Friday, February 19, 2010


In this year’s budget, Congress has allocated $21.02 million dollars to NSF’s ADVANCE program, which seeks to even the playing field for women in science and engineering. Institutions apply for ADVANCE grants, which they then use towards programs encouraging women to study STEM disciplines and then enter those fields as researchers. This year’s funding for ADVANCE is $230,000 more than last year, which will allow the Institutional Transformation (IT) portion of the program to benefit a wider range of institutions, including undergraduate colleges, women’s colleges, and community colleges, and will allow the NSF to evaluate the efficacy of the program. ADVANCE Partnerships for Adaptation, Implementation, and Dissemination (PAID) will fund case studies on gender in academia, which will help guide the ADVANCE in the future.

For more information or to apply for a grant, visit the NSF.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Researchers May Have Found a New Fertilizer– Carbon Nanotubes

Past studies have shown that these microscopic cylinders of carbon atoms may be able to penetrate the tough cell walls of plants. Building on this evidence, two researchers at the University of Arkansas ran an experiment to test whether nanoparticles can penetrate the even tougher coating on unsprouted seeds, which strongly restricts initial growth. They theorized that if nanotubes could be used to penetrate the seed coat, perhaps the plant could increase its initial uptake of water and nutrients and, as a result, speed the early stages of plant growth.

To test this theory, they planted tomato seeds in pots after mixing carbon nanotubes into the growth medium of some. The seeds in the test pots germinated in half the time of the control plants. Twenty-seven days into the experiment, all plants had the same root systems, but the doctored plants were significantly heavier (150%) and about twice as tall. The test plants also absorbed 50% more water and nutrients during germination. When researchers inspected the plants using an electron microscope, they found that the nanotubes had actually entered the plant’s living cells.

Researchers have not yet determined if the nanotubes are present in the tomatoes. However, they did conclude that nanoparticles have major effects on the plant’s ability to take up water and nutrients. Now, scientists are investigating if the nanotubes damage the organisms by interfering with cellular functions or pose a threat to the health of humans who consume the fruit. Therefore, extensive studies must be conducted before this discovery might move from the lab to our dinner plates.

To read more, visit the Economist.

NOAA's Climate Portal

Yesterday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) launched a new program– a climate service. Much like the National Weather Service, the new climate service aims to provide long-term climate predictions and data. As climate change increasingly impacts communities and business interests, the service would provide assistance to fisheries managers, the Army Corps of Engineers, farmers, and city administrators.

The idea for this new program has been in the works for many years and was supported by both the current administration and its predecessor. The service will initially rely on funds redistributed from other parts of NOAA with Congressional approval, but President Obama’s 2011 budget proposal also appropriates an additional $1.5 million to the program.

Click here to check out the beta version of the climate portal.

To read more about the program, visit the NYT.