered the instrument fit for the first ever aerial circular polarization measurements.

Useful measurements on earth and in space

Using this upgraded instrument, dubbed FlyPol, they demonstrated that within mere seconds of measurements they could differentiate between grass fields, forests and urban areas from a fast moving helicopter. The measurements readily show living matter exhibiting the characteristic polarization signals, while roads, for example, do not show any significant circular polarization signals. With the current setup, they are even capable of detecting signals coming from algae in lakes.

After their successful tests, the scientists now look to go even further.  “The next step we hope to take, is to perform similar detections from the International Space Station (ISS), looking down at the Earth. That will allow us to assess the detectability of planetary-scale biosignatures. This step will be decisive to enable the search for life in and beyond our Solar System using polarization“, says MERMOZ principal investigator and co-author Brice-Olivier Demory, professor of astrophysics at the University of Bern and member of the NCCR PlanetS says.

The sensitive observation of these circular polarization signals is not only important for future life detection missions. Lucas Patty explains: “Because the signal directly relates to the molecular composition of life and thus its functioning, it can also offer valuable complementary information in Earth remote sensing.” It can for instance provide information about deforestation or plant disease. It might even be possible to implement circular polarization in the monitoring of toxic algal blooms, of coral reefs and the effects of acidification thereon.


Publication details:

C.H. Lucas Patty et al., Biosignatures of the Earth I. Airborne spectropolarimetric detection of photosynthetic life, Astronomy & Astrophysics
https://doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361/202140845


Provided by University of Bern

LLNL/Tyvak Space Telescope Goes Into Orbit (Astronomy)

Thousands of images of Earth and space have been taken by a compact space imaging payload developed by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) researchers and its collaborator Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems.

Known as GEOStare2, the payload has two space telescopes that together have taken more than 4,500 pictures for space domain awareness, astronomy and Earth observations that have been transmitted back to Earth during the past month.

The space telescopes were integrated into a Tyvak nanosatellite, weighing 25 pounds, that flew into orbit on May 15 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

“Our payload is operating very well; we’re ahead of schedule on the checkout,” said LLNL astrophysicist Wim de Vries, an associate program leader for the Lab’s Space Science and Security Program. “The satellite is functioning extremely well.”

“We are more than pleased with the quality and resolution of the images we have been receiving from Tyvak-0130,” said Marc Bell, chief executive officer of Terran Orbital, Tyvak’s parent company. “Our collaboration with LLNL has been incredibly successful thus far and we are more than optimistic about the future.”

To date, flying in low-earth orbit at 575 kilometers (or 360 miles altitude), GEOStare2 has taken more than 2,000 ground images of the Earth, as well as more than 2,500 images for space domain awareness and astronomy.

The aim of space domain awareness is to track the satellites and debris in space to avoid collisions. “It’s much easier to conduct space domain awareness from space because you don’t have to look through clouds and you don’t have to wait for darkness,” de Vries said.

The technology has been developed by LLNL and Tyvak under a four-year, $6 million cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) to advance compact satellites for commercial applications. It combines LLNL’s Monolithic Telescope (MonoTele) technology with Tyvak’s expertise producing high-reliability spacecraft.  

The MonoTele consists of a space telescope fabricated from a single, monolithic fused silica slab, allowing the optic lens to operate within tight tolerances. This approach does not require on-orbit alignment, greatly simplifying spacecraft design and favorably affecting spacecraft size, weight and power needs.

Developed by LLNL over the past eight years, the MonoTele space telescopes range in size from one inch (called the mini-monolith) to eight inches.

One of the GEOStare2’s two telescopes has a narrow field of view with a high resolution, while the other has a wide field of view featuring excellent sensitivity.

The GEOStare2 payload, which is traveling aboard the Tyvak-0130 nanosatellite, is about the size of a loaf of bread and each sensor within it measures 85 millimeters (or 3.3 inches) in diameter and 140 millimeters (or about six inches) in length.

The Tyvak spacecraft features an advanced and stable attitude control system that features three-star trackers, four ultra-smooth reaction wheels and a high-performance flight computer, all developed and manufactured by Tyvak.

A one-inch LLNL-built mini-monolith space telescope has already been flying in space aboard Tyvak-0192, also known as Cerberus, and another 85-millimeter version was used on the GEOstare1 satellite that was launched in January 2018.

In addition to de Vries, the LLNL team that built the GEOStare2 included mechanical engineer Darrell Carter, precision engineer Jeff Klingmann and Alex Pertica, physicist and deputy program leader for the Space Science and Security Program.

LLNL optical scientist Brian Bauman is the inventor of the MonoTele technology – replacing the two mirrors and metering structure with one solid piece of glass, with optical shapes and reflective coatings at both ends of the glass.

