Envisioning Safer Cities with Artificial Intelligence

Over the past several decades, artificial intelligence has advanced tremendously, and today it promises new opportunities for more accurate healthcare, enhanced national security and more effective education, researchers say. But what about civil engineering and city planning? How do increased computing power and machine learning help create safer, more sustainable and resilient infrastructure?

U.S. National Science Foundation-funded researchers at the Computational Modeling and Simulation Center, or SimCenter, have developed a suite of tools called BRAILS — short for Building Recognition using AI at Large-Scale — that can automatically identify characteristics of buildings in a city and detect the risks a city’s structures would face in the event of an earthquake, hurricane or tsunami.

SimCenter is part of the NSF-funded Natural Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure program and serves as a computational modeling and simulation center for natural hazards engineering researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.

Charles Wang, the lead developer of BRAILS, says the project grew out of a need to “quickly and reliably characterize the structures in a city. We want to simulate the impact of hazards on all the buildings in a region, but we don’t have a description of the building attributes.”

For example, he says, “in the San Francisco Bay area, there are millions of buildings. Using AI, we are able to get the needed information. We can train neural network models to infer building information from images and other sources of data.”

To train the BRAILS modules and run the simulations, the researchers used supercomputers at the Texas Advanced Computing Center — notably Frontera, the fastest academic supercomputer in the world, and Maverick 2, a GPU-based system designed for deep learning.

“Frontera is a leadership computing resource that serves science and engineering research for the nation,” says Manish Parashar, director of NSF’s Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure. “We are excited about the new computational methods and techniques Frontera is enabling to transform how engineering discoveries are being made to make our lives safer.”

The SimCenter recently released BRAILS version 2.0, which includes modules to predict a larger spectrum of building characteristics. These include occupancy class, roof type, foundation elevation, year built, number of floors, and whether a building has a “soft-story” — a civil engineering term for structures that include ground floors with large openings like storefronts that may be more prone to collapse during an earthquake.

“Given the importance of regional simulations and the need for large inventory data to execute these, machine learning is really the only option for making progress,” says SimCenter co-director Sanjay Govindjee. “It is exciting to see civil engineers learning these new technologies and applying them to real-world problems.”

Stay Tuned For More Latest Research and Development


BREAKING NEWS: Recording of Largest Gamma-Ray Burst to Date

A specialized observatory in Namibia has recorded the most energetic radiation and longest gamma-ray afterglow of a so-called gamma-ray burst (GRB) to date.

The observations with the High Energy Stereoscopic System (H.E.S.S.) challenge the established idea of how gamma-rays are produced in these colossal stellar explosions which are the birth cries of black holes, as the international team reports in the journal Science.

“Gamma-ray bursts are bright X-ray and gamma-ray flashes observed in the sky, emitted by distant extragalactic sources,” explains DESY scientist Sylvia Zhu, one of the authors of the paper. “They are the biggest explosions in the universe and associated with the collapse of a rapidly rotating massive star to a black hole.

A fraction of the liberated gravitational energy feeds the production of an ultrarelativistic blast wave. Their emission is divided into two distinct phases: an initial chaotic prompt phase lasting tens of seconds, followed by a long-lasting, smoothly fading afterglow phase.”

Stay tuned for reports of ongoing events….

UPDATE: Galactic Cosmic Rays Continue to Rise and Human Effect

Yes, it’s me. Happy to be presenting the latest news and research as it occurs. It does appear published findings are reflective of my 2012 Equation.  Cheers, Mitch

Radiation is a form of energy that is emitted in the form of rays, electromagnetic waves, and/or particles. In some cases, radiation can be seen (visible light) or felt (infrared radiation), while other forms – like x-rays and gamma rays – are not visible and can only be observed with special equipment.

Galactic Cosmic Ray collisions in the body can be harmful because they can damage the DNA in cells. Remember, a single cosmic ray has a large amount of energy. If it collides with DNA, it will destroy part of that DNA strand. DNA contains instructions for the cell to function properly. When the DNA is damaged, the cell will malfunction. Usually the cell will then die, but sometimes it can reproduce itself. If that happens on a large enough scale, the person may develop cancer.

