Tag Archives: matter

The powerful gravity of a galaxy embedded in a massive cluster of galaxies in this Hubble Space Telescope image is producing multiple images of a single distant supernova far behind it. Both the galaxy and the galaxy cluster are acting like a giant cosmic lens, bending and magnifying light from the supernova behind them, an effect called gravitational lensing.

The image shows the galaxy's location within a hefty cluster of galaxies called MACS J1149.6+2223, located more than 5 billion light-years away. In the enlarged inset view of the galaxy, the arrows point to the multiple copies of the exploding star, dubbed Supernova Refsdal, located 9.3 billion light-years from Earth. The images are arranged around the galaxy in a cross-shaped pattern called an Einstein Cross. The blue streaks wrapping around the galaxy are the stretched images of the supernova's host spiral galaxy, which has been distorted by the warping of space.

The four images were spotted on Nov. 11, 2014. This Hubble image combines data from three months of observations taken in visible light by the Advanced Camera for Surveys and in near-infrared light by the Wide Field Camera 3.

Object Names: SN Refsdal, MACS J1149.6+2223


Credit: NASA, ESA, and S. Rodney (JHU) and the FrontierSN team; T. Treu (UCLA), P. Kelly (UC Berkeley), and the GLASS team; J. Lotz (STScI) and the Frontier Fields team; M. Postman (STScI) and the CLASH team; and Z. Levay (STScI)

Significant progress in dark matter studies: Hubble Sees Supernova Split into Four Images by Cosmic Lens

Some of astronomy’s biggest goals include the study of dark matter and dark energy. These two phenomena were indirectly observed in 20th century and the questions about their nature still puzzle us. Astronomers, cosmologists, particle physicists, theoretical physicists and researchers in other related areas are trying hard to find more and more clues about the nature of dark matter and dark energy which comprise of around 95% of our universe.

The powerful gravity of a galaxy embedded in a massive cluster of galaxies in this Hubble Space Telescope image is producing multiple images of a single distant supernova far behind it. Both the galaxy and the galaxy cluster are acting like a giant cosmic lens, bending and magnifying light from the supernova behind them, an effect called gravitational lensing. The image shows the galaxy’s location within a hefty cluster of galaxies called MACS J1149.6+2223, located more than 5 billion light-years away. In the enlarged inset view of the galaxy, the arrows point to the multiple copies of the exploding star, dubbed Supernova Refsdal, located 9.3 billion light-years from Earth.
The images are arranged around the galaxy in a cross-shaped pattern called an Einstein Cross. The blue streaks wrapping around the galaxy are the stretched images of the supernova’s host spiral galaxy, which has been distorted by the warping of space. The four images were spotted on Nov. 11, 2014. This Hubble image combines data from three months of observations taken in visible light by the Advanced Camera for Surveys and in near-infrared light by the Wide Field Camera 3.
Object Names: SN Refsdal, MACS J1149.6+2223
Credit: NASA, ESA, and S. Rodney (JHU) and the FrontierSN team; T. Treu (UCLA), P. Kelly (UC Berkeley), and the GLASS team; J. Lotz (STScI) and the Frontier Fields team; M. Postman (STScI) and the CLASH team; and Z. Levay (STScI)

Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have spotted for the first time a distant supernova split into four images. The multiple images of the exploding star are caused by the powerful gravity of a foreground elliptical galaxy embedded in a massive cluster of galaxies.

This unique observation will help astronomers refine their estimates of the amount and distribution of dark matter in the lensing galaxy and cluster. Dark matter cannot be seen directly but is believed to make up most of the universe’s mass.

The gravity from both the elliptical galaxy and the galaxy cluster distorts and magnifies the light from the supernova behind them, an effect called gravitational lensing. First predicted by Albert Einstein, this effect is similar to a glass lens bending light to magnify and distort the image of an object behind it. The multiple images are arranged around the elliptical galaxy in a cross-shaped pattern called an Einstein Cross, a name originally given to a particular multiply imaged quasar, the bright core of an active galaxy.

The elliptical galaxy and its cluster, MACS J1149.6+2223, are 5 billion light-years from Earth. The supernova behind it is 9.3 billion light-years away.

