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Science

Eight Aww-Inspiring Videos of the Year’s Best Animal and Conservation Stories

8 Aww-Inspiring Videos of the Year’s Best Animal and Conservation Stories

2020 was an unprecedented year for people across the globe, but even as the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute temporarily closed its doors to the public, its work to save species continued. From a litter of chirping cheetahs and the birth of a lovable giant panda cub to groundbreaking coral reef research and new strides in animal care, there were many milestones to celebrate this year.

1. Alice the Stanley crane becomes a medical pioneer

Alice is unlike any other Stanley crane. Hand-raised by keepers, she has a sweet temperament and joyous personality. When she sustained a leg injury last summer, animal care staff rallied around Alice and found an innovative solution to help her thrive.

2. Researchers bring new hope to the future of coral reef conservation

Coral reefs support a quarter of all ocean life, but their survival is threatened by climate change. Smithsonian scientists have spent years studying corals and thinking creatively about how to save them. Their groundbreaking coral reproductive techniques introduced a new tool for coral restoration and the future of the ocean’s reefs.

3. Four adorable and playful cheetah cubs arrive

Cheetah Echo gave birth to four chirping cheetah cubs at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute this April. The launch of a new live Cheetah Cub Cam gave people the chance to watch Amabala, Jabari, Hasani and Erindi grow up. The cubs continue to warm hearts this winter whenever they pile up inside their den for a nap.

4. Ecologists explore the lives of brown pelicans on the Chesapeake Bay

Historic islands on the Chesapeake Bay, once home to people, now welcome breeding colonies of brown pelicans each year. Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center ecologist Autumn-Lynn Harrison placed GPS ear tags on some of these shorebirds to learn more about their lives on the Eastern Shore.

5. The world welcomes a precious giant panda cub

Giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji took the Internet by storm when he arrived in August. From opening his eyes to taking his first steps, this “little miracle” has been delighting viewers with his endearing antics on the live Panda Cam ever since.

6. Scientists achieve a first for cheetah reproduction

For the first time, scientists successfully transferred cheetah embryos produced by in vitro fertilization (IVF) to a surrogate cheetah mom. The collaboration between the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and Columbus Zoo resulted in two healthy cheetah cubs born in February 2020.

7. Researchers track mighty bison across the Great Plains

Every hour, solar-powered GPS ear tags tell scientists where bison roam across Sun Prairie at American Prairie Reserve in Montana. The study was the first of its scale ever conducted with bison, and the data collected tells the story of how bison travel as a herd across 26,000 acres of land.

8. A dedicated team supports the 2,700 animals in their care

From animal keepers and veterinarians to nutritionists, life-support engineers and more, it takes a village to care for the many animals that call the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute home. Today and every day, the animal care team works diligently behind the scenes to ensure that every animal receives the best possible care. Here are a few favorite moments from 2020, courtesy of this amazing group of people, and their hard work and dedication in an extraordinary year.

Ashley Goetz

Ashley Goetz is a web content writer at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, where she translates animal care research and conservation science into compelling stories. Ashley earned a bachelor’s degree in public communication with a minor in marine biology from American University. When she isn’t at the Zoo, she spends her time traveling, crocheting and watching reruns of “Parks and Recreation” with her two cats.

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Science

Eight Aww-Inspiring Videos of the Year’s Best Animal and Conservation Stories

8 Aww-Inspiring Videos of the Year’s Best Animal and Conservation Stories

2020 was an unprecedented year for people across the globe, but even as the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute temporarily closed its doors to the public, its work to save species continued. From a litter of chirping cheetahs and the birth of a lovable giant panda cub to groundbreaking coral reef research and new strides in animal care, there were many milestones to celebrate this year.

1. Alice the Stanley crane becomes a medical pioneer

Alice is unlike any other Stanley crane. Hand-raised by keepers, she has a sweet temperament and joyous personality. When she sustained a leg injury last summer, animal care staff rallied around Alice and found an innovative solution to help her thrive.

2. Researchers bring new hope to the future of coral reef conservation

Coral reefs support a quarter of all ocean life, but their survival is threatened by climate change. Smithsonian scientists have spent years studying corals and thinking creatively about how to save them. Their groundbreaking coral reproductive techniques introduced a new tool for coral restoration and the future of the ocean’s reefs.

3. Four adorable and playful cheetah cubs arrive

Cheetah Echo gave birth to four chirping cheetah cubs at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute this April. The launch of a new live Cheetah Cub Cam gave people the chance to watch Amabala, Jabari, Hasani and Erindi grow up. The cubs continue to warm hearts this winter whenever they pile up inside their den for a nap.

