SciTech Roundup 10/10


CMU creates office to support open-source projects

Over the summer, Carnegie Mellon established the Open Source Program Office (OSPO), which will support students in their contributions to open-source software. The office is funded by a $650,000 grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and will be under the University Libraries, which host open data and research services. Projects include supporting automatic science efforts at Carnegie Mellon's Cloud Lab and the Software Engineering Institute.

Modeling the growth of neurons

Carnegie Mellon researchers in the mechanical engineering department spent three years developing software to model the growth of neurons, now published in a paper in "Sci Rep." The team used a type of isogeometric analysis to break down the models into finite elements and alter the parameters of the model without recalculating the entire system. They also used phase field modeling to simulate continuous change in the model instead of having distinct phases of models. These methods were important as the team wanted to model all types of neuron growth patterns, which they found were difficult to achieve with methods such as the finite difference method. The team hopes that by improving models of neuron growth, they can make advances in studying neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's.

Customized disease treatment with nanoprint electrodes

The CMU Array is what Carnegie Mellon researchers are calling a 3D-printed high density microelectrode array (MEA) that could help customize disease treatment to the patient. In a paper in "Science Advances," they describe their MEA, which is a silicone-based field of pins that can be inserted into the brain to detect electrical discharge as part of a brain computer interface platform. Because it is 3D-printed, it can be easily changed based on the patient, and can also be three-dimensional to acquire more data. The team has filed for a patent on the CMU Array, and predict that it will take five years before human testing, and commercial use, their ultimate goal, will take even longer.


Gas pipe leaks thousands of tons of methane, potentially deliberately

Natural gas pipes under the Baltic Sea leaked on Sept. 27 in what some suspect was a purposeful attempt to sabotage a country. Polish and Ukrainian leaders point fingers at the Russian government, while Russian state media point fingers at the U.S. or Ukraine. The leaks released about half the gas in one of the Nord Stream pipes running from Russia to Germany, amounting to several hundred thousands of tons of methane in the atmosphere. As of Oct. 3, the leaks have stopped.

Danish and Swedish seismic networks, which usually detect earthquakes, found evidence of two powerful underwater blasts that went off in the area around the Nord Stream gas pipes before the leaks were detected. The explosions combined were the equivalent of 100 tons of dynamite, and experts find the seismic data to be similar to that produced by undersea mines or depth charges, weapons to destroy submarines. They suspect that these explosions broke the pipes and caused the leaks. It is also extremely difficult for these pipes, which are undersea and made with concrete-coated steel, to break on their own.

This event also comes at a time when, due to Russia's war against Ukraine and sanctions against Russia in retaliation, gas is in shorter supply and prices have risen dramatically. Russia has slowly reduced the amount of gas flowing from Nord Stream 1 to the rest of Europe before halting it altogether at the end of August, citing economic pressure from Western sanctions.

Other reasons people suspect the event could be for sabotage is the leaks are not too far underwater, making them dive-able, and are just 12 miles from nearby land, the Danish island of Bornholm. Some of the leaks are in Danish economic territory while another is in Swedish economic territory. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has acknowledged that the leaks could be deliberate, then added: "If it is confirmed, that's clearly in no one's interest."

Other than the suspicions of sabotage, another cause for the concern is the immense amount of methane the leaks emitted, which scientists estimate to be 100,000 to 400,000 tons of methane. No matter what the true number is, it's still nearly guaranteed that it is the single largest methane emission event in history, releasing anywhere from two times to five times the amount of methane of the second largest methane event, the Aliso Canyon disaster.

Unfortunately, this still isn't much compared to the total methane emitted by the fossil fuel industry, amounting to only a day or two of fossil fuel emissions. And though many talk about reducing their carbon footprint, methane is a much stronger contributor to global warming than carbon dioxide, absorbing 82.5 times more heat. This does not mean that the methane emissions from the Nord Stream leaks are small but rather puts into perspective how much methane fossil fuel companies produce.