Galactic Cosmic radiation is a well-known cause of single-event upsets (SEU) on disruption to electrical circuits in electronic devices. It most commonly occurs with devices such as laptop computers, cell phones, and personal digital assistants. Research presented by the Heart Rhythm Society, indicate some patients with Implantable Cardioverter-Defibrillators (ICDs) who experienced ionizing radiation strikes that discharged elements in the Defib during air travel, may be attributed to exposure of Galactic Cosmic Radiation while on commercial airline flights. These cases highlight the significant impact of SEUs on ICD patients clinical and the need for further recognition and study of this problem.

NASA’s Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation (CRaTER), studies radiation environment and its biological impacts by measuring galactic and solar cosmic ray radiation behind a “human tissue-equivalent” plastic.


CRaTER investigation goals are to measure and characterize the deep space radiation environment in terms of Linear Energy Transfer (LET) spectra of galactic and solar cosmic rays (particularly above 10 MeV) in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). It will also investigate the effects of shielding by measuring LET spectra behind tissue-equivalent plastic. Test models of radiation effects and shielding by verifying/validating model predictions of LET spectra with LRO measurements.

Stay Tuned For Ongoing News and Events


An Overlooked Piece Of The Solar Dynamo Puzzle


A previously unobserved mechanism is at work in the Sun’s rotating plasma: a magnetic instability, which scientists had thought was physically impossible under these conditions. The effect might even play a crucial role in the formation of the Sun’s magnetic field, say researchers from Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR), the University of Leeds and the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam (AIP) in the journal Physical Review Fluids.

Just like an enormous dynamo, the sun’s magnetic field is generated by electric currents. In order to better understand this self-reinforcing mechanism, researchers must elucidate the processes and flows in the solar plasma. Differing rotation speeds in different regions and complex flows in the sun’s interior combine to generate the magnetic field. In the process, unusual magnetic effects can occur — like this newly discovered magnetic instability.

Researchers have coined the term “Super HMRI” for this recently observed special case of magnetorotational instability (MRI). It is a magnetic mechanism that causes the rotating, electroconductive fluids and gases in a magnetic field to become unstable. What is special about this case is that the Super HMRI requires exactly the same conditions that prevail in the plasma close to the solar equator — the place where astrophysicists observe the most sunspots and, thus, the Sun’s greatest magnetic activity. So far, however, this instability in the Sun had gone completely unnoticed and is not yet integrated in models of the solar dynamo.

It is, nonetheless, known that magnetic instabilities are crucially involved in many processes in the universe. Stars and planets, for example, are generated by large rotating disks of dust and gas. In the absence of a magnetic field, this process would be inexplicable. Magnetic instabilities cause turbulence in the flows within the disks and thus enable the mass to agglomerate into a central object. Like a rubber band, the magnetic field connects neighboring layers that rotate at different speeds. It accelerates the slow particles of matter at the edges and slows down the fast ones on the inside. There the centrifugal force is not strong enough and the matter collapses into the center. Near the solar equator it behaves precisely the other way around. The inner layers move more slowly than the outer ones. Up to now, experts had considered this kind of flow profile to be physically extremely stable.

The researchers at HZDR, the University of Leeds and AIP still decided to investigate it more thoroughly. In the case of a circular magnetic field, they had already calculated that even when fluids and gases were rotating faster on the outside, magnetic instability could occur. However, only under unrealistic conditions: the rotational speed would have to increase too strongly towards the outer edge.

Trying another approach, they now based their investigations on a helical magnetic field. “We didn’t have any great expectations, but then we were in for a genuine surprise,” HZDR’s Dr. Frank Stefani remembers — because the magnetic instability can already occur when the speed between the rotating layers of plasma only increases slightly — which happens in the region of the Sun closest to the equator.

“This new instability could play an important role in generating the sun’s magnetic field,” Stefani estimates. “But in order to confirm it we first need to do further numerically complicated calculations.” Prof. Günther Rüdiger of AIP adds, “Astrophysicists and climate researchers still hope to better understand the cycle of sunspots. Perhaps the ‘Super HMRI’ we have now found will take us a decisive step forward. We’ll check it out.”