4. Ecologists explore the lives of brown pelicans on the Chesapeake Bay

Historic islands on the Chesapeake Bay, once home to people, now welcome breeding colonies of brown pelicans each year. Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center ecologist Autumn-Lynn Harrison placed GPS ear tags on some of these shorebirds to learn more about their lives on the Eastern Shore.

5. The world welcomes a precious giant panda cub

Giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji took the Internet by storm when he arrived in August. From opening his eyes to taking his first steps, this “little miracle” has been delighting viewers with his endearing antics on the live Panda Cam ever since.

6. Scientists achieve a first for cheetah reproduction

For the first time, scientists successfully transferred cheetah embryos produced by in vitro fertilization (IVF) to a surrogate cheetah mom. The collaboration between the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and Columbus Zoo resulted in two healthy cheetah cubs born in February 2020.

7. Researchers track mighty bison across the Great Plains

Every hour, solar-powered GPS ear tags tell scientists where bison roam across Sun Prairie at American Prairie Reserve in Montana. The study was the first of its scale ever conducted with bison, and the data collected tells the story of how bison travel as a herd across 26,000 acres of land.

8. A dedicated team supports the 2,700 animals in their care

From animal keepers and veterinarians to nutritionists, life-support engineers and more, it takes a village to care for the many animals that call the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute home. Today and every day, the animal care team works diligently behind the scenes to ensure that every animal receives the best possible care. Here are a few favorite moments from 2020, courtesy of this amazing group of people, and their hard work and dedication in an extraordinary year.

Ashley Goetz

Ashley Goetz is a web content writer at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, where she translates animal care research and conservation science into compelling stories. Ashley earned a bachelor’s degree in public communication with a minor in marine biology from American University. When she isn’t at the Zoo, she spends her time traveling, crocheting and watching reruns of “Parks and Recreation” with her two cats.

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Science

Eight Aww-Inspiring Videos of the Year’s Best Animal and Conservation Stories

8 Aww-Inspiring Videos of the Year’s Best Animal and Conservation Stories

2020 was an unprecedented year for people across the globe, but even as the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute temporarily closed its doors to the public, its work to save species continued. From a litter of chirping cheetahs and the birth of a lovable giant panda cub to groundbreaking coral reef research and new strides in animal care, there were many milestones to celebrate this year.

1. Alice the Stanley crane becomes a medical pioneer

Alice is unlike any other Stanley crane. Hand-raised by keepers, she has a sweet temperament and joyous personality. When she sustained a leg injury last summer, animal care staff rallied around Alice and found an innovative solution to help her thrive.

2. Researchers bring new hope to the future of coral reef conservation

Coral reefs support a quarter of all ocean life, but their survival is threatened by climate change. Smithsonian scientists have spent years studying corals and thinking creatively about how to save them. Their groundbreaking coral reproductive techniques introduced a new tool for coral restoration and the future of the ocean’s reefs.

3. Four adorable and playful cheetah cubs arrive

Cheetah Echo gave birth to four chirping cheetah cubs at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute this April. The launch of a new live Cheetah Cub Cam gave people the chance to watch Amabala, Jabari, Hasani and Erindi grow up. The cubs continue to warm hearts this winter whenever they pile up inside their den for a nap.

4. Ecologists explore the lives of brown pelicans on the Chesapeake Bay

Historic islands on the Chesapeake Bay, once home to people, now welcome breeding colonies of brown pelicans each year. Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center ecologist Autumn-Lynn Harrison placed GPS ear tags on some of these shorebirds to learn more about their lives on the Eastern Shore.

5. The world welcomes a precious giant panda cub

Giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji took the Internet by storm when he arrived in August. From opening his eyes to taking his first steps, this “little miracle” has been delighting viewers with his endearing antics on the live Panda Cam ever since.

6. Scientists achieve a first for cheetah reproduction

For the first time, scientists successfully transferred cheetah embryos produced by in vitro fertilization (IVF) to a surrogate cheetah mom. The collaboration between the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and Columbus Zoo resulted in two healthy cheetah cubs born in February 2020.

7. Researchers track mighty bison across the Great Plains

Every hour, solar-powered GPS ear tags tell scientists where bison roam across Sun Prairie at American Prairie Reserve in Montana. The study was the first of its scale ever conducted with bison, and the data collected tells the story of how bison travel as a herd across 26,000 acres of land.

