Coronavirus information

Vaccines are widely available in the US for walk-in service at medical providers and pharmacies. In Canada, first doses are available by appointment and second doses of are being prioritized by age group.

This is a list of official websites with information on COVID-19 coronavirus in the region.

Continue reading “Coronavirus information”

mtDNA helped foresters during Toronto beetle battle

In 2003, a humble cargo pallet set off a 17-year battle that struck at the heart of the Canadian identity. Larvae of the Asian Longhorn Beetle had emerged from their slumber deep inside the cheap timber and found their way into maple trees in Vaughan, Ontario, just a short distance from Toronto, the home of the Maple Leafs.

Dr. Amanda Roe (Natural Resources Canada / Algoma U) lectures 03 Mar 2021 on regional variations in mitochondrial DNA in the Asian Longhorn Beetle, comparing native range and invasion sites.

Dr. Amanda Roe is a researcher in molecular and functional ecology at Natural Resources Canada’s Great Lakes Forestry Centre, and a part-time lecturer at Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Dr. Roe lectured on 3 March during Algoma U Research Week 2021 on the work scientists around the world are doing to control the spread of the Asian Longhorn Beetle, a species native to Asia that is a pest in Europe and North America.

Though Asian Longhorn Beetles are seldom seen on the bark of trees, the distinctive holes they make as they burrow through the tree, plus their fairly large size (~35mm) and their speckled body colour makes their presence fairly easy to spot. The beetle populations are also reasonably slow-moving, reproducing only once per year. This allows the relevant authorities – in this case, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Natural Resources Canada – to simply ban firewood movement in the area, identify affected trees, then cut down and burn any nearby tree the beetle might inhabit.

But where, precisely, are these beetles coming from? Molecular ecology makes it possible to go a step farther, and identify the home area that invasive species may have come from. Scientists do this by looking at mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Unlike nuclear DNA, mitochondrial DNA does not change due to an individual’s parents, but mtDNA does accumulate distinctive variations that can identify members of the same extended family or region.

Scientists have collected an mtDNA database of Asian Longhorn Beetles across their home range in China and Korea, a database that shows distinct geographic variations. So, when the same mtDNA tests are done on a captured beetle from an invasive infestation, the tests can help identify which general region the invader is from. The infestation in Vaughan likely originated from coastal regions of northeastern China or Korea.

Perhaps more importantly, it can help researchers pick up the pieces when initial control measures were ineffective. After the Vaughan invasion had been largely controlled, there was another outbreak of ALB in Mississauga. mtDNA tests showed that the second site was a satellite of the original invasion from Vaughan.

mtDNA can’t do everything, of course: a CSI-style trackback from mtDNA data, leading to a particular shipment or pallet supplier, is science fiction, partly because very few warehouse workers actually catch a beetle in the act of wriggling free. As plastic or metal replacements are also fairly expensive, the simple, cheap solution to the pallet problem is heat treatment and an ISPM-15 stamp.

Following a generation-long struggle that concluded with five years of carefully looking through trees in Toronto and Mississauga for any re-emergence of the pest, CFIA finally declared Ontario to be free of the Asian Longhorn Beetle in June 2020. Early detection makes all the difference in preventing future outbreaks of any invasive species, and members of the public can always help by sharing photos and samples of strange insects they find with agricultural extensions, forestry agencies, or research biologists.

Teamwork will get us to Mars

American scientists are always keenly interested in space travel, and the 2021 AAAS Annual Meeting rounded out its coverage of the topic with an 11 February panel on group psychology for Mars missions. The roundtable, moderated by Leslie DeChurch, featured Suzanne Bell and Alexandra Whitmire of NASA, plus scientists Jack Stuster, Noshir Contractor, Dorothy Carter, and Nick Kanas, all of whom have worked with NASA on various projects.

The “Understanding and Enabling Human Travel to the Moon and Mars” panel at the 2021 AAAS Annual Meeting (Speakers/AAAS)

One of the assumptions baked into any trip to the International Space Station, or even the Moon, is fast communications with Mission Control. Ground crew is available 24/7 with instant help for anything from tech support to mundane assistance like verbal confirmation of EVA checklists. But it can’t work like that on a trip to Mars. There could be a 45 minute delay to hear back from Earth. For anything urgent, the astronauts aboard can only turn to each other.