Although astronomers have discovered dozens of multiply imaged galaxies and quasars, they have never seen a stellar explosion resolved into several images. “It really threw me for a loop when I spotted the four images surrounding the galaxy — it was a complete surprise,” said Patrick Kelly of the University of California, Berkeley, a member of the Grism Lens Amplified Survey from Space (GLASS) collaboration. The GLASS group is working with the Frontier Field Supernova (FrontierSN) team to analyze the exploding star. Kelly is also the lead author on the science paper, which will appear on March 6 in a special issue of the journal Science celebrating the centenary of Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.

When the four images fade away, astronomers predict they will have a rare opportunity to catch a rerun of the supernova. This is because the current four-image pattern is only one part of the lensing display. The supernova may have appeared as a single image some 20 years ago elsewhere in the cluster field, and it is expected to reappear once more within the next five years.

This prediction is based on computer models of the cluster, which describe the various paths the supernova light is taking through the maze of clumpy dark matter in the galactic grouping. Each image takes a different route through the cluster and arrives at a different time, due, in part, to differences in the length of the pathways the light follows to reach Earth. The four supernova images captured by Hubble, for example, appeared within a few days or weeks of each other.

The supernova’s various light paths are analogous to several trains that leave a station at the same time, all traveling at the same speed and bound for the same location. Each train, however, takes a different route, and the distance for each route is not the same. Some trains travel over hills. Others go through valleys, and still others chug around mountains. Because the trains travel over different track lengths across different terrain, they do not arrive at their destination at the same time. Similarly, the supernova images do not appear at the same time because some of the light is delayed by traveling around bends created by the gravity of dense dark matter in the intervening galaxy cluster.

“Our model for the dark matter in the cluster gives us the prediction of when the next image will appear because it tells us how long each train track is, which correlates with time,” said Steve Rodney of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, leader of the FrontierSN team. “We already missed one that we think appeared about 20 years ago, and we found these four images after they had already appeared. The prediction of this future image is the one that is most exciting because we might be able to catch it. We hope to come back to this field with Hubble, and we’ll keep looking to see when that expected next image appears.”

Measuring the time delays between images offers clues to the type of warped-space terrain the supernova’s light had to cover and will help the astronomers fine-tune the models that map out the cluster’s mass. “We will measure the time delays, and we’ll go back to the models and compare them to the model predictions of the light paths,” Kelly said. “The lens modelers, such as Adi Zitrin (California Institute of Technology) from our team, will then be able to adjust their models to more accurately recreate the landscape of dark matter, which dictates the light travel time.”

While making a routine search of the GLASS team’s data, Kelly spotted the four images of the exploding star on Nov. 11, 2014. The FrontierSN and GLASS teams have been searching for such highly magnified explosions since 2013, and this object is their most spectacular discovery. The supernova appears about 20 times brighter than its natural brightness, due to the combined effects of two overlapping lenses. The dominant lensing effect is from the massive galaxy cluster, which focuses the supernova light along at least three separate paths. A secondary lensing effect occurs when one of those light paths happens to be precisely aligned with a specific elliptical galaxy within the cluster. “The dark matter of that individual galaxy then bends and refocuses the light into four more paths,” Rodney explained, “generating the rare Einstein Cross pattern we are currently observing.”

The two teams spent a week analyzing the object’s light, confirming it was the signature of a supernova. They then turned to the W.M. Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, in Hawaii, to measure the distance to the supernova’s host galaxy.

The astronomers nicknamed the supernova Refsdal in honor of Norwegian astronomer Sjur Refsdal, who, in 1964, first proposed using time-delayed images from a lensed supernova to study the expansion of the universe. “Astronomers have been looking to find one ever since,” said Tommaso Treu of the University of California, Los Angeles, the GLASS project’s principal investigator. “The long wait is over!”

The Frontier Fields survey is a three-year program that uses Hubble and the gravitational-lensing effects of six massive galaxy clusters to probe not only what is inside the clusters but also what is beyond them. The three-year FrontierSN program studies supernovae that appear in and around the galaxy clusters of the Frontier Fields and GLASS surveys. The GLASS survey is using Hubble’s spectroscopic capabilities to study remote galaxies through the cosmic telescopes of 10 massive galaxy clusters, including the six in the Frontier Fields.