8. A dedicated team supports the 2,700 animals in their care

From animal keepers and veterinarians to nutritionists, life-support engineers and more, it takes a village to care for the many animals that call the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute home. Today and every day, the animal care team works diligently behind the scenes to ensure that every animal receives the best possible care. Here are a few favorite moments from 2020, courtesy of this amazing group of people, and their hard work and dedication in an extraordinary year.

Ashley Goetz

Ashley Goetz is a web content writer at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, where she translates animal care research and conservation science into compelling stories. Ashley earned a bachelor’s degree in public communication with a minor in marine biology from American University. When she isn’t at the Zoo, she spends her time traveling, crocheting and watching reruns of “Parks and Recreation” with her two cats.

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Science

Eight Aww-Inspiring Videos of the Year’s Best Animal and Conservation Stories

8 Aww-Inspiring Videos of the Year’s Best Animal and Conservation Stories

2020 was an unprecedented year for people across the globe, but even as the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute temporarily closed its doors to the public, its work to save species continued. From a litter of chirping cheetahs and the birth of a lovable giant panda cub to groundbreaking coral reef research and new strides in animal care, there were many milestones to celebrate this year.

1. Alice the Stanley crane becomes a medical pioneer

Alice is unlike any other Stanley crane. Hand-raised by keepers, she has a sweet temperament and joyous personality. When she sustained a leg injury last summer, animal care staff rallied around Alice and found an innovative solution to help her thrive.

2. Researchers bring new hope to the future of coral reef conservation

Coral reefs support a quarter of all ocean life, but their survival is threatened by climate change. Smithsonian scientists have spent years studying corals and thinking creatively about how to save them. Their groundbreaking coral reproductive techniques introduced a new tool for coral restoration and the future of the ocean’s reefs.

3. Four adorable and playful cheetah cubs arrive

Cheetah Echo gave birth to four chirping cheetah cubs at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute this April. The launch of a new live Cheetah Cub Cam gave people the chance to watch Amabala, Jabari, Hasani and Erindi grow up. The cubs continue to warm hearts this winter whenever they pile up inside their den for a nap.

4. Ecologists explore the lives of brown pelicans on the Chesapeake Bay

Historic islands on the Chesapeake Bay, once home to people, now welcome breeding colonies of brown pelicans each year. Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center ecologist Autumn-Lynn Harrison placed GPS ear tags on some of these shorebirds to learn more about their lives on the Eastern Shore.

5. The world welcomes a precious giant panda cub

Giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji took the Internet by storm when he arrived in August. From opening his eyes to taking his first steps, this “little miracle” has been delighting viewers with his endearing antics on the live Panda Cam ever since.

6. Scientists achieve a first for cheetah reproduction

For the first time, scientists successfully transferred cheetah embryos produced by in vitro fertilization (IVF) to a surrogate cheetah mom. The collaboration between the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and Columbus Zoo resulted in two healthy cheetah cubs born in February 2020.

7. Researchers track mighty bison across the Great Plains

Every hour, solar-powered GPS ear tags tell scientists where bison roam across Sun Prairie at American Prairie Reserve in Montana. The study was the first of its scale ever conducted with bison, and the data collected tells the story of how bison travel as a herd across 26,000 acres of land.

8. A dedicated team supports the 2,700 animals in their care

From animal keepers and veterinarians to nutritionists, life-support engineers and more, it takes a village to care for the many animals that call the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute home. Today and every day, the animal care team works diligently behind the scenes to ensure that every animal receives the best possible care. Here are a few favorite moments from 2020, courtesy of this amazing group of people, and their hard work and dedication in an extraordinary year.

Ashley Goetz

Ashley Goetz is a web content writer at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, where she translates animal care research and conservation science into compelling stories. Ashley earned a bachelor’s degree in public communication with a minor in marine biology from American University. When she isn’t at the Zoo, she spends her time traveling, crocheting and watching reruns of “Parks and Recreation” with her two cats.

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Can White Dwarf Stars Help Solve the Cosmological Lithium Problem?

Explosion of a Recurrent Nova

Artist’s interpretation of the explosion of a recurrent nova, RS Ophiuchi. This is a binary star in the constellation of Ophiuchus and is approximately 5,000 light-years away. It explodes roughly every 20 years when the gas flowing from the large star that falls onto the white dwarf reaches temperatures exceeding ten million degrees. Credit: David A. Hardy

Exploring new method for measuring galactic evolution of lithium.

For the first time, hard-to-track lithium has been identified and measured in the atmosphere of burned out stars called white dwarfs, according to a study led by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill published online in the journal Science.

