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In this issue:
From Discovery to Application: Crossing the Valley of Death
SLAC Public Lecture March 22: Life Redefined
Stanford Astronomy Lecture March 10: Kepler's Search for Habitable Worlds

SLAC Today

Tuesday- March 8, 2011

From Discovery to Application:
Crossing the Valley of Death

(Image: Sandbox Studio.)

Many a promising innovation dies on its way from the research lab to the commercial market. But with help from government or industry, the survival odds improve.

Bob and Marianne Hamm met and married in graduate school. Together they pursued PhDs in physics, got jobs at a national research laboratory, left that laboratory to start an accelerator technology company, and successfully crossed the "Valley of Death" not once but twice, eventually generating $57 million in sales during their 22 years in business.

The Valley of Death. It's a phrase familiar to anyone who owns a small high-tech business, Marianne Hamm says. It all starts with an innovative idea and a small business loan. The company builds a prototype and proves that the technology works. Maybe a seed grant comes along. Then, somewhere between the laboratory bench and the commercial market, the loans expire and the seed money is gone. The business runs out of cash and out of steam and dies a painful death in a landscape littered with the carcasses of companies that came before.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science has launched an initiative to encourage breakthroughs in accelerator science and their translation into applications for energy and the environment, medicine, industry, national security and discovery science. A report, Accelerators for America's Future, published by the Office of Science, cites the Valley of Death as a critical challenge that results in countless missed opportunities.  Read more in Symmetry magazine...

SLAC Public Lecture March 22:
Life Redefined

Researchers Sam Webb of SLAC and Felisa Wolfe-Simon from NASA will present the next SLAC public lecture, "Life Redefined: Microbes Built with Arsenic."  The talk will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 22 in SLAC's Panofsky Auditorium.

Life can survive in many harsh environments, coping with challenges from extreme heat to the presence of deadly chemicals. However, life as we know it has always been based on the same six elements: carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, sulfur and phosphorus. Now it appears that even this rule has an exception. In the saline and poisonous environment of Mono Lake, researchers have found a bacterium that can grow by incorporating arsenic into its structure in place of phosphorus. X-ray images taken at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource at SLAC reveal that this microbe may even use arsenic as a building block for DNA. Please join us as we describe this discovery, which rewrites the textbook description of how living cells work.

Stanford Astronomy Lecture March 10:
Kepler's Search for Habitable Worlds

Natalie Batalha is deputy science team lead of the Kepler Mission.

Stanford University's Astronomy Program is proud to announce the 28th Annual Bunyan Lecture, Thursday, March 10 at 7:30 p.m. Astrophysicist Natalie Batalha, associate professor at San Jose State University and deputy science team lead of the Kepler Mission, will present "Light and Shadow: Kepler's Search for Habitable Worlds."

Humankind's speculation about the existence of other worlds like our own turned into a veritable quest with the launch of NASA's Kepler spacecraft in March, 2009. The mission is designed to survey a slice of the Milky Way Galaxy to identify planets orbiting other stars. It looks for the telltale dimming of light that occurs when an orbiting planet passes in front of the star, casting a shadow into space. The roster of exoplanets discovered by Kepler has reached 15 in number, including one world that is unquestionably rocky in composition. Moreover, the team has released a catalog of more than one thousand stars showing the recurring dimmings of light that suggest the presence of a planet. In her talk, Batalha will discuss the methods used to identify planets as well as the discoveries that have been announced to date. Now beginning its third year of operation, Kepler is zeroing in on the answer to the question that drives the mission: are potentially inhabitable worlds abundant in our galaxy?

The talk will take place in Braun Auditorium, Mudd Chemistry Building, on the Stanford University campus. The event is free and open to the public.

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