Supernova Refsdal and Galaxy Cluster MACS J1149.6+2223
Source: Hubblesite.org

Source: Hubble Site

In a pioneering study, Professor Menon and his team were able to discover half-light, half-matter particles in atomically thin semiconductors (thickness ~ a millionth of a single sheet of paper) consisting of two-dimensional (2D) layer of molybdenum and sulfur atoms arranged similar to graphene. They sandwiched this 2D material in a light trapping structure to realize these composite quantum particles.

Credit: CCNY

Study Unveils New Half-Light Half-Matter Quantum Particles

Prospects of developing computing and communication technologies based on quantum properties of light and matter may have taken a major step forward thanks to research by City College of New York physicists led by Dr. Vinod Menon.

In a pioneering study, Professor Menon and his team were able to discover half-light, half-matter particles in atomically thin semiconductors (thickness ~ a millionth of a single sheet of paper) consisting of two-dimensional (2D) layer of molybdenum and sulfur atoms arranged similar to graphene. They sandwiched this 2D material in a light trapping structure to realize these composite quantum particles.

“Besides being a fundamental breakthrough, this opens up the possibility of making devices which take the benefits of both light and matter,” said Professor Menon.  

In a pioneering study, Professor Menon and his team were able to discover half-light, half-matter particles in atomically thin semiconductors (thickness ~ a millionth of a single sheet of paper) consisting of two-dimensional (2D) layer of molybdenum and sulfur atoms arranged similar to graphene. They sandwiched this 2D material in a light trapping structure to realize these composite quantum particles. Credit: CCNY
In a pioneering study, Professor Menon and his team were able to discover half-light, half-matter particles in atomically thin semiconductors (thickness ~ a millionth of a single sheet of paper) consisting of two-dimensional (2D) layer of molybdenum and sulfur atoms arranged similar to graphene. They sandwiched this 2D material in a light trapping structure to realize these composite quantum particles.
Credit: CCNY

For example one can start envisioning logic gates and signal processors that take on best of light and matter. The discovery is also expected to contribute to developing practical platforms for quantum computing. 

Dr. Dirk Englund, a professor at MIT whose research focuses on quantum technologies based on semiconductor and optical systems, hailed the City College study.

“What is so remarkable and exciting in the work by Vinod and his team is how readily this strong coupling regime could actually be achieved. They have shown convincingly that by coupling a rather standard dielectric cavity to exciton–polaritons in a monolayer of molybdenum disulphide, they could actually reach this strong coupling regime with a very large binding strength,” he said. 

Professor Menon’s research team included City College PhD students, Xiaoze Liu, Tal Galfsky and Zheng Sun, and scientists from Yale University, National Tsing Hua University (Taiwan) and Ecole Polytechnic -Montreal (Canada).

The study appears in the January issue of the journal “Nature Photonics.” It was funded by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory’s Army Research Office and the National Science Foundation through the Materials Research Science and Engineering Center – Center for Photonic and Multiscale Nanomaterials. 

Source: The City College New of York

This artist’s impression depicts the formation of a galaxy cluster in the early Universe. The galaxies are vigorously forming new stars and interacting with each other. Such a scene closely resembles the Spiderweb Galaxy (formally known as MRC 1138-262) and its surroundings, which is one of the best-studied protoclusters.

Credit:

ESO/M. Kornmesser

Universe may face a darker future

Since the discovery of the accelerated expansion of the universe in 1997 by High-Z Supernova Team led by Prof. Brian Schmidt and Adam Rees, and by Supernova Cosmology Project Team led by Prof. Saul Perlmutter, the question of the nature of this expansion and the role of the mysterious dark energy has puzzled the minds of many theoretical and observational physicists/astrophysicists.

Another puzzling question in astronomy comes from the unusual behavior of the stars revolving around the galaxies with higher velocities than expected if we consider the apparent baryonic matter in the galaxy.This has led to many new questions related to something we called the dark matter, another unexplained phenomenon.

 


 

New research offers a novel insight into the nature of dark matter and dark energy and what the future of our Universe might be.

Researchers in Portsmouth and Rome have found hints that dark matter, the cosmic scaffolding on which our Universe is built, is being slowly erased, swallowed up by dark energy.

The findings appear in the journal Physical Review Letters, published by the American Physical Society. In the journal cosmologists at the Universities of Portsmouth and Rome, argue that the latest astronomical data favours a dark energy that grows as it interacts with dark matter, and this appears to be slowing the growth of structure in the cosmos.

