The Light Side: The Picture-Perfect Side of Science

July 25, 2014

Study Says Denmark Is the Home of Happy Genes

Dark Matter Research Gets an Overhaul

Nanoleaf Bloom: Light Bulb with Integrated Dimmer

Who can deny that science can't be beautiful?

Princeton University recently wrapped up its Art of Science competition, in which judges selected 44 endearing still images and 12 videos that will be showcased in an on-campus gallery until April 2015. The photographs and videos were taken during the course of scientific research by Princeton Univ. undergrads, graduate students, post-doctorate students, staff, and even alumni.

There were more than 250 photographic submissions, and 50 videos vied for honors and cash prizes. The top three image entrants received $250, $154.51, and $95.49, respectively. Perceptive readers will recognize that those amounts were calculated from a $500 purse using the golden ratio, which produces aesthetically pleasing proportions in such areas as architecture, painting, and industrial design.

The first-place prize on the photographic side went to Sara Sadri, a post-doctorate student in Princeton Univ.'s civil and environmental engineering department, for her submission titled "Watermarks" (pictured above). It is a shot of intricate patterns carved out by water as it retreated back into the Atlantic Ocean.

Sabine Petry, assistant professor of molecular biology, won a GoPro camera for her top-prize video "Microtubules branch out." It was the first time in the Art of Science competition's seven-year history that videos were nominated. "So much of science and engineering involves video or animation these days that it was inevitable we would include it," said Dan Quinn, a mechanical and aerospace engineering graduate student and one of the exhibit's organizers.

The gallery of all the competition winners is on display to the public for free at the Friend Center on the Princeton Univ. campus.

"Fungus is among us" by Princeton Univ. post-doctorate researcher James S. Waters won second prize.[/caption

Study Says Denmark Is the Home of Happy Genes

If you're happy and you know it... you must be Danish.

A new study says Danish DNA could be the key to happiness, finding that the closer a nation is to the genetic makeup of Denmark, the happier that country is. The study used three types of evidence to hypothesize that there are genetic correlations in positive well-being and that genetics could be the reason why Denmark is near the top of the list of the world's happiest countries year after year after year.

"[It seems there are reasons to believe that genetic patterns may help researchers to understand international well-being levels," said Andrew Oswald, an economics professor at Warwick University's Centre for Competitive Advantage (CAGE) in the Global Economy.

Credit: Vlado at

Credit: Vlado at[/caption

Oswald and Eugenio Proto, a department colleague at CAGE, first looked at data on 131 countries from international surveys including the Gallup World Poll, World Value Survey, and the European Quality of Life Surveys, linking cross-national data on genetic distance and well-being and adjusting for gross domestic product, culture, religion, geography, and "the strength of the welfare state." They found that the greater a nation's genetic distance from Denmark, the lower its well-being.

The two economists then looked at existing research suggesting an association between well-being and a mutation of the gene that influences the reuptake of serotonin, which is believed to be linked to human mood. The short gene, in such research, is linked to higher scores on neuroticism and lower life satisfaction. Of 30 nations studied, Denmark had the lowest percentage of people who got the short end of that stick.

Finally, Oswald and Proto investigated data on the U.S. population's contentedness and cross-linked that with their nationalities. Their evidence revealed a correlation between happy Americans and the happy nations from where their ancestors emigrated, even after controlling for personal income and religion in their research.

The two researchers have authored a working paper

, "National Happiness and Genetic Distance: A Cautious Exploration," showing the results of their social science study. They were careful not to make definitive conclusions, though, writing, "Our results nonetheless should be treated cautiously... It is likely that much remains to be understood, at the important border between social and natural science, about the determinants of nations' well-being."

Dark Matter Research Gets an Overhaul

When it comes to unsolved mysteries, dark matter is at the top of the list. It's so elusive, it can only be observed indirectly by the way it affects celestial bodies and light. The quest to identify and quantify it is not new, but questions still abound. Engineers and scientists are not the type to give up easily, and they have developed new approaches in the search.