With its various specialisms in magnetohydrodynamics and astrophysics, the interdisciplinary research team has been investigating magnetic instabilities — in the lab, on paper and with the aid of sophisticated simulations — for more than 15 years. The scientists want to improve physical models, understand cosmic magnetic fields and develop innovative liquid metal batteries. Thanks to close cooperation, in 2006, they managed to experimentally prove the theory of magnetorotational instability for the first time. They are now planning the test for the special form they have predicted in theory: In a large-scale experiment that is currently being set up in the DRESDYN project at HZDR, they want to study this magnetic instability in the lab.

2019 Nobel Prize In Physics: Evolution Of The Universe And Discovery Of Exoplanet Orbiting Solar-Type Star


The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the Nobel Prize in Physics 2019 “for contributions to our understanding of the evolution of the universe and Earth’s place in the cosmos” with one half to James Peebles of Princeton University, USA, “for theoretical discoveries in physical cosmology” and the other half jointly to Michel Mayor of the University of Geneva, Switzerland, and Didier Queloz of the University of Geneva, Switzerland, and the University of Cambridge, UK, “for the discovery of an exoplanet orbiting a solar-type star.”

New perspectives on our place in the universe

This year’s Nobel Prize in Physics rewards new understanding of the universe’s structure and history, and the first discovery of a planet orbiting a solar-type star outside our solar system.

James Peebles’ insights into physical cosmology have enriched the entire field of research and laid a foundation for the transformation of cosmology over the last fifty years, from speculation to science. His theoretical framework, developed since the mid-1960s, is the basis of our contemporary ideas about the universe.

The Big Bang model describes the universe from its very first moments, almost 14 billion years ago, when it was extremely hot and dense. Since then, the universe has been expanding, becoming larger and colder. Barely 400,000 years after the Big Bang, the universe became transparent and light rays were able to travel through space. Even today, this ancient radiation is all around us and, coded into it, many of the universe’s secrets are hiding. Using his theoretical tools and calculations, James Peebles was able to interpret these traces from the infancy of the universe and discover new physical processes.

The results showed us a universe in which just five per cent of its content is known, the matter which constitutes stars, planets, trees — and us. The rest, 95 per cent, is unknown dark matter and dark energy. This is a mystery and a challenge to modern physics.

In October 1995, Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz announced the first discovery of a planet outside our solar system, an exoplanet, orbiting a solar-type star in our home galaxy, the Milky Way. At the Haute-Provence Observatory in southern France, using custom-made instruments, they were able to see planet 51 Pegasi b, a gaseous ball comparable with the solar system’s biggest gas giant, Jupiter.

This discovery started a revolution in astronomy and over 4,000 exoplanets have since been found in the Milky Way. Strange new worlds are still being discovered, with an incredible wealth of sizes, forms and orbits. They challenge our preconceived ideas about planetary systems and are forcing scientists to revise their theories of the physical processes behind the origins of planets. With numerous projects planned to start searching for exoplanets, we may eventually find an answer to the eternal question of whether other life is out there.

This year’s Laureates have transformed our ideas about the cosmos. While James Peebles’ theoretical discoveries contributed to our understanding of how the universe evolved after the Big Bang, Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz explored our cosmic neighbourhoods on the hunt for unknown planets. Their discoveries have forever changed our conceptions of the world.

James Peebles, born 1935 in Winnipeg, Canada. Ph.D. 1962 from Princeton University, USA. Albert Einstein Professor of Science at Princeton University, USA.

Michel Mayor, born 1942 in Lausanne, Switzerland. Ph.D. 1971 from University of Geneva, Switzerland. Professor at University of Geneva, Switzerland.

Didier Queloz, born 1966. Ph.D. 1995 from University of Geneva, Switzerland. Professor at University of Geneva, Switzerland and University of Cambridge, UK.