Professor David Wands, Director of Portsmouth’sInstitute of Cosmology and Gravitation, is one of the research team.

He said: “This study is about the fundamental properties of space-time. On a cosmic scale, this is about our Universe and its fate.

“If the dark energy is growing and dark matter is evaporating we will end up with a big, empty, boring Universe with almost nothing in it.

 

“Dark matter provides a framework for structures to grow in the Universe. The galaxies we see are built on that scaffolding and what we are seeing here, in these findings, suggests that dark matter is evaporating, slowing that growth of structure.”

Cosmology underwent a paradigm shift in 1998 when researchers announced that the rate at which the Universe was expanding was accelerating. The idea of a constant dark energy throughout space-time (the “cosmological constant”) became the standard model of cosmology, but now the Portsmouth and Rome researchers believe they have found a better description, including energy transfer between dark energy and dark matter.

Research students Valentina Salvatelli and Najla Said from the University of Rome worked in Portsmouth with Dr Marco Bruni and Professor Wands, and with Professor Alessandro Melchiorri in Rome. They examined data from a number of astronomical surveys, including the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, and used the growth of structure revealed by these surveys to test different models of dark energy.

Professor Wands said: “Valentina and Najla spent several months here over the summer looking at the consequences of the latest observations. Much more data is available now than was available in 1998 and it appears that the standard model is no longer sufficient to describe all of the data. We think we’ve found a better model of dark energy.

“Since the late 1990s astronomers have been convinced that something is causing the expansion of our Universe to accelerate. The simplest explanation was that empty space – the vacuum – had an energy density that was a cosmological constant. However there is growing evidence that this simple model cannot explain the full range of astronomical data researchers now have access to; in particular the growth of cosmic structure, galaxies and clusters of galaxies, seems to be slower than expected.”

Professor Dragan Huterer,of the University of Michigan, has read the research and said scientists need to take notice of the findings.

He said: “The paper does look very interesting. Any time there is a new development in the dark energy sector we need to take notice since so little is understood about it. I would not say, however, that I am surprised at the results, that they come out different than in the simplest model with no interactions. We’ve known for some months now that there is some problem in all data fitting perfectly to the standard simplest model.”

Source: Materials taken from Uop News

This artist’s impression depicts the formation of a galaxy cluster in the early Universe. The galaxies are vigorously forming new stars and interacting with each other. Such a scene closely resembles the Spiderweb Galaxy (formally known as MRC 1138-262) and its surroundings, which is one of the best-studied protoclusters.

Credit:

ESO/M. Kornmesser

Syracuse Physicists Closer to Understanding Balance of Matter, Antimatter

Physicists in the College of Arts and Sciences have made important discoveries regarding Bs meson particles—something that may explain why the universe contains more matter than antimatter. Distinguished Professor Sheldon Stone and his colleagues recently announced their findings at a workshop at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. Titled “Implications of LHCb Measurements and Their Future Prospects,” the workshop enabled him and other members of the Large Hadron Collider beauty (LHCb) Collaboration to share recent data results. The LHCb Collaboration is a multinational experiment that seeks to explore what happened after the Big Bang, causing matter to survive and flourish in the Universe. LHCb is an international experiment, based at CERN, involving more than 800 scientists and engineers from all over the world. At CERN, Stone heads up a team of 15 physicists from Syracuse. “Many international experiments are interested in the Bs meson because it oscillates between a matter particle and an antimatter particle,” says Stone, who heads up Syracuse’s High-Energy Physics Group. “Understanding its properties may shed light on charge-parity [CP] violation, which refers to the balance of matter and antimatter in the universe and is one of the biggest challenges of particle physics.” Scientists believe that, 14 billion years ago, energy coalesced to form equal quantities of matter and antimatter. As the universe cooled and expanded, its composition changed. Antimatter all but disappeared after the Big Bang (approximately 3.8 billion years ago), leaving behind matter to create everything from stars and galaxies to life on Earth. “Something must have happened to cause extra CP violation and, thus, form the universe as we know it,” Stone says. He thinks part of the answer lies in the Bs meson, which contains an antiquark and a strange quark and is bound together by a strong interaction. (A quark is a hard, point-like object found inside a proton and neutron that forms the nucleus of an atom.) Enter CERN, a European research organization that operates the world’s largest particle physics laboratory. In Geneva, Stone and his research team—which includes Liming Zhang, a former Syracuse research associate who is now a professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China—have studied two landmark experiments that took place at Fermilab, a high-energy physics laboratory near Chicago, in 2009. The experiments involved the Collider Detector at Fermilab (CDF) and the DZero (D0), four-story detectors that were part of Fermilab’s now-defunct Tevatron, then one of the world’s highest-energy particle accelerators. “Results from D0 and CDF showed that the matter-antimatter oscillations of the Bs meson deviated from the standard model of physics, but the uncertainties of their results were too high to make any solid conclusions,” Stone says. He and Zhang had no choice but to devise a technique allowing for more precise measurements of Bs mesons. Their new result shows that the difference in oscillations between the Bs and anti-Bs meson is just as the standard model has predicted. Stone says the new measurement dramatically restricts the realms where new physics could be hiding, forcing physicists to expand their searches into other areas. “Everyone knows there is new physics. We just need to perform more sensitive analyses to sniff it out,” he adds.