Lithium helps power cell phones and computers and stabilize moods. But scientists have been stumped by what’s become of the lithium that was expected from the Big Bang, a discrepancy known as the “cosmological lithium problem.”

While researchers believe exploding stars help distribute lithium throughout the galaxy and deliver most of the lithium we use today in electronics and medicine, the UNC-Chapel Hill study may help measure the amount of lithium created in the initial formation of the universe.

The new insight by UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Montreal and Los Alamos National Lab provides clues for tracking the galactic evolution of lithium.

The discovery was made possible by using the Goodman-Spectrograph mounted on the Southern Astrophysical Research telescope which is operated by the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, part of the National Science Foundation’s NOIRLab. Study author and UNC-Chapel Hill astrophysicist J. Christopher Clemens led the design of the unique spectrograph which measures how much light is emitted by a white dwarf.

White dwarfs are the leftover cores that remain when stars die, and they can be surrounded by rocky worlds.

In the study, researchers describe detecting the crushed-up remains of large asteroid-like objects in the atmospheres of two very old white dwarfs whose planets formed 9 billion years ago — long before our own sun, Earth and solar system developed.

The team was able to measure the chemical make-up of the asteroids, and for the first time identified and measured both lithium and potassium from an extrasolar rocky body.

“Our measurement of lithium from a rocky body in another solar system lays the foundation for a more reliable method of tracking the amount of lithium in our galaxy over time,” Clemens said.

The Big Bang, the leading explanation for how the universe began 13.8 billion years ago, produced three elements: hydrogen, helium and lithium. But lithium measurements in sun-like stars have never added up to scientists’ predictions.

Of the three elements, lithium presents the biggest mystery.

“Eventually with enough of these white dwarfs that had asteroids fall on them, we will be able to test the prediction of the amount of lithium formed in the Big Bang,” said Ben Kaiser, first study author and graduate research assistant at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Reference: “Lithium pollution of a white dwarf records the accretion of an extrasolar planetesimal” by B. C. Kaiser, J. C. Clemens, S. Blouin, P. Dufour, R. J. Hegedus, J. S. Reding and A. Bédard, 17 December 2020, Science.
DOI: 10.1126/science.abd1714

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Science

Eight Aww-Inspiring Videos of the Year’s Best Animal and Conservation Stories

8 Aww-Inspiring Videos of the Year’s Best Animal and Conservation Stories

2020 was an unprecedented year for people across the globe, but even as the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute temporarily closed its doors to the public, its work to save species continued. From a litter of chirping cheetahs and the birth of a lovable giant panda cub to groundbreaking coral reef research and new strides in animal care, there were many milestones to celebrate this year.

1. Alice the Stanley crane becomes a medical pioneer

Alice is unlike any other Stanley crane. Hand-raised by keepers, she has a sweet temperament and joyous personality. When she sustained a leg injury last summer, animal care staff rallied around Alice and found an innovative solution to help her thrive.

2. Researchers bring new hope to the future of coral reef conservation

Coral reefs support a quarter of all ocean life, but their survival is threatened by climate change. Smithsonian scientists have spent years studying corals and thinking creatively about how to save them. Their groundbreaking coral reproductive techniques introduced a new tool for coral restoration and the future of the ocean’s reefs.

3. Four adorable and playful cheetah cubs arrive

Cheetah Echo gave birth to four chirping cheetah cubs at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute this April. The launch of a new live Cheetah Cub Cam gave people the chance to watch Amabala, Jabari, Hasani and Erindi grow up. The cubs continue to warm hearts this winter whenever they pile up inside their den for a nap.

4. Ecologists explore the lives of brown pelicans on the Chesapeake Bay

Historic islands on the Chesapeake Bay, once home to people, now welcome breeding colonies of brown pelicans each year. Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center ecologist Autumn-Lynn Harrison placed GPS ear tags on some of these shorebirds to learn more about their lives on the Eastern Shore.

5. The world welcomes a precious giant panda cub

Giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji took the Internet by storm when he arrived in August. From opening his eyes to taking his first steps, this “little miracle” has been delighting viewers with his endearing antics on the live Panda Cam ever since.

6. Scientists achieve a first for cheetah reproduction

For the first time, scientists successfully transferred cheetah embryos produced by in vitro fertilization (IVF) to a surrogate cheetah mom. The collaboration between the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and Columbus Zoo resulted in two healthy cheetah cubs born in February 2020.

