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November 1, 2013

NSF Science Now-Episode 16

Wireless network story: Calling for help may soon get a little bit easier for the elderly. Electrical engineers at the university of Utah have developed a network of wireless sensors that can detect a person falling. This monitoring technology could be linked to a service that would call 911 or caregiver. The system uses a two-level array of radio-frequency sensors, similar to those used in home wireless networks. Placed around the perimeter of a room at two heights that correspond to someone standing or lying down, the arrays communicate with one another. Anyone standing or falling inside the network alters the path of signals sent between the pairs of sensors. The NSF-funded team conducted experiments to measure the amount of time that elapses when a person falls, sits or lies on the floor. They were then able to determine a time threshold for detecting dangerous falls. This information allows the system to not only accurately identify that a person has fallen and where, but also whether it is life threatening...all without the need for a body worn monitor. Ice-shelf melt story: deep beneath Antarctica's fastest moving glacier, lies clues to future global sea-level rise. An NSF-funded research team has for the first time produced detailed, direct measurements of how relatively warm sea water is melting Pine Island Glacier from below. The team mapped the underside of the 31-mile long glacier by both installing instruments directly into the ice and by airborne radar. Scientists have long known that Pine Island Glacier was melting from below, but this team feels these new models will be critical in making more accurate predictions of future changes in the ice shelf, which holds back ice flow from the interior of the continent. Ice entering the Southern Ocean becomes a major contributor to global sea-level rise as it melts. Understanding the mechanisms of ice-shelf melt will help scientists understand if, and how the melt might increase in the future. Scientists and engineers: A recent NSF study reveals that the employment of scientists and engineers are concentrated in a small number of U.S. states. California, New York, and Texas together account for more than one-fourth of all of the S&E employment. Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Ohio also make up a significant portion of S&E employment. It is considered that the scientists and engineers bring a vast range of expertise critical in shaping regional innovation. Largest volcano: An international team of scientists have uncovered the largest known single volcano on earth. Located in the Pacific Ocean, one-thousand miles east of Japan, the volcano, dubbed Tamu Massif, is approximately the size of New Mexico. Similar in size to giant volcanoes on mars, Tamu Massif is among the largest in the solar system. IODP core samples retrieved from a 2009 expedition aboard the JOIDES Resolution research ship showed that the volcano is built from very think lava flows. Seismic reflection data gathered later from expeditions aboard NSF's R/V Marcus G. Langseth revealed lava flows from the center dipping hundreds of miles down the sides. Team leader Will Sager says that Tamu Massif is about 145 million years old and its top lies 6,500 feet below the ocean surface. Sager hopes this volcano will give scientists clues to how massive volcanoes form.

Credit: National Science Foundation

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