Source: Syracuse University

Computer-generated drawing of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS).

Credit: NASA

Particle detector finds hints of dark matter in space

Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer detects positrons in cosmic ray flux that hint at dark matter’s origin.

By Jennifer Chu


Researchers at MIT’s Laboratory for Nuclear Science have released new measurements that promise to shed light on the origin of dark matter.

Computer-generated drawing of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS). Credit: NASA
Computer-generated drawing of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS).
Credit: NASA

The MIT group leads an international collaboration of scientists that analyzed two and a half years’ worth of data taken by the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) — a large particle detector mounted on the exterior of the International Space Station — that captures incoming cosmic rays from all over the galaxy.

Among 41 billion cosmic ray events — instances of cosmic particles entering the detector — the researchers identified 10 million electrons and positrons, stable antiparticles of electrons. Positrons can exist in relatively small numbers within the cosmic ray flux.

An excess of these particles has been observed by previous experiments — suggesting that they may not originate from cosmic rays, but come instead from a new source. In 2013, the AMS collaboration, for the first time, accurately measured the onset of this excess.

The new AMS results may ultimately help scientists narrow in on the origin and features of dark matter — whose collisions may give rise to positrons.

The team reports the observed positron fraction — the ratio of the number of positrons to the combined number of positrons and electrons — within a wider energy range than previously reported. From the data, the researchers observed that this positron fraction increases quickly at low energies, after which it slows and eventually levels off at much higher energies.

The team reports that this is the first experimental observation of the positron fraction maximum — at 243 to 307 gigaelectronvolts (GeV) — after half a century of cosmic ray experiments.

“The new AMS results show unambiguously that a new source of positrons is active in the galaxy,” says Paolo Zuccon, an assistant professor of physics at MIT. “We do not know yet if these positrons are coming from dark matter collisions, or from astrophysical sources such as pulsars. But measurements are underway by AMS that may discriminate between the two hypotheses.”

The new measurements, Zuccon adds, are compatible with a dark matter particle with mass on the order of 1 teraelectronvolt (TeV) — about 1,000 times the mass of a proton.

Zuccon and his colleagues, including AMS’s principal investigator, Samuel Ting, the Thomas D. Cabot Professor of Physics at MIT, detail their results in two papers published today in the journal Physical Review Letters and in a third, forthcoming publication.

Catching a galactic stream

Nearly 85 percent of the universe is made of dark matter — matter that somehow does not emit or reflect light, and is therefore invisible to modern telescopes. For decades, astronomers have observed only the effects of dark matter, in the form of mysterious gravitational forces that seem to hold together clusters of galaxy that would otherwise fly apart. Such observations eventually led to the theory of an invisible, stabilizing source of gravitational mass, or dark matter.

The AMS experiment aboard the International Space Station aims to identify the origins of dark matter. The detector takes in a constant flux of cosmic rays, which Zuccon describes as “streams of the universe that bring with them everything they can catch around the galaxy.”

Presumably, this cosmic stream includes leftovers from the violent collisions between dark matter particles.