That’s why picking the right mix of people for the team is so critically important. Everyone will need to follow at times, lead other times, be prepared for an emergency, and they will need to be willing to do so all while staring at the same faces every day. For a well-adjusted team, it could be the ultimate road trip. But add a few setbacks, and there might be plenty about the voyage that never makes the history books.

As one panelist said, teams will not just need ‘The Right Stuff’, but will need to be ‘The Right Size’. NASA’s most recent plan to get to Mars anticipates a slow three-year round trip with 4 crew, acknowledged to be a bare minimum. With so much to do, a slowdown or lack of cooperation from anyone at any time could jeopardize the whole mission, and the length of the assignment only increases the chances for something to go wrong. A shorter trip (ideally two years or less) with more crew (perhaps 6) would be much more robust against failings in the human element.

Another way to head off the risk of human factors is by using the latest in social science. Researchers continue to collect data in from, dedicated space travel analog missions, isolated workspaces like Antarctic research stations, and careful review of data from past spaceflights, to glean insights on how people work best when stuck with the same small group. Backed up with the latest in social science and information techniques like lexical analysis and social graphing, group psychologists are their refining statistical models, moving from retrospective analysis of past missions, to future predictions of how well a particular social group will hold together over the long-term. Still, mathematical guesses are no substitute for helpful human personality traits, especially Self-Monitoring, the ability to recognize one’s own effectiveness and interact with the group in an appropriate way for the given situation.

All this research about people cooped up for long periods of time has also hit pay dirt as the social isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic has set in. If you’re looking for insight into how to ride out quarantine with or away from your team, there’s tons of NASA Technical Reports on these matters accessible online!

Should that be growing there?

Montana Tech’s Robert Pál joined Huixuan Liao of Sun Yat-sen University and Manzoor Shah of the University of Kashmir on 9 February for a panel discussion on alpine botany, during the 2021 AAAS Annual Meeting.

Alpine environments are particularly fertile ground for climate change ecology because broad variation in microclimates can be found over a relatively short distance. As temperatures warm, new types of plants may rise above their former range. As moisture patterns change, areas may become better or worse for the growth of certain species. And lurking everywhere is the persistent threat of new and invasive species: non-native plants that spread and grow in manners that negatively impact the local environment, which may be hard to control once they take root.

Due to COVID-19, science conferences have gone fully remote for 2021. (Speakers/AAAS)

The distinction between a fast-spreading non-invasive plant and an invasive species can be hard to pinpoint, but it often depends on whether it monopolizes an area at the expense of the broader ecosystem. Spotting them in the field can require a keen eye; certain invasive grasses can be notoriously hard to identify, even for experts.

When asked about ways invasive plants can be a solution, rather than a pest, Pál cited some concepts in harvesting invasive species as food, or to tap heavy metals out of toxic soils. Liao mentioned that some fast-growing plants can be used to combat coastal erosion.

When it came to encouraging new scientists, Shah said anyone can feel the excitement of a discovery on an ordinary walk, just by looking around their home turf for plants that look new or out of place, and taking samples to send in to the experts. Pál suggests that students looking to get into the field would benefit from learning the kinds of plants that help and harm their local environment, and further study in botany and ecology.

A selection of other work by Dr. Robert Pál can be found at the Montana Tech digital commons. Among others, the USDA and CFIA have further information so anyone can help slow the spread of invasive plants.

BAS: 100 seconds to midnight

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists delivered its 2021 Doomsday Clock session on 27 January. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program was conducted entirely by remote teleconference.

As always, the Doomsday Clock session is a meaningful watch, and the text report is an equally engaging read. In detail, they explain how humankind has scarcely turned the corner on the dire assessment of 100 seconds to midnight, first issued in 2020.

This year’s live session combined expert insight from The Bulletin’s Science and Security Board with plain talk from statecrafters Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Hidehiko Yuzaki, and Jerry Brown.

Michigan factory sends out first COVID vaccines

Pfizer’s plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan shipped operational doses of a COVID-19 vaccine across the United States on 13 December 2020. UPS and FedEx are carrying the shipments across the United States. Healthcare workers will be among the first to receive the doses.