7. Researchers track mighty bison across the Great Plains

Every hour, solar-powered GPS ear tags tell scientists where bison roam across Sun Prairie at American Prairie Reserve in Montana. The study was the first of its scale ever conducted with bison, and the data collected tells the story of how bison travel as a herd across 26,000 acres of land.

8. A dedicated team supports the 2,700 animals in their care

From animal keepers and veterinarians to nutritionists, life-support engineers and more, it takes a village to care for the many animals that call the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute home. Today and every day, the animal care team works diligently behind the scenes to ensure that every animal receives the best possible care. Here are a few favorite moments from 2020, courtesy of this amazing group of people, and their hard work and dedication in an extraordinary year.

Ashley Goetz

Ashley Goetz is a web content writer at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, where she translates animal care research and conservation science into compelling stories. Ashley earned a bachelor’s degree in public communication with a minor in marine biology from American University. When she isn’t at the Zoo, she spends her time traveling, crocheting and watching reruns of “Parks and Recreation” with her two cats.

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Plans for a Mars Sample Return Mission Have Moved to the Next Stage

This past summer, NASA’s Perseverance rover launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida. On February 18th, 2021, it will arrive on Mars and join in the search for evidence for past (and maybe even present) life. A particularly exciting aspect of this mission is the Mars Sample Return (MSR), a multi-mission effort that will send samples of Mars back to Earth for analysis.

This aspect of the Perseverance mission will be assisted by a lander and orbiter developed by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). According to NASA, the MSR recently advanced to the next stage of development (Phase A). If all goes well, Perseverance will have a companion in the coming years that will take its samples and launch them to orbit, where they will be picked up and sent back to Earth.

The ability to collect and cache samples set the Perseverance rover apart from its predecessors, including the Curiosity rover. Like its sister mission, these samples will be obtained with a coring drill mounted to the end of a robotic arm. The samples will be hermetically sealed in a set of collection tubes deposited in a designated location on the Martian surface or stored internally.

This is where the MRS will come into play, which will consist of a Sample Retrieval Lander (SRL) reaching the surface and a Sample Fetch Rover (SFR) picking the tubes and placing them in a sealed sample container. The container will then be transported to a Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) that will carry it to orbit, where the Earth Return Orbiter (ERO) will pick them up.

From here, the samples will be placed inside a Capture/Containment and Return System (CCRS) and begin the trip home, returning to Earth sometime in the early 2030s. Whereas the ESA will provide the orbiter, the rover, and the lander’s robotic arm, NASA will provide the lander itself, the ascent vehicle, and the return system on the orbiter.

As Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters, explained in a recent NASA press statement:

“Returning samples of Mars to Earth has been a goal of planetary scientists since the early days of the space age, and the successful completion of this MSR key decision point is an important next step in transforming this goal into reality. MSR is a complex campaign, and it encapsulates the very essence of pioneering space exploration – pushing the boundaries of what’s capable and, in so doing, furthering our understanding of our place in the universe.”

Phase A will consist of developing critical technologies, critical design decisions, and the selection of industry partners to realize the mission concepts. Specifically, NASA and the ESA will be tasked with providing components for the SRL and the ERO missions, which are currently expected to launch sometime after 2025.

https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/thumbnails/image/pia23496_-_mav_launch.jpg
Artist’s impression of what a NASA Mars Ascent Vehicle, carrying tubes containing rock and soil samples, could look like. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Earlier this year, NASA established a Mars Sample Return Independent Review Board to evaluate its early concepts for a multi-mission partnership with the ESA. The board’s report to NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) (along with NASA’s response) was released in October, indicating that it is ready to undertake the campaign.

This was followed about a month later by the MSR Standing Review Board (SRB), a second panel made up of independent experts, recommending that the program move into Phase A. Bobby Braun is the program manager of the MSR program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which leads the development of the overall effort. As he summed it up:

“Beginning the formulation work of Phase A is a momentous step for our team, albeit one of several to come. These reviews strengthened our plan forward and this milestone signals creation of a tangible approach for MSR built upon the extraordinary capabilities of the NASA centers, our ESA partners, and industry.”

This will be the first time that samples are launched to Earth from another planet. More importantly, the ability to analyze these samples on Earth will allow for more thorough scientific returns. While Curiosity and other rovers conducted sample-analysis in-situ, in-depth analyses require instruments that are too large and complex to send to another planet.

https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/styles/full_width/public/thumbnails/image/mars2020-sample-tubes.jpg?itok=SiZDKmmG
NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover will store rock and soil samples in sealed tubes on the planet’s surface for future missions to retrieve. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In addition, having curated samples will allow scientists from all over the world to test new theories and models as they are developed. Consider the rock samples brought back by the Apollo astronauts, which are still providing vital clues about the Moon’s formation and evolution decades later. The MSR campaign will also require landing spacecraft on the Martian surface that are heavier than any previously sent.