Founded in 2013 and headquartered in Irvine, California, Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems is a satellite manufacturer and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Terran Orbital.

Featured image: A composite false-color image of the Andromeda galaxy was created by stacking five wide-field-of- view channel images for an exposure of eight seconds. This image demonstrates the exceptional stability obtained by the Tyvak-0130 bus for a nanosatellite-class vehicle. During this series of exposures, two satellites moved through the field of view. Both are represented as two aligned streaks, with the bright set near the middle and the fainter and shorter streaks near the lower left. © LLNL


Provided by LLNL

Summer Interns Capture Asteroid Occultation (Planetary Science)

The SETI Institute’s summer internship research program, which this year includes 13 Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) students, and two  STEM Teacher and Researcher (STAR) students, is underway at the SETI Institute and, in a couple of cases, virtually. And two students, Yuki Matsumura from CalPoly and Peter Santana-Rodriguez from the University of Puerto Rico, have already had the opportunity to observe an asteroid occultation.

An occultation is when an object, such as a planet, moon or asteroid, passes in front of another object (such as a star), blocking the view of whatever is behind it. On June 14, 2021, the main-belt asteroid 2426 Simonov was predicted to occult a 10-mag star and cast its shadow above the Bay Area of California. Shortly before 10 pm PDT, the students and their mentor, Dr. Franck Marchis, traveled throughout the Bay Area to capture the nearly 1.5-second occultation. While observing, they saw this event live, and after processing their data, a positive detection was confirmed!

June 15, 2021
Detection Report
© Seti Institute

The REU program at the SETI Institute has been running since 2006 and is for highly motivated students interested in astronomy, astrobiology and planetary science. They work with scientists at the SETI Institute and NASA Ames Research Center on microbiology, planetary geology, observational astronomy and SETI.

This summer, Marchis and his students will be conducting scientific investigations of comets and active asteroids, and studying exoplanets by transit with the Unistellar’s eVscope network. The network consists of approximately 5,000 digital telescopes that allow citizen astronomers to observe the universe from almost any place on Earth, including areas such as light-polluted cities. The students process and analyze the data collected by network members worldwide and work with them to facilitate the experiments they are conducting.

“As usual with occultation, this observation was an adventure. We quickly realized that we would not be able to observe the event from the SETI Institute parking lot because of the limited visibility, so we drove toward Cupertino and tried to find a good spot,” said Marchis. “We got kicked out from the spot we had identified on the map, so we improvised and found a spot at McClellan Ranch Preserve a half hour before the event. If a few minutes, so students had set up the eVscope, and we were ready. We saw the star disappearing almost at the predicted time, so we quickly realized that we had been successful. Despite the long day, the spirit on the way back home was really positive, and I am sure the students will remember this scientific adventure.”

The next step will consist of gathering any additional observations from other telescopes and estimate the size and shape of this ~50km main-belt asteroid. The Unistellar SETI Institute team is already planning more occultation events in the Bay Area to involve REU students and citizen astronomers who have an eVscope.

The students will participate in several observation events throughout the summer and collaborate with Marchis on any papers that announce their discoveries.

Featured image: left to right: Franck Marchis, Yuki Matsumura, Peter L Santana-Rodriguez, and Rossi Linhares. © Seti Institute


Provided by SETI Institute

SpaceML.org: A New Resource To Accelerate AI Application in Space Science And Exploration (Astronomy)

The SETI Institute and Frontier Development Lab (https://frontierdevelopmentlab.org/) are announcing the launch of SpaceML.org. SpaceML is a resource that makes AI-ready datasets available to researchers working in space science and exploration, enabling rapid experimentation and reproducibility.

The SpaceML Repo is a machine learning toolbox and community managed resource to enable researchers to more effectively engage in AI for space science and exploration. It is designed to help bridge the gap between data storage, code sharing and server-side (cloud) analysis.

SpaceML.org includes analysis-ready datasets, space science projects and MLOPS tools designed to fast-track existing AI workflows to new use-cases. The datasets and projects build on five years of cutting-edge AI application completed by FDL teams of early-career PhDs in AI/ML and multidisciplinary science domains in partnership with NASA, ESA and FDL’s commercial partners. Challenge areas include Earth Science, Lunar Exploration, Astrobiology, Planetary Defense, Exploration Medicine, Disaster Response, Heliophysics and Space Weather.

“The most impactful and useful applications of AI and machine learning techniques require datasets that have been properly prepared, organized and structured for such approaches,” said Bill Diamond, CEO of the SETI Institute. “Five years of FDL research across a wide range of science domains has enabled the establishment of a number of analysis-ready datasets that we are delighted to now make available to the broader research community.”

FDL applies AI and machine learning (ML) technologies to science to push the frontiers of research and develop new tools to help solve some of humanity’s biggest challenges, both here on Earth and in space.