According to theoretical predictions, when two dark matter particles collide, they annihilate, releasing a certain amount of energy that depends on the mass of the original particles. When the particles annihilate, they produce ordinary particles that eventually decay into stable particles, including electrons, protons, antiprotons, and positrons.

As the visible matter in the universe consists of protons and electrons, the researchers reasoned that the contribution of these same particles from dark matter collisions would be negligible. However, positrons and antiprotons are much rarer in the universe; any detection of these particles above the very small expected background would likely come from a new source. The features of this excess — and in particular its onset, maximum position, and offset — will help scientists determine whether positrons arise from astrophysical sources such as pulsars, or from dark matter.

After continuously collecting data since 2011, the AMS team analyzed 41 billion incoming particles and identified 10 million positrons and electrons with energies ranging from 0.5 to 500 GeV — a wider energy range than previously measured.

The researchers studied the positron fraction versus energy, and found an excess of positrons starting at lower energies (8 GeV), suggesting a source for the particles other than the cosmic rays themselves. The positron fraction then slowed and peaked at 275 GeV, indicating that the data may be compatible with a dark matter source of positrons.

“Dark matter is there,” Zuccon says. “We just don’t know what it is. AMS has the possibility to shine a light on its features. We see some hint now, and it is within our possibility to say if that hint is true.”

If it turns out that the AMS results are due to dark matter, the experiment could establish that dark matter is a new kind of particle, says Barry Barish, a professor emeritus of physics and high-energy physics at the California Institute of Technology.

“The new phenomena could be evidence for the long-sought dark matter in the universe, or it could be due to some other equally exciting new science,” says Barish, who was not involved in the experiments. “In either case, the observation in itself is what is exciting; the scientific explanation will come with further experimentation.”

This research was funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Source: MIT News Office

 


Bioengineers create functional 3-D brain-like tissue

Tissue model could change the way scientists study the brain in vitro-NIH study

Bioengineers have created three-dimensional brain-like tissue that functions like and has structural features similar to tissue in the rat brain and that can be kept alive in the lab for more than two months.

As a first demonstration of its potential, researchers used the brain-like tissue to study chemical and electrical changes that occur immediately following traumatic brain injury and, in a separate experiment, changes that occur in response to a drug. The tissue could provide a superior model for studying normal brain function as well as injury and disease, and could assist in the development of new treatments for brain dysfunction.

Confocal microscope image of neurons (greenish yellow) attached to silk-based scaffold (blue). The neurons formed functional networks throughout the scaffold pores (dark areas). Image courtesy of Tufts University.
Confocal microscope image of neurons (greenish yellow) attached to silk-based scaffold (blue). The neurons formed functional networks throughout the scaffold pores (dark areas). Image courtesy of Tufts University.

The brain-like tissue was developed at the Tissue Engineering Resource Center at Tufts University, Boston, which is funded by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) to establish innovative biomaterials and tissue engineering models.  David Kaplan, Ph.D., Stern Family Professor of Engineering at Tufts University is director of the center and led the research efforts to develop the tissue.

Diagram of scaffold donut showing grey-white matter compartmentalization. Rat neurons attached to the scaffold (donut ring) and also sent axons (labeled with green fluorescence) through the collagen gel-filled center.
Diagram of scaffold donut showing grey-white matter compartmentalization. Rat neurons attached to the scaffold (donut ring) and also sent axons (labeled with green fluorescence) through the collagen gel-filled center.

Currently, scientists grow neurons in petri dishes to study their behavior in a controllable environment. Yet neurons grown in two dimensions are unable to replicate the complex structural organization of brain tissue, which consists of segregated regions of grey and white matter. In the brain, grey matter is comprised primarily of neuron cell bodies, while white matter is made up of bundles of axons, which are the projections neurons send out to connect with one another. Because brain injuries and diseases often affect these areas differently, models are needed that exhibit grey and white matter compartmentalization.

Recently, tissue engineers have attempted to grow neurons in 3D gel environments, where they can freely establish connections in all directions. Yet these gel-based tissue models don’t live long and fail to yield robust, tissue-level function. This is because the extracellular environment is a complex matrix in which local signals establish different neighborhoods that encourage distinct cell growth and/or development and function.  Simply providing the space for neurons to grow in three dimensions is not sufficient.