Prize amount: 9 million Swedish krona, with one half to James Peebles and the other half jointly to Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz

Galactic Fountains And Carousels: Order Emerging From Chaos


Scientists from Germany and the United States have unveiled the results of a newly-completed, state of the art simulation of the evolution of galaxies. TNG50 is the most detailed large-scale cosmological simulation yet. It allows researchers to study in detail how galaxies form, and how they have evolved since shortly after the Big Bang. For the first time, it reveals that the geometry of the cosmic gas flows around galaxies determines galaxies’ structures, and vice versa. The researchers publish their results in two papers in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Astronomers running cosmological simulations face a fundamental trade-off: with finite computing power, typical simulations so far have been either very detailed or have spanned a large volume of virtual space, but have so far not been able to do both. Detailed simulations with limited volumes can model no more than a few galaxies, making statistical deductions difficult. Large-volume simulations, in turn, typically lack the details necessary to reproduce many of the small-scale properties we observe in our own Universe, reducing their predictive power.

The TNG50 simulation, which has just been published, manages to avoid this trade-off. For the first time, it combines the idea of a large-scale cosmological simulation — a Universe in a box — with the computational resolution of “zoom” simulations, at a level of detail that had previously only been possible for studies of individual galaxies.

In a simulated cube of space that is more than 230 million light-years across, TNG50 can discern physical phenomena that occur on scales one million times smaller, tracing the simultaneous evolution of thousands of galaxies over 13.8 billion years of cosmic history. It does so with more than 20 billion particles representing dark (invisible) matter, stars, cosmic gas, magnetic fields, and supermassive black holes. The calculation itself required 16,000 cores on the Hazel Hen supercomputer in Stuttgart, working together, 24/7, for more than a year — the equivalent of fifteen thousand years on a single processor, making it one of the most demanding astrophysical computations to date.

The first scientific results from TNG50 are published by a team led by Dr Annalisa Pillepich (Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg) and Dr Dylan Nelson (Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics, Garching) and reveal unforeseen physical phenomena. According to Nelson: “Numerical experiments of this kind are particularly successful when you get out more than you put in. In our simulation, we see phenomena that had not been programmed explicitly into the simulation code. These phenomena emerge in a natural fashion, from the complex interplay of the basic physical ingredients of our model universe.”

TNG50 features two prominent examples for this kind of emergent behaviour. The first concerns the formation of “disc” galaxies like our own Milky Way. Using the simulation as a time machine to rewind the evolution of cosmic structure, researchers have seen how the well-ordered, rapidly rotating disc galaxies (which are common in our nearby Universe) emerge from chaotic, disorganised, and highly turbulent clouds of gas at earlier epochs.

As the gas settles down, newborn stars are typically found on more and more circular orbits, eventually forming large spiral galaxies — galactic carousels. Annalisa Pillepich explains: “In practice, TNG50 shows that our own Milky Way galaxy with its thin disc is at the height of galaxy fashion: over the past 10 billion years, at least those galaxies that are still forming new stars have become more and more disc-like, and their chaotic internal motions have decreased considerably. The Universe was much messier when it was just a few billion years old!”

As these galaxies flatten out, researchers found another emergent phenomenon, involving the high-speed outflows and winds of gas flowing out of galaxies. This launched as a result of the explosions of massive stars (supernovae) and activity from supermassive black holes found at the heart of galaxies. Galactic gaseous outflows are initially also chaotic and flow away in all directions, but over time, they begin to become more focused along a path of least resistance.

In the late universe, flows out of galaxies take the form of two cones, emerging in opposite directions — like two ice cream cones placed tip to tip, with the galaxy swirling at the centre. These flows of material slow down as they attempt to leave the gravitational well of the galaxy’s halo of invisible — or dark — matter, and can eventually stall and fall back, forming a galactic fountain of recycled gas. This process redistributes gas from the centre of a galaxy to its outskirts, further accelerating the transformation of the galaxy itself into a thin disc: galactic structure shapes galactic fountains, and vice versa.

The team of scientists creating TNG50 (based at Max-Planck-Institutes in Garching and Heidelberg, Harvard University, MIT, and the Center for Computational Astrophysics (CCA)) will eventually release all simulation data to the astronomy community at large, as well as to the public. This will allow astronomers all over the world to make their own discoveries in the TNG50 universe — and possibly find additional examples of emergent cosmic phenomena, of order emerging from chaos.