It will also involve launch and orbital rendezvous operations around another planet for the first time. Last but not least, it will advance NASA’s efforts to begin sending astronauts to Mars, which is expected to take place sometime in the next decade. As Jeff Gramling, the director of the MSR program at NASA Headquarters, summarized:

“MSR will foster significant engineering advances for humanity and advance technologies needed to successfully realize the first round-trip mission to another planet. The scientific advances offered by pristine Martian samples through MSR are unprecedented, and this mission will contribute to NASA’s eventual goal of sending humans to Mars.”

The 2020s and early 2030s will be an exciting time for NASA. Aside from the first sample-return mission from Mars, NASA will also be sending the “first woman and next man” to the Moon as part of Project Artemis. By decades end, this will culminate in the creation of an orbiting space station (the Lunar Gateway) and the Artemis Base Camp on the lunar surface. These, in turn, will help prepare the way for crewed missions to Mars and beyond!

Further Reading: NASA

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Science

Eight Aww-Inspiring Videos of the Year’s Best Animal and Conservation Stories

8 Aww-Inspiring Videos of the Year’s Best Animal and Conservation Stories

2020 was an unprecedented year for people across the globe, but even as the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute temporarily closed its doors to the public, its work to save species continued. From a litter of chirping cheetahs and the birth of a lovable giant panda cub to groundbreaking coral reef research and new strides in animal care, there were many milestones to celebrate this year.

1. Alice the Stanley crane becomes a medical pioneer

Alice is unlike any other Stanley crane. Hand-raised by keepers, she has a sweet temperament and joyous personality. When she sustained a leg injury last summer, animal care staff rallied around Alice and found an innovative solution to help her thrive.

2. Researchers bring new hope to the future of coral reef conservation

Coral reefs support a quarter of all ocean life, but their survival is threatened by climate change. Smithsonian scientists have spent years studying corals and thinking creatively about how to save them. Their groundbreaking coral reproductive techniques introduced a new tool for coral restoration and the future of the ocean’s reefs.

3. Four adorable and playful cheetah cubs arrive

Cheetah Echo gave birth to four chirping cheetah cubs at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute this April. The launch of a new live Cheetah Cub Cam gave people the chance to watch Amabala, Jabari, Hasani and Erindi grow up. The cubs continue to warm hearts this winter whenever they pile up inside their den for a nap.

4. Ecologists explore the lives of brown pelicans on the Chesapeake Bay

Historic islands on the Chesapeake Bay, once home to people, now welcome breeding colonies of brown pelicans each year. Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center ecologist Autumn-Lynn Harrison placed GPS ear tags on some of these shorebirds to learn more about their lives on the Eastern Shore.

5. The world welcomes a precious giant panda cub

Giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji took the Internet by storm when he arrived in August. From opening his eyes to taking his first steps, this “little miracle” has been delighting viewers with his endearing antics on the live Panda Cam ever since.

6. Scientists achieve a first for cheetah reproduction

For the first time, scientists successfully transferred cheetah embryos produced by in vitro fertilization (IVF) to a surrogate cheetah mom. The collaboration between the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and Columbus Zoo resulted in two healthy cheetah cubs born in February 2020.

7. Researchers track mighty bison across the Great Plains

Every hour, solar-powered GPS ear tags tell scientists where bison roam across Sun Prairie at American Prairie Reserve in Montana. The study was the first of its scale ever conducted with bison, and the data collected tells the story of how bison travel as a herd across 26,000 acres of land.

8. A dedicated team supports the 2,700 animals in their care

From animal keepers and veterinarians to nutritionists, life-support engineers and more, it takes a village to care for the many animals that call the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute home. Today and every day, the animal care team works diligently behind the scenes to ensure that every animal receives the best possible care. Here are a few favorite moments from 2020, courtesy of this amazing group of people, and their hard work and dedication in an extraordinary year.

Ashley Goetz

Ashley Goetz is a web content writer at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, where she translates animal care research and conservation science into compelling stories. Ashley earned a bachelor’s degree in public communication with a minor in marine biology from American University. When she isn’t at the Zoo, she spends her time traveling, crocheting and watching reruns of “Parks and Recreation” with her two cats.