Projects hosted on SpaceML.org for the research community include:

  • A project tackling the problem of how to use ML to auto-calibrate space-based instruments used to observe the Sun. After years of exposure to our star, these instruments degrade over time – a bit like cataracts. Recalibration requires expensive sounding rockets. Using ML, the team has been able to augment the data, in effect “removing” the cataracts.

    “The hurdle for many researchers to start using the SDOML dataset, and to begin developing ML solutions, is the friction they experience when first starting,” said Mark Cheung, Sr. Staff Physicist at Lockheed Martin and Principal Investigator for NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory/Atmospheric Imaging Assembly. “SpaceML gives them a jumpstart by reducing the effort needed for exploratory data analysis and model deployment. It also demonstrates reproducibility in action.”
     
  • Another project demonstrates how the data reduction of a meteor surveillance network known as CAMS (Cameras for Allsky Meteor Surveillance) could be automated to identify new meteor shower clusters – potentially the trails of ancient Earth crossing Comets. Since the AI pipeline has been put into place a total of 9 new meteor showers have been discovered via CAMS.

    “SpaceML helped accelerate impact by bringing in a team of citizen scientists who deployed an interpretable Active Learning and AI-powered meteor classifier to automate insights, allowing the astronomers focused research for the SETI CAMS project,” said Siddha Ganju, Self Driving and Medical Instruments AI Architect, Nvidia (founding member of SpaceML’s CAMS and Worldview Search Initiatives). “During SpaceML we (1) standardized the processing pipeline to process the decade long meteor dataset collected by CAMS, and, established the state of the art meteor classifier with a unique augmentation strategy; (2) enabled active learning in the CAMS pipeline to automate insights; and, (3) updated the NASA CAMS Meteor Shower Portal which now includes celestial reference points and a scientific communication tool. And the best thing is that future citizen scientists can partake in the CAMS project by building on the publicly accessible trained models, scripts, and web tools.”
     
  • SpaceML also hosts INARA (Intelligent ExoplaNET Atmospheric RetrievAI), a pipeline for atmospheric retrieval based on a synthesized dataset of three million planetary spectra, to detect evidence of possible biological activity in exoplanet atmospheres – in other words, ‘Are We Alone?’

SpaceML.org seeks to curate a central repository of project notebooks and datasets generated from projects similar to those listed above. These project repositories contain a Google ‘Co-Lab’ notebook that walks users through the dataset and includes a small data snippet for a quick test drive before committing to the entire data set (which are invariably very large).

The projects also house the complete dataset used for the challenges, which can be made available upon request. Additionally, SpaceML seeks to facilitate the management of new datasets that result from ongoing research and in due course run tournaments to invite improvements on ML models (and data) against known benchmarks.

“We were concerned on how to make our AI research more reproducible,” said James Parr, FDL Director and CEO, Trillium Technologies. “We realized that the best way to do this was to make the data easily accessible, but also that we needed to simplify both the on-boarding process, initial experimentation and workflow adaptation process.”

“The problem with AI reproducibility isn’t necessarily, ‘not invented here’ – it’s more, ‘not enough time to even try’. We figured if we could share analysis ready data, enable rapid server-side experimentation and good version control, it would be the best thing to help make these tools get picked up by the community for the benefit
of all.”

FDL launches its 2021 program on June 16, 2021, with researchers in the US addressing seven challenges in the areas of Heliophysics, Astronaut Health, Planetary Science and Earth Science. The program will culminate in mid- August, with teams showcasing their work in a virtual event.

Visit SpaceML.org.

Featured image: As SpaceML continues to grow it will help bridge the gap between data storage, code sharing and server side (cloud) analysis. Credit: FDL/SETI Institute


Provided by SETI Institute

Antibody Targets Mechanism That Enables Lung Cancer to Grow and Spread (Medicine)

An investigational antibody in clinical trials for lung cancer appears to disrupt a mechanism that tumor cells exploit to avoid being destroyed by the body’s innate immune system, researchers at Duke Health report.

In a study appearing online June 16 in the journal PLOS ONE, the researchers describe a mechanism by which the investigational antibody may potentially inhibit the growth and spread of cancer cells. The antibody, which was identified by Duke scientists, is currently being tested in a Phase 1 clinical trial among advanced non-small-cell lung cancer patients.

“These findings are an important insight to understand the mechanism of action for this antibody, which will help us select who are the most appropriate patients to receive it as a line of treatment,” said senior author Edward F. Patz, M.D., professor in the departments of Radiology and Pharmacology & Cancer Biology and member of the Duke Cancer Institute

Patz and his laboratory, in collaboration with investigators at the Duke Human Vaccine Institute, isolated the antibody. Patz has co-founded a spin-out company, Grid Therapeutics, to advance its development. 