Lawrence Berkeley National Lab announced

that it will be leading the most extensive search for dark matter ever conducted. The project, funded through the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), will provide a more comprehensive and sensitive look into dark matter than ever before through the Generation 2 Dark Matter Experiments.

While dark matter is theorized to make up about 85 percent of the matter in the universe, directly detecting it has been very difficult. The goal of the new effort is to increase sensitivity by an order of magnitude and to unify research into various aspects of dark matter. The three main facets of this work will be Super Cryogenic Dark Matter Search (SCDMS)-SNOLAB, the LUX-ZEPLIN experiment (LZ), and the Axion Dark Matter eXperiment (ADMX-Gen2).

The Large Underground Xenon (LUX) detector has already been in use at the Sanford Underground Research Facility

(SURF), but it will now be merging with the ZEPLIN

(ZonEd Proportional scintillation in LIquid Noble gases) experiment. The new detector will be about 20 times more massive and 100 times more sensitive. To reduce background noise from other particles, the detector will operate a mile underground while it searches for WIMPS (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles).

The SuperDMS-SNOLAB detector will also be searching for WIMPS, but those that are lighter and less energetic. According to SCDMS

, this collaboration will occur between the Soudan Underground Laboratory in Minnesota and the deeper SNOLAB

facility in Sudbury, Canada. The SCDMS location operates a total detector mass of approximately 10 kg, but will increase the experimental payload by a factor of 10 and increase sensitivity at SNOLAB.

The final piece of this experimental trio, the ADMX-Gen2, is looking for axions, a hypothetical elementary particle, by monitoring signals stimulated by a strong magnetic field. The work will take place at the Center for Experimental Physics and Astrophysics at the University of Washington.

If all these acronyms, abbreviations, and collaborations make your head spin, imagine what it is like to coordinate the effort! All of this cutting-edge science depends on advanced detection equipment. That means a lot of good engineering. Best of luck at finding the invisible!

Nanoleaf Bloom: Light Bulb with Integrated Dimmer

Gimmy Chu, Tom Rodinger, and Christian Yan have simple goals: They want to inspire people to adopt energy-efficient products. Their method to achieve this goal is to create simple products that can be used by anyone. The Nanoleaf Bloom is an extension of last year's Nanoleaf bulb

. The Nanoleaf Bloom incorporates a dimmer switch into "the world's most energy efficient lightbulb."

The bulb is brightness controlled using a standard light switch. Turning the switch on starts the glowing process. While the bulb is energizing, you flick the switch off and then on to lock in your desired brightness. This allows users to select their brightness and, by extension, how much of the available 10 watts that the bulb will use.

The bulbs are estimated to last 30,000 hours, or three hours a day for 27.4 years. In that time, it's estimated that you would use thirty 75 W standard bulbs or four 20 W compact fluorescent bulbs. The energy cost could be up to $300 per bulb. (These estimates use a price of $0.14 per kilowatt-hour.) Nanoleaf Bloom can also operate in night mode, giving 5 percent of its brightness and costing only $0.07 per year to operate.

Nanoleaf Bloom uses the standard E26 / E27 screw base and is also available in bayonet base. The body is built from printed circuit board and is 77 millimeters in diameter at its largest point. Thirty-three LEDs provide omni-directional light to the user. Nanoleaf Bloom differs from the company's previous product due to the proprietary chip that controls the brightness of the bulb.

Reading the risk section of its Kickstarter

campaign shows that the company has compiled a large list of lessons learned from the Nanolight project and is maturing into a large-scale production company. The full production facility, quality control, and shipping logistics are all addressed as possible issues.

The Nanoleaf Bloom and the Nanolight before it are incredible inventions. Just watching the Kickstarter campaign video and seeing the body first cut out of printed circuit board and then folded into the shape of a bulb is amazing.

At $40, the Nanoleaf Bloom is an expensive light bulb, but that hasn't stopped the Kickstarter campaign from blasting past its $30,000 fund-raising goal. The funding period ends on Sept. 12, and bulbs are expected to begin shipping in December.

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Top photo credit: Sara Sadri, Princeton University Art of Science competition


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