This follows the FDA’s emergency use approval for the vaccine on the 12th, shortly following Health Canada’s approval on the 9th. The earliest shipments will provide enough doses to vaccinate 124,500 Canadians and 1.5 million Americans. In this phase, health care workers receiving the vaccine will be receiving it nearly immediately. Though procedures will vary, for the moment states and provinces will receive doses, then send out smaller shipments to health facilities. Those facilities have already pre-designated their most at-risk individuals to get the shot as soon as possible, and one additional follow-up dose a few weeks later.

Though the Pfizer vaccine must be shipped and warehoused at -70 C, the temperature of dry ice or specialized medical or scientific ultracold freezers, it has sufficient stability at standard temperatures to still allow for robust distribution options. These issues will not be a problem in the earliest stages of vaccine distribution. As this and other vaccines become more widely available, they will be offered to additional people based on local distribution plans. It will be at this stage that the Pfizer vaccine’s shelf life of a few days at standard -20 C and 4 C refrigeration temperatures is put to a real-world test.

Though work continues on other vaccines, the moment 18-wheelers and airplanes departed West Michigan represents a climactic moment in a banner year for biotechnology, as well as a triumph for science and industry in the Midwest.

Iowa State hosts Women in STEM event series with regional universities

Iowa State is leading a Women in STEM program called “Joining Forces”, alongside North Dakota State, Michigan Tech, and Western Michigan U, funded by the National Science Foundation ADVANCE program.

In addition to mentorship and professional development, there is a 2020 scheduled event series. The first event, on 1 Oct 2020 at 6pm Central Time, is an online groupwatch and discussion on the documentary film Picture a Scientist (film trailer).

To participate, contact the ADVANCE Midwest Partnership at Iowa State University.

Concordia College hosts 2020-2021 quadcopter challenge

Concordia College in Moorhead will lead the Minnesota Space Grant Consortium 2020-2021 Quadcopter Exploration-Flying Challenge. The program will provide vehicles, materials, and training in electronics and small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, drones) for participating college and university teams, all in a format that will not require students to travel away from their home campuses.

The 2019-2020 program did not finish quite as planned, though some of its progress can be reviewed at that year’s webpage.

Concordia College is also the home of other innovations, such as a 58-credit focus in astrophysics which consists entirely of meditations in differential equations – a typo that any student of physics might feel is all too true!

A summary of Astrophysics studies at Concordia. (Concordia C)

College and University teams of 4 to 6 members, plus advisor, that wish to participate in the quadcopter challenge may contact Thelma Berquó at Concordia College by 30 September 2020. Bon vents!

Hot abort past fortnight

Orbital news
23 Aug 2020 0227 UT – Jiuquan CZ-2D Gaofen-9
29 Aug 2020 0728 UT – Canaveral Delta IV USMil (abort)
31 Aug 2020 0305 UT – Mahia Electron Sequoia Photon
31 Aug 2020 2044 UT – OGO-1 reentry (hangtime 55yr11mo26d 19h21m)
31 Aug 2020 2318 UT – Canaveral Falcon 9 SAOCOM 1B

03 Sep 2020 0151 UT – Kourou Vega rideshare mission
03 Sep 2020 1246 UT – Canaveral Falcon 9 Starlink

Regional news
21 Aug 2020 – Wildfire smoke reaches Calgary
21 Aug 2020 – Manitoba pilot hits glass ceiling in public service hiring
22 Aug 2020 – US domestic surveillance flights declared lawful
24 Aug 2020 – Dr. Cindy Blaha (Carleton C) featured by Minnesota Space Grant
24 Aug 2020 – Kyle Fraser-Mines (Carleton C) featured by Minnesota Space Grant

24 Aug 2020 – Carleton C galactic emissions study featured by Minnesota Space Grant
24 Aug 2020 – Dr. Ryan Terrien (Carleton C) featured by Minnesota Space Grant
24 Aug 2020 – Eric Kuha, MS (Leech Lake TC) featured by Minnesota Space Grant
24 Aug 2020 – St. Catharine U Ballooning Team featured by Minnesota Space Grant
24 Aug 2020 – Leech Lake TC rocket team featured by Minnesota Space Grant

