Research Round-Up

Posted: June 26, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Tara Laskowski and Robin Herron

A number of Mason professors have recently initiated research on social, scientific and environmental issues. The following highlights some projects under way.

A Day in the Life of the Sun

Research professor Ignacio Ugarte-Urra led a team recently to investigate how the outer layers of the sun get heated to such high temperatures. Using new observations from instruments on the HINODE satellite, a Japanese mission with international collaboration from the United States, the United Kingdom, Norway and the European Space Agency, scientists are able to probe the structure of the solar atmosphere in unprecedented detail. Ugarte-Urra was able to observe “movies” from the satellite that revealed a very dynamic solar atmosphere with continuous and recurring cycles of heating and cooling.

“To make a simple comparison, this is the first time that we can have a detailed and comprehensive look at the sun’s daily life, outside of big festivities,” he said.

This research was presented at the annual meeting of the Solar Physics Division of the American Astronomical Society last month in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

New Online Exhibit Explores Interior of Russian Labor Camp

The Center for History and New Media, with major funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, has created a new web-only exhibit, Gulag: Many Days, Many Lives. The exhibit examines the brutal and often lethal Soviet system of forced labor concentration camps and internal exile.

The exhibit immerses viewers in the varied experiences of various Gulag prisoners. Through audio, video and visual imagery, Gulag: Many Days, Many Lives presents, in vignettes and full biographies, a range of prisoners’ lives. Later this summer, in cooperation with the Gulag Museum of Perm, Russia, this web site will also offer a virtual tour of that reconstructed camp and museum.

Neither a single unified experience nor a single institution, the Gulag comprised various forms of detention. It also held a motley group of prisoners: political and criminal, male and female, national and international. The deeply human story of struggle and resistance gives this history a universal appeal, while engaging visitors to think about the diversity of the Gulag experience, the ethical quandaries of survival in extreme situations, and the difficulties entailed in overcoming the legacy of past injustice.

The project is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities; Title VIII; the U.S. Department of State; Kennan Institute; and Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University; and was produced in association with the Gulag Museum at Perm 36, Perm, Russia and the International Memorial Society, Moscow, Russia.

Studying Human Antimicrobial Peptides

A team of Mason researchers has written a paper that will appear in the July 2008 issue of Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications.

Monique van Hoek, assistant professor, and Suhua Han, lab and research specialist in the Department of Molecular and Microbiology and the National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases; and Barney Bishop, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, have demonstrated the antimicrobial effect of human antimicrobial peptides, beta-defensins, against the live vaccine strain of the biothreat pathogen Francisella tularensis.

The team has also demonstrated that these antimicrobial peptides are induced in human cells following a Francisella infection.

“In a fascinating twist, the peptide with the greatest antimicrobial effect against the bacteria is not the same peptide which the bacteria naturally induce in human lung cells”, says van Hoek. “This may be one reason why these bacteria can grow and divide within human cells.”

The work was partially supported by a grant from Virginia’s Commonwealth Health Research Board Award to Bishop.

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