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In this issue:
An X-ray Time Machine?
Profile: Susan Schultz
Stanford Savers Program Offers Palo Alto Discounts
Animating Science

SLAC Today

Wednesday - April 4, 2007

An X-ray Time Machine?

A fossilized squid used in last week's x-ray studies at SSRL. (Click on image for larger version.)

There's nothing new about using x-rays to look at bones. But using them on bones a hundred million years old is another story. This week, a team of researchers visiting SSRL is finding that when it comes to ancient fossils and bones locked in stone, x-rays may be revolutionizing the science of paleontology.

Fossilized remains of birds, sharks, squid and other ancient creatures contain far more than the flat, skeletal traces visible to the eye, according to materials scientist Bob Morton. Almost 20 years ago, Morton came up with the idea of using x-rays to map the invisible chemistry hidden within fossils, elements left behind as a living creature decays. Now, using the x-ray fluorescence microprobe at SSRL's Beamline 6-2, Morton and his team are finding details long thought by fossil experts to be irretrievable. From ancient samples of shale and limestone are emerging the first ever images of the ghostly remnants of soft tissues—the organs and skin of a shark, the tentacles of an extinct squid, and possibly a heart of a bird that died 122 million years ago.

"This is a story about chemical fossils," said Morton. "In the past people have focused on physical fossils. But now we can take a detailed look at life going back billions of years in a way never before possible. Knowing the chemistry of ancient creatures and how they are preserved elementally can yield clues about genetics, and help scientists fill in gaps on the tree of life going back to the first evidence of life on earth." Read more...

(Weekly Column - Profile)

Susan Schultz

(Photo - Susan Schultz)

Susan Schultz, head of the Communications Department's brand new Office of Education, seems perfectly matched for SLAC: she earned her PhD from Stanford and married a physicist who now works on the Linac Coherent Light Source.

But more than that, Schultz is passionate about science. "One of my favorite memories is working on a 65-foot research vessel in Alaska's inner passage, observing the feeding behaviors of humpback whales and conducting a population census of American Bald Eagles," she said.

Schultz is equally enthusiastic about the astrophysics, photon science, accelerator and particle physics research that takes place at SLAC. "As I learn about all of the exciting work going on at the lab, I'm realizing just how large the opportunity is for us to share this incredible amount of knowledge with the local community," she said.

Schultz's first goal is to expand the existing tour program to include all the lab's research areas. Other aspects of her educational outreach plan include developing partnerships with K-12 teachers; designing curriculum to be used in schools; enhancing the undergraduate internship program; and redesigning the visitor center to reflect the variety of scientific research at SLAC. Her long-term dream is to create a SLAC learning center for students, teachers, undergraduates, and graduate students.

"These programs will involve the efforts of many people," she said. "I hope to find experts from each department to share their knowledge and to help recruit volunteers."

Stanford Savers Offers Local Discounts

(Image - Stanford ID)
Don't let that sandwich break the bank. Instead, know that Stanford students, faculty, and staff are eligible for discounts on everything from burgers to billiards at a host of local stores.

To claim a discount, present a valid Stanford University identification card at a participating business. A list of those offering discounts is available here. For more information, visit the Stanford Savers Program website.

Animating Science

On March 23, a distinguished group of scientists and guests gathered at SSRL to celebrate the opening of the new Molecular Observatory for Structural Molecular Biology at the new Beamline 12 (Read the SLAC Today story here). To mark the occasion, Greg Stewart of SLAC's InfoMedia Solutions produced a short animation that demonstrates the scientific principles behind the new beamline, accompanied by a soundtrack created by Chip Dalby, also of InfoMedia.

Stewart worked closely with beamline scientist Mike Soltis to narrow down the science involved and how to best represent it visually. For the particle at the end of the animation, Stewart imported actual molecular data into the 3D application, Lightwave 3D.

"Doing so saved a lot of time and added an important level realism to the animation," said Stewart.

Click here to download a Quicktime file of the animation, also available from the InfoMedia homepage.

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