He said the antibody works against a regulator called complement factor H (CFH), which protects host cells from attack and destruction by the body’s own immune system. Tumor cells use this same method to protect themselves from destruction by the immune system.

Notably, CFH also protects a type of tiny sac called an extra-cellular vesicle that is secreted by tumor cells. These bubble-like vesicles contain proteins and information-carrying molecules that they transport between cells. Lung cancer tumors have an abundance of CFH, which results in greater numbers of extracellular vesicles. Protected from immune attack, the vesicles transfer their cargo into other cells, enabling the cancer to grow and spread. 

“This is a way that tumors promote growth and metastasize,” Patz said. “Our antibody targets this by shutting down CFH, inhibiting the tumor growth. This was an unexpected but interesting finding, which helps us understand a complicated process. If we can better understand the mechanism of the antibody, we can use it more effectively.”

Patz said the antibody therapy will move to a Phase 2 clinical trial shortly, with patients enrolled at multiple sites. The study will combine the antibody with the current immunotherapy, pembrolizumab. 

In addition to Patz, study authors include Ryan T. Bushey, Elizabeth B. Gottlin and Michael J. Campa. In addition to Patz, Campa and Gottlin are also co-founders of Grid Therapeutics.

Featured image credit: gettyimages


Reference: Bushey RT, Gottlin EB, Campa MJ, Patz EF Jr (2021) Complement factor H protects tumor cell-derived exosomes from complement-dependent lysis and phagocytosis. PLoS ONE 16(6): e0252577. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0252577


Provided by Duke Health

Introducing The Handheld Sensors That Can ‘Smell’ Covid-19 (Medicine)

Research involving Durham has found that electronic sensors can detect the distinct odour of Covid-19 with almost 100 per cent accuracy.

The electronic devices could potentially be used in public spaces as a screening tool to identify people carrying the virus.

Odour fingerprint

The small-scale study, which is not yet peer-reviewed, shows that Covid-19 infection has a distinct smell, due to changes in the volatile organic compounds (VOC) which make up the body odour – generating a so-called odour ‘fingerprint’ that the sensors can detect.

The research team, made up of scientists from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), biotech company RoboScientific Ltd. and Durham University, tested devices with organic semi-conducting (OSC) sensors. They used body odour samples from socks worn by infected and uninfected people.

Electronic devices

Based on the findings, two types of devices are being explored for development – a portable handheld device and a room-based device.

The handheld device could detect if a person is Covid-positive from their body odour and could be used in public spaces instead of the now widely available PCR and LFT testing as a faster, less invasive method to identify people with the virus.

The room-based device – the first of its kind – could screen areas such as classrooms or aircraft cabins to detect if an infected individual is present. If it picks up the Covid-19 odour, everyone in the room or cabin would need to be individually tested to determine who was infected as the device only picks up the presence of infection, not who it is. This method would need to be used alongside PCR or LFT testing.

The next step is to further refine the sensors with larger sample sizes and directly with people in real-world settings to ensure they are as effective and accurate as they were in the initial tests.

Find out more


Provided by Durham University

Impact of Lead in Children of Roman Empire (Archaeology)

Researchers from our Department of Archaeology have found for the first time that widespread use of lead in Roman culture was one of the main contributing factors to childhood death and illness throughout the Roman Empire. 

The researchers analysed human skeletal remains from Spain, France, Romania and Lebanon, for the purpose of this study.

Children were more exposed to lead

Samples were collected from tooth enamel of the skeletons to analyse the concentrations of lead in both adults and children. The researchers found that younger children had significantly higher levels of lead in their tooth enamel than the adults.

The researchers pointed out that enamel does not change after it’s formed. As a result, lead pollution from childhood is stored in the tooth enamel throughout life and is not altered by the burial environment after death.

The study also highlights a positive connection between children who had high levels of exposure to lead pollution and children who died at a young age.

Downfall of Roman Empire

Previous historians have argued that widespread lead use may have contributed to the downfall of the Roman Empire. The research findings from this study indicate that lead poisoning was a strong contributing factor to the ill health and death of children in many parts of the Roman Empire.

The use of the heavy metal in a lot of everyday things such as water pipes, toys, cosmetics, and wine may have left Roman citizens with many serious health problems.

Researchers argue that, pollutants including heavy metals continue to be a key source of poor health and death for children in many parts of the world today.

Find out more

• Read the full paper published in Wiley Journal here
• Learn more about the work of Dr Joanna MooreProf Janet MontgomeryProf Rebecca Gowland and Dr Kori Filipek
• Interested in studying in Durham? Explore our undergraduate and postgraduate courses in our Department of Archaeology


Provided by Durham University