The End of the World at this month’s ‘Friday Nights, Celestial Lights’

By Amanda Beck
Senior Communications Specialist

We’ve all heard it. The Mayan calendar ends and prophets have predicted it. The world will end in 2012. But what astronomical events are connected with this phenomenon?

This month’s “Friday Nights, Celestial Lights” event explores the events that have been attributed to the so-called ‘end of the world’ (relax—it won’t happen). UTSA’s faculty astronomers invite the community to the Main Campus on Friday, Jan. 20 for this free and open to the public family-friendly astronomy event.

The evening will begin at 7:30 p.m. in Science Building Room 2.02.02 on the UTSA Main Campus with a lecture, “The Climate and Weather of Mars.” The lecture will be given by Eric Schlegel, the Vaughan Family Endowed Professor in Physics in the UTSA Department of Physics and Astronomy.

NASA has designated 2011-2012 as the Year of the Solar System, given the number of missions within our solar system that are currently running or set to launch during that time. In February, the Department of Physics and Astronomy will return to our series of lectures on looking at recent results from NASA’s satellites that are exploring the solar system.

Immediately after the presentation, weather permitting, attendees will have the opportunity to view the night sky using UTSA’s telescopes including a 15-inch telescope and several 8-inch Cassegrain telescopes. Night viewing will be from the fourth floor patio of the Science Building, which is wheelchair accessible. If the sky is clear, attendees may be able to see the Orion Nebula, the Pleiades, and Jupiter.

UTSA’s monthly “Friday Nights, Celestial Lights” events began in 2009 as a celebration of the International Year of Astronomy, which commemorated the 400th anniversary of Galileo Galilei using a telescope to observe the heavens. Generally scheduled for the third Friday night each month, the series is sponsored by the UTSA Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Reservations to attend are not required. To learn more, contact Professor Eric Schlegel at 210-458-6425 or lecturer Mark Jurena at 210-458-4922.

Feb. 10 deadline: Tenured, tenure-track faculty invited to apply

UTSA professor honored by peers as AAAS fellow

By Amanda Beck
Senior Communications Specialist

One of the greatest honors a scientist can receive is to be recognized for his scientific contributions by his peers. Andrew Tsin has recently received such an honor by being named a fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The tradition of AAAS fellows, an elected honor bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers, began in 1874.

During the 2012 AAAS annual meeting in Vancouver, Tsin will be presented with an official certificate and a gold rosette pin at the AAAS Fellows Forum Feb. 18. This year’s AAAS fellows were announced in the AAAS News and Notes section of the journal Science on Dec. 23, 2011. Tsin is the only UTSA professor to be elected as a fellow this year and UTSA is home to the largest number of AAAS fellows of any UT System University save UT Austin.

As part of the Section on Biological Sciences, Tsin was elected to be an AAAS fellow for his “lifelong achievements in vision research and his innovative role in promoting and administering research and training programs for the advancement of science.”

Tsin serves as the director of the Center for Research and Training in the Sciences and is a professor of biology in the College of Sciences. His research centers on the cause of degenerative blindness due to diseases like diabetic retinopathy.

The Center for Research and Training in the Sciences is the largest research training center at the university, currently housing more than a dozen programs. It is responsible for placing researchers in laboratories and bringing science into local classrooms and to the community.

Tsin hopes that many of the researchers will be students from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in the sciences. Over the course of his career, he has mentored more than 100 undergraduate and graduate students who have completed degrees and either continued their education or taken on positions as scientific researchers, physicians or educators. Tsin was recently awarded for his leadership by President Barack Obama with the 2011 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring.


About AAAS: The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal, Science. Founded in 1848, AAAS includes some 262 affiliated societies and academies of science servicing 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal with an estimated total readership of 1 million. The non-profit AAAS is open to all and fulfills its mission to advance science and serve society through initiatives in science policy, international programs, science education and more.

Perry is grilled on a number of Alzheimer’s issues by Texas Public Radio’s David Martin Davies. 8:00 PM Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012.

Gift of $100,000 provides scholarship support to computer security students

recipients of 2011-2012 AFCEA scholarship

Pictured left to right:


Information security is a growing field, with San Antonio emerging as a hub of research and expertise. UTSA students in the Departments of Computer Science and Information Systems pursuing a security concentration, minor or degree have been given a boost through a newly established annual scholarship.

Three computer science and two information assurance majors have been awarded the inaugural cyber security scholarship from the Alamo Chapter of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA). The organization is an international non-profit membership association serving the military, government, industry, and academia that advances professional knowledge in the fields of communications, IT, intelligence, and global security.


According to Greg White, director of the Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security and a member of the Department of Computer Science, the awards are important to strengthening the pipeline from college to careers for students trained in information security.

Each year through the fall of 2014, $25,000 will be awarded to qualified students. Preference is given to students with military service as well as participants of a collegiate cyber security competition.

The 2011-2012 award recipients are:

·         Emily McMichael, undergraduate in Information Assurance

·         John Davies, undergraduate in Information Assurance

·         Rocky Slavin, undergraduate in Computer Science

·         Andrew Perkes, graduate in Computer Science

·         Adam Tyra, graduate in Computer Science


UTSA biologist awarded $1.3 million National Institutes of Health grant for brain research


Carlos Paladini

Carlos Paladini, UTSA associate professor of biology, was awarded a $1.3 million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to study which inputs in the brain drive dopamine cells to fire faster.

Dopamine cells release a chemical or neurotransmitter in the brain called dopamine, which drives motivated and reward-related behaviors. The loss of dopamine cells in the brain is associated with Parkinson’s disease cases, and the effects of drugs of abuse on dopamine cells can lead to addiction. Paladini hopes the research results will eventually assist in helping to find therapies to cure drug addiction and treat patients with Parkinson’s disease.

The researcher and his graduate students are focusing on the spikes of electrical activity associated with dopamine cells in the brain and the effects they have in driving motivated behavior. They hope to learn how dopamine cells get access to information in the brain that drives reward-related behavior.

"We want to find out what are the inputs to the dopamine cells that actually drive the cells to either increase their activity in terms of a reward or reward signal, and what are the inputs that drive the cell to decrease their activity if the reward that was expected was not received," said Paladini. "We don’t know which inputs or which parts of the brain connect to dopamine cells to inform the cell and give it all the information it needs to calculate whether it should fire faster or slower."

To conduct the research, the scientists are using optical fibers to stimulate dopamine cell inputs that produce a protein that is sensitive to blue light. A virus with a gene is injected into the inputs and that gene makes the cells produce a protein that is sensitive to blue light. When the protein is shone with blue light, it activates the cell, which is similar to what occurs when a reward takes place.

"If we go to the region where the dopamine cells are and shine a blue light, only those inputs that are producing that protein will be activated," Paladini said. "We will know for certain that when we shine blue light and activate only one input, whatever effect we see in a dopamine cell is going to be due to the effect on those inputs that have that specific protein and not any other inputs that are there."

UPDATE: UTSA biochemist Andrew Tsin receives presidential award for mentoring excellence
The mentors received their awards at a White House ceremony on Monday, December 12.

UPDATE: UTSA biochemist Andrew Tsin receives presidential award for mentoring excellence

The mentors received their awards at a White House ceremony on Monday, December 12.