24 Aug 2020 – Freja Olsen (Carleton C) featured by Minnesota Space Grant
24 Aug 2020 – Satellite imagery of Iowa derecho damage
24 Aug 2020 – Delta furloughs almost 2000 pilots
26 Aug 2020 – Carleton C stellar spectroscopy featured by Minnesota Space Grant
26 Aug 2020 – New North Dakota aviation scholarship

27 Aug 2020 – Omaha plans new science museum
27 Aug 2020 – Delta bans maskless fliers
27 Aug 2020 – U Wisconsin gets data science grant
27 Aug 2020 – Saskatchewan will produce rare earth elements
27 Aug 2020 – Winners announced from 21 Aug SNOLAB Science Talks

28 Aug 2020 – Bozeman drone firm Ascent Vision Technology sold to CACI
28 Aug 2020 – Nebraska wildfire spreads over 16 sq km
28 Aug 2020 – Montana pilot dies in Oregon fighting fires
29 Aug 2020 – Skydiving fatality near Westlock AB
29 Aug 2020 – Lost drone returned to owner in Thunder Bay

29 Aug 2020 – Sun Country parcel deal keeps airline afloat
31 Aug 2020 – American Airlines will compete with Allegiant on Billings-Phoenix route
31 Aug 2020 – Mackenzie Klima (Iowa SU) featured by Iowa Space Grant
31 Aug 2020 – Restored Korean War B-25J flies through Missoula
01 Sep 2020 – Fatal case of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in Nebraska

01 Sep 2020 – Saskatoon library is local election issue
01 Sep 2020 – Art contest details from Iowa Space Grant
01 Sep 2020 – Drake U announces new partner 2-year institution: John Dee Bright C
01 Sep 2020 – Snowbirds flight team reinstated, fly Tutors back to Moose Jaw
01 Sep 2020 – WestJet passes higher Nav Canada fees to customers

02 Sep 2020 – U Alberta education servers crash on first day of class
02 Sep 2020 – Art contest details from Wisconsin Space Grant
02 Sep 2020 – Minnesota Space Grant cancels Midwest High Power Rocket Competition
02 Sep 2020 – MN-ROADS robotics program featured by Minnesota Space Grant
02 Sep 2020 – 16,000 furloughs planned at United Airlines

03 Sep 2020 – Concordia C plasma physics research featured by Minnesota Space Grant
03 Sep 2020 – Lisa Campbell now leader of Canadian Space Agency
03 Sep 2020 – TSB releases report on 10 May 2019 collision involving Sudbury-bound flight
03 Sep 2020 – North Dakota SU transportation studies count as STEM credit

Further news
23 Aug 2020 – PS752 flight data downloaded
25 Aug 2020 – Astronomers issue full report on how to see past glare of commsat clouds
25 Aug 2020 – Pulsar Fusion makes a plasma thruster, still chasing space fusion reactor
25 Aug 2020 – InSight detects Phobos transit
25 Aug 2020 – Tianwen-1 completes en route test

25 Aug 2020 – Crew returns to US side of ISS after leak check
25 Aug 2020 – Starliner plans for next three flights, starting as soon as December 2020
25 Aug 2020 – USPS mail processing sapped by cuts in Minnesota
25 Aug 2020 – Wildfire smoke billows into Iowa
26 Aug 2020 – ISS crew checks for air leak over extra day sealed in on Russian side

26 Aug 2020 – Hope probe images Mars
26 Aug 2020 – Skylab astronaut Jerry Carr dead at 88
27 Aug 2020 – Oneweb still getting new FCC approvals
28 Aug 2020 – SLS cost overruns
28 Aug 2020 – 787 defect grounds planes

29 Aug 2020 – Satellite TV operator DirecTV for sale again
31 Aug 2020 – Outage at CenturyLink affects over 3% of Internet traffic
31 Aug 2020 – Lucy, Jovian asteroid probe, starts assembly, may launch 2021
31 Aug 2020 – US mainline air carriers finally end onerous change fees
31 Aug 2020 – Teprel-B rocket engine passes test

31 Aug 2020 – Amazon approved to fly drone deliveries in US airspace
01 Sep 2020 – JAXA moon rover named ‘Lunar Cruiser’
01 Sep 2020 – Small nuclear reactor from NuScale gets US safety approval
01 Sep 2020 – Airline internet provider Gogo bought by Intelsat
01 Sep 2020 – Jetpack operator spotted too close to LAX