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See Inside Living Cells in Greater Detail Using New Microscopy Technique

ADRIFT QPI

Researchers at the University of Tokyo have found a way to enhance the sensitivity of existing quantitative phase imaging so that all structures inside living cells can be seen simultaneously, from tiny particles to large structures. This artistic representation of the technique shows pulses of sculpted light (green, top) traveling through a cell (center), and exiting (bottom) where changes in the light waves can be analyzed and converted into a more detailed image. Credit: s-graphics.co.jp, CC BY-NC-ND

Upgrade to quantitative phase imaging can increase image clarity by expanding dynamic range.

Experts in optical physics have developed a new way to see inside living cells in greater detail using existing microscopy technology and without needing to add stains or fluorescent dyes.

Since individual cells are almost translucent, microscope cameras must detect extremely subtle differences in the light passing through parts of the cell. Those differences are known as the phase of the light. Camera image sensors are limited by what amount of light phase difference they can detect, referred to as dynamic range.

“To see greater detail using the same image sensor, we must expand the dynamic range so that we can detect smaller phase changes of light,” said Associate Professor Takuro Ideguchi from the University of Tokyo Institute for Photon Science and Technology.

The research team developed a technique to take two exposures to measure large and small changes in light phase separately and then seamlessly connect them to create a highly detailed final image. They named their method adaptive dynamic range shift quantitative phase imaging (ADRIFT-QPI) and recently published their results in Light: Science & Applications.

Dynamic Range Expansion by ADRIFT QPI

Images of silica beads taken using conventional quantitative phase imaging (top) and a clearer image produced using a new ADRIFT-QPI microscopy method (bottom) developed by a research team at the University of Tokyo. The photos on the left are images of the optical phase and images on the right show the optical phase change due to the mid-infrared (molecular specific) light absorption by the silica beads. In this proof-of-concept demonstration, researchers calculated that they achieved approximately 7 times greater sensitivity by ADRIFT-QPI than that by conventional QPI. Credit: Image by Toda et al., CC-BY 4.0

“Our ADRIFT-QPI method needs no special laser, no special microscope or image sensors; we can use live cells, we don’t need any stains or fluorescence, and there is very little chance of phototoxicity,” said Ideguchi.

Phototoxicity refers to killing cells with light, which can become a problem with some other imaging techniques, such as fluorescence imaging.

Quantitative phase imaging sends a pulse of a flat sheet of light towards the cell, then measures the phase shift of the light waves after they pass through the cell. Computer analysis then reconstructs an image of the major structures inside the cell. Ideguchi and his collaborators have previously pioneered other methods to enhance quantitative phase microscopy.

Quantitative phase imaging is a powerful tool for examining individual cells because it allows researchers to make detailed measurements, like tracking the growth rate of a cell based on the shift in light waves. However, the quantitative aspect of the technique has low sensitivity because of the low saturation capacity of the image sensor, so tracking nanosized particles in and around cells is not possible with a conventional approach.

ADRIFT QPI Live COS7 Cell

A standard image (top) taken using conventional quantitative phase imaging and a clearer image (bottom) produced using a new ADRIFT-QPI microscopy method developed by a research team at the University of Tokyo. The photos on the left are images of the optical phase and images on the right show the optical phase change due to the mid-infrared (molecular specific) light absorption mainly by protein. Blue arrow points towards the edge of the nucleus, white arrow points towards the nucleoli (a substructure inside the nucleus), and green arrows point towards other large particles. Credit: Image by Toda et al., CC-BY 4.0

The new ADRIFT-QPI method has overcome the dynamic range limitation of quantitative phase imaging. During ADRIFT-QPI, the camera takes two exposures and produces a final image that has seven times greater sensitivity than traditional quantitative phase microscopy images.

The first exposure is produced with conventional quantitative phase imaging – a flat sheet of light is pulsed towards the sample and the phase shifts of the light are measured after it passes through the sample. A computer image analysis program develops an image of the sample based on the first exposure then rapidly designs a sculpted wavefront of light that mirrors that image of the sample. A separate component called a wavefront shaping device then generates this “sculpture of light” with higher intensity light for stronger illumination and pulses it towards the sample for a second exposure.

If the first exposure produced an image that was a perfect representation of the sample, the custom-sculpted light waves of the second exposure would enter the sample at different phases, pass through the sample, then emerge as a flat sheet of light, causing the camera to see nothing but a dark image.

