ARPA-E whitepapers The U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy has announced the beginning of project concept, also known as whitepaper, submissions, to be open from May 8 through June 2. Funding was finally appropriated for the agency under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 Feb. 17. This means that less than three months after ARPA-E became a certainty, the agency will begin accepting project concept papers. That is an amazing feat for Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, who was the driving force behind the concept, and it bodes well for the Department of Energy’s ability to manage the enormous and unprecedented influx of funding provided by the recovery act. The full announcement can be found at http://arpa-e.energy.gov/keydocs/ARPA-E-FOA.PDF/.Ultra-fast photography Scientists at the University of California at Los Angeles funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency have succeeded in creating a motion picture camera capable of capturing six million frames per second. This is a thousand-fold increase over the fastest current high-speed cameras. The team reported its success to Nature April 30. The camera operates by encoding an image into a laser pulse which is then “stretched” by a method called amplified dispersive Fourier transform, which amplifies the pulse and converts it into a slower pulse that can be detected and turned into a digital signal.
Swine flu virus Though the new A(H1N1) swine flu virus continues to spread around the world, and the World Health Organization’s Pandemic Threat Scale remains at “Phase 5,” the second-highest level, there has recently been good news regarding the epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported details of their genetic analysis of the virus. The virus does not have certain genes thought to be responsible for the virulence of the 1918 Spanish flu or the H5N1 avian flu circulating in Eurasia’s bird population. The CDC also suggests that the genetic components of this virus originating from human influenza make it very likely that most people will have some immunity to it, reducing the probability and severity of infection. These genetic factors could explain why the spread of the virus has been slower than expected and mortality rates have evened out. Nature reports that WHO virologists at the United Kingdom’s National Institute for Medical Research are beginning a comprehensive study of the virus to determine its likely mutations in the near future. The WHO scientists will try to work out how virulent the virus might become should it encounter other viruses and exchange RNA with them. The results will also show how likely it will be that a vaccine derived from this strain will produce an immune response in humans that protects against future versions of the virus. The reports from the CDC are encouraging, but this virus is likely to mutate. Hopefully, this new WHO study will generate good evidence that the virus will simply become a seasonal influenza and not a pandemic-producing killer.