New data gathered on Easter earthquake

In the weeks since the magnitude 7.2 Easter Sunday earthquake was felt throughout northern Mexico and Southern California, the steady stream of real-time data continues to be collected. This is accomplished through the High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network (HPWREN), which includes backbone nodes at the UCSD and San Diego State University campuses.

HPWREN’s roughly 20,000-square-mile area of connectivity is enabling researchers to receive real-time data from thousands of aftershocks. The data sets are shared with agencies in the region, with the hope of developing more effective hazard response as well as enable engineers to better mitigate the damaging effects of temblors. In the area of emergency response, for example, the ability to analyze seismic data in real time allows the generation of epicenter “strike maps” that highlight which areas shook the most. This is valuable to first-responders who use this information to help rescue people trapped in collapsed structures.

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Secrets of cell membrane

Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute are part of a team that has discovered the structure of a protein that pinches off tiny pouches (vesicles) from the outer membrane of cells.

The cell membrane is a barrier against harmful materials, but cells also need a means for acquiring nutrients and hormones from the bloodstream. That’s where the vesicles come into play. They develop when molecules bind to specific receptors on a cell’s membrane. The membrane then forms a pit around the molecules, which is squeezed into a vesicle that detaches from the cell membrane and delivers its contents (which can include medicine) into the cell.

The discovery of the structure of the protein dynamin helps to answer many longstanding questions about how vesicles form and may ultimately lead to the design of better drug-delivery methods. The findings appear in the journal Nature.

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Lost light reflector found

A team of physicists led by UCSD has pinpointed the location of a long lost light reflector left on the lunar surface nearly 40 years ago. Previous attempts to find the reflector were unsuccessful and scientists had little hope it would ever be located.

The laser reflector was sent aboard the unmanned Soviet Luna 17 mission, which landed on the moon in 1970 releasing a robotic rover that carried the reflector. Contact with the rover was lost the following year.

A breakthrough in the search came last month when the high-resolution camera on NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter identified the rover as a sunlit speck on a captured image of the Luna 17 landing site.

Finding the reflector is important because it was deployed as part of a long-term effort to look for deviations of Einstein’s theory of general relativity by measuring the shape of the lunar orbit to an accuracy within 1 millimeter, or about the thickness of a paper clip. This is accomplished by timing the reflections of laser light pulses from several reflectors left by other lunar missions and calculating that data into a measurement of distance.

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Lynne Friedmann is a science writer based in Solana Beach.