New mineral: Steinhardtite


Steinhardtite is a mineral named in honor of Paul Steinhardt, Princeton’s Albert Einstein Professor in Science and a professor of physics (Image courtesy of Luca Bindi, et al)

A MINERAL DISCOVERED to be of meteoritic origin has been named “steinhardtite” in honor of Paul Steinhardt, Princeton’s Albert Einstein Professor in Science and a professor of physics. The name was approved by the Commission on New Minerals, Nomenclature and Classification of the International Mineralogical Association.

The mineral was found in the Koryak Mountains in Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula during a 2011 expedition led by Steinhardt to locate the meteoritic source of the first known naturally occurring example of a quasicrystal, now known as “icosahedrite,” in which the atoms are arranged in patterns that do not regularly repeat and include unlikely configurations such as the 20-sided shape of a soccer ball. Steinhardt and collaborators had discovered a sample of icosahedrite at the Natural History Museum at the University of Florence, Italy, a finding published in the journal Science in 2009, and later identified the Florence sample as being meteoritic in origin. The expedition to the Koryak Mountains resulted in the discovery of steinhardtite, a new crystalline form of aluminum combined with significant amounts of iron and nickel.

The international team reporting the mineral and proposing the name was led by Luca Bindi, professor of mineralogy and crystallograpy at the University of Florence. Princeton researchers included Nan Yao, director of the Imaging and Analysis Center at the Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials (PRISM); Gerald Poirier, PRISM senior research specialist; Lincoln Hollister, professor of geosciences, emeritus; and Chaney Lin, a graduate student in physics. They were joined by Glenn MacPherson, a geologist at the Smithsonian Institution; Christopher Andronicos, an associate professor at Purdue University; scientists Vadim Distler, Valery Kryachko and Marina Yudovskaya of the Russian Academy of Sciences; Michael Eddy, a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Alexander Kostin, a geosciences technologist at BHP Billiton; and William Steinhardt, a graduate student at Harvard University.

-By Catherine Zandonella

A farewell to arms? New technique could aid nuclear disarmament

A Farewell to Arms?

A new method that borrows from strategies used in computer cryptography could verify the presence of nuclear warheads without collecting classified information. The technique fires high-energy neutrons at a non-nuclear target (pictured above), called a British Test Object, that will serve as a proxy for warheads. (Photo by Elle Starkman)

SCIENTISTS at Princeton University and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) are developing a system to verify the presence of nuclear warheads without collecting classified information, as a step toward the further reduction of nuclear arms.

While efforts have been made to develop systems for verifying the content of warheads covered by disarmament treaties, no such methods are currently in use. The new method borrows from strategies used in computer cryptography to identify nuclear warheads while learning nothing about the materials and design of the warheads themselves.

The research was published in the June 26, 2014, issue of Nature and was conducted by Alexander Glaser, an assistant professor in Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering; Robert Goldston, former director of PPPL, a fusion researcher and a professor of astrophysical sciences at Princeton; and Boaz Barak, a senior researcher at Microsoft New England who has taught computer science at Princeton.

–By John Greenwald

Captured on video: Virus-sized particle trying to enter cell

Virus video

Researchers captured video of a virus-like particle trying to enter a cell (Image courtesy of Kevin Welsher)

RESEARCHERS AT PRINCETON UNIVERSITY achieved an unprecedented look at a virus-like particle as it tries to break into and infect a cell. The video reveals the particle zipping around in a rapid, erratic manner until it encounters a cell, bounces and skids along the surface, and either lifts off again or, in much less time than it takes to blink an eye, slips into the cell’s interior. The work, conducted by Professor of Chemistry Haw Yang and postdoctoral researcher Kevin Welsher, was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy and published in the Feb. 23, 2014, issue of Nature Nanotechnology.

–By Catherine Zandonella

Laser device may end pin pricks, improve health for diabetics

Diabetes sensor

Claire Gmachl, Kevin Bors and Sabbir Liakat test a laser-based glucose-sensor. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

PRINCETON RESEARCHERS have developed a way to use a laser to measure people’s blood sugar, and, with more work to shrink the laser system to a portable size, the technique could allow diabetics to check their condition without pricking themselves to draw blood.

“We are working hard to turn engineering solutions into useful tools for people to use in their daily lives,” said Claire Gmachl, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Electrical Engineering and the project’s senior researcher. “With this work we hope to improve the lives of many diabetes sufferers who depend on frequent blood glucose monitoring.”

In an article published June 23, 2014, in the journal Biomedical Optics Express, the researchers describe how they measured blood sugar by shining their specialized laser — called a quantum cascade laser — at a person’s palm. The method exceeded the accuracy required for glucose monitors, said Sabbir Liakat, the paper’s lead author and a graduate student in electrical engineering. The team is now working on making the device smaller and portable.

Besides Liakat and Gmachl, researchers included Princeton undergraduate students in electrical engineering Laura Xu (Class of 2015), Callie Woods (Class of 2014) and Kevin Bors (Class of 2013); and Jessica Doyle, a teacher at Hunterdon Regional Central High School. Support for the research was provided in part by the Wendy and Eric Schmidt Foundation, the National Science Foundation, Daylight Solutions Inc., and Opto-Knowledge Systems.

–By John Sullivan

Star formation, black holes focus of new research

Star formation in a box

Star formation in a box. The figure shows star-forming gas clouds from a large-scale computer simulation. With the new Theoretical and Computational Astrophysics Network, researchers will be able to simulate star formation more precisely than ever. (Image courtesy of Chang-goo Kim)

TWO NEW RESEARCH NETWORKS IN ASTROPHYSICS got off the ground this year, one to explore how stars form and the other to study how black holes accumulate matter, with the goal of answering fundamental questions about the universe.

The Theoretical and Computational Astrophysics Network (TCAN) on star formation will examine questions such as what drives gas clouds to collapse to make new stars, and what determines whether a new star becomes a dwarf or a giant. The network is supported by NASA’s Astrophysics Division and co-led by Eve Ostriker, professor of astrophysical sciences, and James Stone, professor of astrophysical sciences and applied and computational mathematics, and includes the University of California-Berkeley and the University of California-Santa Cruz.

The second TCAN will explore black hole formation, and look at why some black holes consume matter quickly while others do so slowly. The network, funded by National Science Foundation’s Division of Astronomical Sciences, is led by Stone and includes the UC-Berkeley, the University of Illinois and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory through the Max Planck Princeton Center for Plasma Physics.

–By Catherine Zandonella

Princeton-born play makes off-Broadway debut

Princeton-born play on climate change

A musical about climate change that was born at Princeton made its New York City debut in April 2014.

A MUSICAL ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE that was born at Princeton made its New York City debut in April 2014. Both entertaining and informative, The Great Immensity focuses on the quintessential question of our time: How can we change our society to solve the enormous environmental challenges we confront?

The play came to life in 2010 in a novel collaboration involving the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI) and the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Atelier program, which brings together professional artists from different disciplines with Princeton students to create new works. The play was developed by PEI Barron Visiting Professors Steven Cosson, theater director, and Michael Friedman, composer/lyricist, both founders of The Civilians, a New Yorkbased investigative theater group. The project later received a grant from the National Science Foundation.

The Civilians performed The Great Immensity at the Public Theater Lab, after a 2012 run at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre.

–By Ilene Dube