“This is the interesting thing: We kind of erase the sample’s image. We want to see almost nothing. We cancel out the large structures so that we can see the smaller ones in great detail,” Ideguchi explained.

In reality, the first exposure is imperfect, so the sculptured light waves emerge with subtle phase deviations.

The second exposure reveals tiny light phase differences that were “washed out” by larger differences in the first exposure. These remaining tiny light phase difference can be measured with increased sensitivity due to the stronger illumination used in the second exposure.

Additional computer analysis reconstructs a final image of the sample with an expanded dynamic range from the two measurement results. In proof-of-concept demonstrations, researchers estimate the ADRIFT-QPI produces images with seven times greater sensitivity than conventional quantitative phase imaging.

Ideguchi says that the true benefit of ADRIFT-QPI is its ability to see tiny particles in context of the whole living cell without needing any labels or stains.

“For example, small signals from nanoscale particles like viruses or particles moving around inside and outside a cell could be detected, which allows for simultaneous observation of their behavior and the cell’s state,” said Ideguchi.

Reference: “Adaptive dynamic range shift (ADRIFT) quantitative phase imaging” by K. Toda, M. Tamamitsu and T. Ideguchi, 31 December 2020, Light: Science & Applications.
DOI: 10.1038/s41377-020-00435-z

Funding: Japan Science and Technology Agency, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science.

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Eight Aww-Inspiring Videos of the Year’s Best Animal and Conservation Stories

8 Aww-Inspiring Videos of the Year’s Best Animal and Conservation Stories

2020 was an unprecedented year for people across the globe, but even as the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute temporarily closed its doors to the public, its work to save species continued. From a litter of chirping cheetahs and the birth of a lovable giant panda cub to groundbreaking coral reef research and new strides in animal care, there were many milestones to celebrate this year.

1. Alice the Stanley crane becomes a medical pioneer

Alice is unlike any other Stanley crane. Hand-raised by keepers, she has a sweet temperament and joyous personality. When she sustained a leg injury last summer, animal care staff rallied around Alice and found an innovative solution to help her thrive.

2. Researchers bring new hope to the future of coral reef conservation

Coral reefs support a quarter of all ocean life, but their survival is threatened by climate change. Smithsonian scientists have spent years studying corals and thinking creatively about how to save them. Their groundbreaking coral reproductive techniques introduced a new tool for coral restoration and the future of the ocean’s reefs.

3. Four adorable and playful cheetah cubs arrive

Cheetah Echo gave birth to four chirping cheetah cubs at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute this April. The launch of a new live Cheetah Cub Cam gave people the chance to watch Amabala, Jabari, Hasani and Erindi grow up. The cubs continue to warm hearts this winter whenever they pile up inside their den for a nap.

4. Ecologists explore the lives of brown pelicans on the Chesapeake Bay

Historic islands on the Chesapeake Bay, once home to people, now welcome breeding colonies of brown pelicans each year. Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center ecologist Autumn-Lynn Harrison placed GPS ear tags on some of these shorebirds to learn more about their lives on the Eastern Shore.

5. The world welcomes a precious giant panda cub

Giant panda cub Xiao Qi Ji took the Internet by storm when he arrived in August. From opening his eyes to taking his first steps, this “little miracle” has been delighting viewers with his endearing antics on the live Panda Cam ever since.

6. Scientists achieve a first for cheetah reproduction

For the first time, scientists successfully transferred cheetah embryos produced by in vitro fertilization (IVF) to a surrogate cheetah mom. The collaboration between the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and Columbus Zoo resulted in two healthy cheetah cubs born in February 2020.

7. Researchers track mighty bison across the Great Plains

Every hour, solar-powered GPS ear tags tell scientists where bison roam across Sun Prairie at American Prairie Reserve in Montana. The study was the first of its scale ever conducted with bison, and the data collected tells the story of how bison travel as a herd across 26,000 acres of land.

8. A dedicated team supports the 2,700 animals in their care

From animal keepers and veterinarians to nutritionists, life-support engineers and more, it takes a village to care for the many animals that call the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute home. Today and every day, the animal care team works diligently behind the scenes to ensure that every animal receives the best possible care. Here are a few favorite moments from 2020, courtesy of this amazing group of people, and their hard work and dedication in an extraordinary year.

Ashley Goetz

Ashley Goetz is a web content writer at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, where she translates animal care research and conservation science into compelling stories. Ashley earned a bachelor’s degree in public communication with a minor in marine biology from American University. When she isn’t at the Zoo, she spends her time traveling, crocheting and watching reruns of “Parks and Recreation” with her two cats.

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