Research Shorts

A sampling of current CLAS research

UF Physicist Pioneers Lower Temperature Scale

The "blue numbers" on the thermometer are about to extend to a new low, thanks to the work of a University of Florida researcher.

A temperature scale pioneered by UF physics professor Dwight Adams soon will become the world's official standard for measuring the coldest temperatures known to man--temperatures just shy of absolute zero, or minus 459.67 degrees Fahrenheit.

Such temperatures had been out of reach to all but the most specialized laboratories in the world until the past two decades, when refrigerators that could lower temperatures to 0.01 Kelvin became commercially available. The result has been an explosion of research in this low temperature range, increasing the need for the new scale, Adams said.

"There's lots of work going on in this range now, and there is no defined scale for the people doing it, so this will be quite useful to them," he said.

Adams and two graduate students, Gerald Straty and Richard Scribner, laid the groundwork for the scale 35 years ago when they found a way to measure ultra cold temperatures using an isotope called helium-3.

CLAS Historian Studies African Vampire Stories

African Vampire StoriesConducting an interview with a vampire might sound like pure Hollywood, but it's all in a day's work for Luise White. A professor of African history, White conducted field research on vampirism in Africa for her new book Speaking With Vampires: Rumor and History in East and Central Africa (Studies on the History of Society and Culture), just published by the University of California Press.

Unlike Dracula, contemporary African vampires are not imagined as creatures from the grave. Instead, those accused of vampirism are often associated with particular professions. In Nairobi, for example, firemen are accused of sucking blood, while in Zambia game rangers suffer that reputation. In some places even Catholic priests, whose sacraments include references to blood and body, are suspected of vampirism.

But White also stresses that not every listener, or even every teller, takes vampire stories literally. "It's not so much a question of belief vs. non-belief, but rather what the stories offer through the telling," she explains. "Because these stories are told orally, they are continually re-evaluated and re-negotiated. The whole point of Speaking with Vampires is that African people tell vampire stories because it's a very accurate way to talk about tensions and contradictions in social relationships. Social imaginings are a powerful way to discuss what ails them."

NSF Grants Quantum Theory Project $2.2 Million

The National Science Foundation (NSF), under their Knowledge and Distributed Intelligence (KDI) Program, has given US's Quantum Theory Project a $2.2 million grant to develop theoretical/computational software tools that can describe the failure of materials such as paint and metal.

The UF group, led by Rodney Bartlett (Chemistry), will focus much of its attention on silica, which, as an important component of transistors, has already been extensively studied experimentally. "Since our objective here is to develop the software to do computer modeling, new methodology is the objective of our work," says Bartlett. "If we can successfully describe what we already know to be true about silica and how certain things influence the fracture habits and other properties of silica via software, then we can apply the same virtual experimentation techniques to other materials, allowing us to develop new knowledge without setting foot in a lab."

Immediate applications for virtual experimentation, says Bartlett, "could be anything from the protective paint on a plane to the outer covering of the space shuttle…the kinds of materials that stand up under very different temperatures and are better than what we have currently."

Solving equations via computer is already simplifying the pharmaceutical drug design process and is becoming of interest to the rapidly developing field of biomaterials. "In biomaterials," says Bartlett, "you need to create materials neutral to the body for artificial limbs and organs….Our simulations would be appropriate for this area in time, too."

CLAS Astronomer Part of Team to Discover First Quasar

A team of astronomers from the University of Florida, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of California have identified the earliest known structure in the universe: quasar "RD J030117+002025" in the constellation Cetus.

"This high-red-shift quasar is extremely far away, which means observing it is like looking back in time to the earliest times in the universe," says Richard Elston, a UF astronomy professor and member of the research team.

Quasars are highly luminous bodies that were more common in the early universe. Packed into a volume roughly equal to our solar system, a quasar emits an astonishing amount of energy--up to 10,000 times that of the whole Milky Way galaxy. Scientists believe quasars get their fuel from super-massive black holes that spit out enormous amounts of energy as they consume surrounding matter.

"It's like turning on a flashlight at the edge of the universe because it allows you to study everything that has developed between us and the quasar," says Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Daniel Stern, who also played a key role in the discovery.

In addition, says Elston, high-red-shift quasars are vitally important to understanding one of the biggest mysteries confronting scientists: how the universe went from the smooth, uniformity of its youth to the clumpy, galaxy-strewn formations of today.

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