01 Sep 2020 – FAA approves Electron launches from Virginia
02 Sep 2020 – Plasma thruster research featured by ESA
02 Sep 2020 – The Register interviews Rocket Lab exec
02 Sep 2020 – Minuteman III test launch at Vandenberg AFB
02 Sep 2020 – SLS booster test

02 Sep 2020 – SpaceX seeks FCC broadband funds
03 Sep 2020 – FAA awards airport grants
03 Sep 2020 – US drone part import ban affects firefighting
03 Sep 2020 – Starship SN6 test flight

COVID-19 matters
21 Aug 2020 – Ontario finalizes 3M PPE factory deal
22 Aug 2020 – Canada Post closes Edmonton plant for cleaning after COVID case
22 Aug 2020 – South Dakota COVID data hacked
22 Aug 2020 – U North Dakota surge in COVID cases
22 Aug 2020 – 42 cases sets new record in Manitoba

23 Aug 2020 – VIDO-InterVac vaccine building own production line, other delays
24 Aug 2020 – COVID-19 can be caught multiple times, body does not stay immune
25 Aug 2020 – FDA resets expectations for convalescent plasma: safe but only slightly effective
25 Aug 2020 – North Dakota SU prof publishes roundup of COVID drugs
25 Aug 2020 – COVID outbreak follows Sturgis rally

25 Aug 2020 – Nebraska COVID data struck by computer glitch
25 Aug 2020 – Minnesota requires COVID testing for nursing home staff
25 Aug 2020 – Hy-Vee pharmacies added to drive-through COVID test effort

26 Aug 2020 – U Wisconsin redesigns the facemask
26 Aug 2020 – Minnesota sticks to wider COVID test plan
26 Aug 2020 – Kenosee water park reopens after closure
27 Aug 2020 – New antigen tests need less lab equipment, demand still outpaces supply
28 Aug 2020 – ASM Logic of Burnsville MN creates software to coordinate COVID supplies in Cameroon

28 Aug 2020 – Lengthy recovery from COVID for ND Supreme Court justice
29 Aug 2020 – Major outbreak at U Iowa
29 Aug 2020 – Manitoba fighting outbreaks at nursing homes
31 Aug 2020 – Roblin MB fights to keep full hospital services in town
31 Aug 2020 – US cancels ventilator order

31 Aug 2020 – U Calgary dorms are 70% empty this year
31 Aug 2020 – Canada buys Novavax, J+J vaccines
31 Aug 2020 – U Wisconsin joins Phase III tests of AstraZeneca vaccine
31 Aug 2020 – Travel restrictions return to Northern Manitoba
31 Aug 2020 – One fifth of COVID tests at Iowa SU are positive

31 Aug 2020 – Iowa reaches highest COVID rate in US
31 Aug 2020 – Sweden strategy, poor in hindsight, considered for United States
01 Sep 2020 – Biohackers test experimental vaccines on themselves
01 Sep 2020 – U Nebraska-Lincoln greek houses quarantined
01 Sep 2020 – Phase II/III study of Regeneron antibodies in Sioux Falls

01 Sep 2020 – U Minnesota reopens after 2 week delay
02 Sep 2020 – US not joining international vaccine effort
02 Sep 2020 – Phase III test of AstraZeneca vaccine at HealthPartners in Minnesota
02 Sep 2020 – Studies continue to confirm steroids help COVID patients in hospital
02 Sep 2020 – Medtronic announces restructuring and layoffs

02 Sep 2020 – Likely first US vaccines will ship frozen: Moderna at -20C, Pfizer at ultracold -70 C
03 Sep 2020 – Manitoba will launch PPE test centre
03 Sep 2020 – Iowa schools reopen in COVID wave, lawsuits fly

GPS flies and Beidou goes global last fortnight

The Long March 3B launch from Xichang on 23 Jun 2020 0143 UT, was covered live on television, unusual for a launch in China. The flight completed the Beidou-3 global satellite navigation constellation. (Xinhua)

Orbital news
23 Jun 2020 0143 UT – Xichang CZ-3B Beidou Navigation

Continue reading “GPS flies and Beidou goes global last fortnight”