Voyager 2 Reaches Interstellar Space


Researchers at the University of Iowa report that the spacecraft Voyager 2 has entered the interstellar medium (ISM), the region of space outside the bubble-shaped boundary produced by wind streaming outward from the sun. Voyager 2, thus, becomes the second human-made object to journey out of our sun’s influence, following Voyager 1’s solar exit in 2012.

In a new study, the researchers confirm Voyager 2’s passage on Nov. 5, 2018, into the ISM by noting a definitive jump in plasma density detected by an Iowa-led plasma wave instrument on the spacecraft. The marked increase in plasma density is evidence of Voyager 2 journeying from the hot, lower-density plasma characteristic of the solar wind to the cool, higher-density plasma of interstellar space. It’s also similar to the plasma density jump experienced by Voyager 1 when it crossed into interstellar space.

“In a historical sense, the old idea that the solar wind will just be gradually whittled away as you go further into interstellar space is simply not true,” says Iowa’s Don Gurnett, corresponding author on the study, published in the journal Nature Astronomy. “We show with Voyager 2 — and previously with Voyager 1 — that there’s a distinct boundary out there. It’s just astonishing how fluids, including plasmas, form boundaries.”

Gurnett, professor emeritus in the UI Department of Physics and Astronomy, is the principal investigator on the plasma wave instrument aboard Voyager 2. He is also the principal investigator on the plasma wave instrument aboard Voyager 1 and authored the 2013 study published in Science that confirmed Voyager 1 had entered the ISM.

Voyager 2’s entry into the ISM occurred at 119.7 astronomical units (AU), or more than 11 billion miles from the sun. Voyager 1 passed into the ISM at 122.6 AU. The spacecraft were launched within weeks of each other in 1977, with different mission goals and trajectories through space. Yet they crossed into the ISM at basically the same distances from the sun.

That gives valuable clues to the structure of the heliosphere — the bubble, shaped much like a wind sock, created by the sun’s wind as it extends to the boundary of the solar system.

“It implies that the heliosphere is symmetric, at least at the two points where the Voyager spacecraft crossed,” says Bill Kurth, University of Iowa research scientist and a co-author on the study. “That says that these two points on the surface are almost at the same distance.”

“There’s almost a spherical front to this,” adds Gurnett. “It’s like a blunt bullet.”

Data from the Iowa instrument on Voyager 2 also gives additional clues to the thickness of the heliosheath, the outer region of the heliosphere and the point where the solar wind piles up against the approaching wind in interstellar space, which Gurnett likens to the effect of a snowplow on a city street.

The Iowa researchers say the heliosheath has varied thickness, based on data showing Voyager 1 sailed 10 AU farther than its twin to reach the heliopause, a boundary where the solar wind and the interstellar wind are in balance and considered the crossing point to interstellar space. Some had thought Voyager 2 would make that crossing first, based on models of the heliosphere.

“It’s kind of like looking at an elephant with a microscope,” Kurth says. “Two people go up to an elephant with a microscope, and they come up with two different measurements. You have no idea what’s going on in between. What the models do is try to take information that we have from those two points and what we’ve learned through the flight and put together a global model of the heliosphere that matches those observations.”

The last measurement obtained from Voyager 1 was when the spacecraft was at 146 AU, or more than 13.5 billion miles from the sun. The plasma wave instrument is recording that the plasma density is rising, in data feeds from a spacecraft now so far away that it takes more than 19 hours for information to travel from the spacecraft to Earth.

“The two Voyagers will outlast Earth,” Kurth says. “They’re in their own orbits around the galaxy for five billion years or longer. And the probability of them running into anything is almost zero.”

“They might look a little worn by then,” Gurnett adds with a smile.

The Iowa study is one of five papers on Voyager 2 published in Nature Astronomy. These papers confirm the passage of Voyager 2 to interstellar space and provide details on the characteristics of the heliopause.

Gurnett and Kurth are the study’s sole authors. Their research was funded by NASA, through a contract with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.