Now, in the Aug. 11th early online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a group of bioengineers report that they have successfully created functional 3D brain-like tissue that exhibits grey-white matter compartmentalization and can survive in the lab for more than two months.

“This work is an exceptional feat,” said Rosemarie Hunziker, Ph.D.

Image of silk-based scaffold taken with a scanning electron microscope reveals its porous, sponge-like composition. Image courtesy of Tufts University.
Image of silk-based scaffold taken with a scanning electron microscope reveals its porous, sponge-like composition. Image courtesy of Tufts University.

, program director of Tissue Engineering at NIBIB. “It combines a deep understand of brain physiology with a large and growing suite of bioengineering tools to create an environment that is both necessary and sufficient to mimic brain function.”

The key to generating the brain-like tissue was the creation of a novel composite structure that consisted of two biomaterials with different physical properties: a spongy scaffold made out of silk protein and a softer, collagen-based gel. The scaffold served as a structure onto which neurons could anchor themselves, and the gel encouraged axons to grow through it.

To achieve grey-white matter compartmentalization, the researchers cut the spongy scaffold into a donut shape and populated it with rat neurons. They then filled the middle of the donut with the collagen-based gel, which subsequently permeated the scaffold. In just a few days, the neurons formed functional networks around the pores of the scaffold, and sent longer axon projections through the center gel to connect with neurons on the opposite side of the donut. The result was a distinct white matter region (containing mostly cellular projections, the axons) formed in the center of the donut that was separate from the surrounding grey matter (where the cell bodies were concentrated).

Over a period of several weeks, the researchers conducted experiments to determine the health and function of the neurons growing in their 3D brain-like tissue and to compare them with neurons grown in a collagen gel-only environment or in a 2D dish.

The researchers found that the neurons in the 3D brain-like tissues had higher expression of genes involved in neuron growth and function. In addition, the neurons grown in the 3D brain-like tissue maintained stable metabolic activity for up to five weeks, while the health of neurons grown in the gel-only environment began to deteriorate within 24 hours. In regard to function, neurons in the 3D brain-like tissue exhibited electrical activity and responsiveness that mimic signals seen in the intact brain, including a typical electrophysiological response pattern to a neurotoxin.

Because the 3D brain-like tissue displays physical properties similar to rodent brain tissue, the researchers sought to determine whether they could use it to study traumatic brain injury. To simulate a traumatic brain injury, a weight was dropped onto the brain-like tissue from varying heights. The researchers then recorded changes in the neurons’ electrical and chemical activity, which proved similar to what is ordinarily observed in animal studies of traumatic brain injury.

Kaplan says the ability to study traumatic injury in a tissue model offers advantages over animal studies, in which measurements are delayed while the brain is being dissected and prepared for experiments.

“With the system we have, you can essentially track the tissue response to traumatic brain injury in real time,” said Kaplan. “Most importantly, you can also start to track repair and what happens over longer periods of time.”

Kaplan emphasized the importance of the brain-like tissue’s longevity for studying other brain disorders. “The fact that we can maintain this tissue for months in the lab means we can start to look at neurological diseases in ways that you can’t otherwise because you need long timeframes to study some of the key brain diseases,” he said.

Hunziker added, “Good models enable solid hypotheses that can be thoroughly tested. The hope is that use of this model could lead to an acceleration of therapies for brain dysfunction as well as offer a better way to study normal brain physiology.”

Kaplan and his team are looking into how they can make their tissue model more brain-like.  In this recent report, the researchers demonstrated that they can modify their donut scaffold so that it consists of six concentric rings, each able to be populated with different types of neurons. Such an arrangement would mimic the six layers of the human brain cortex, in which different types of neurons exist.

As part of the funding agreement for the Tissue Engineering Resource Center, NIBIB requires that new technologies generated at the center be shared with the greater biomedical research community.

“We look forward to building collaborations with other labs that want to build on this tissue model,” said Kaplan.

This work was supported by NIH’s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering under award #EB002520

NIBIB’s mission is to improve health by leading the development and accelerating the application of biomedical technologies. The Institute is committed to integrating the physical and engineering sciences with the life sciences to advance basic research and medical care. NIBIB supports emerging technology research and development within its internal laboratories and through grants, collaborations, and training. More information is available at the NIBIB website:http://www.nibib.nih.gov.

Source :NIH