Thursday, August 02, 2007

2007 Solar Decathlon

Energy Department Announces 2007 Solar Decathlon Teams Each of the 20 Schools to Receive $100,000 in Funding

WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Department of Energy today announced that 20 teams have been selected to compete in the 2007 Solar Decathlon. The 20 teams selected for the competition will be awarded $100,000 over two years to support the Solar Decathlon’s research goal of reducing the cost of solar-powered homes and advancing solar technology.

“The next generation of leaders will have an opportunity to shine as they compete in the 2007 Solar Decathlon,” said Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman. “Supplying enough clean, affordable energy to fuel the world’s growing economies is one of the great challenges we will face over the coming years. By helping expand the use of solar energy technologies, the participants will help meet that challenge.”

The following teams have been selected to compete through a proposal system:

Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA
Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA
Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS
Lawrence Technological University, Southfield, MI
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA
New York Institute of Technology, Old Westbury, NY
*Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, CA
Team Montreal (École de Technologie Supérieure, Université de
Montréal, McGill University), Montreal, CANADA
Technische Universität Darmstadt, Darmstadt, GERMANY
Texas A&M University, College Station, TX
The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA
Universidad de Puerto Rico, Río Piedras and Mayagüez, PR
Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Madrid, SPAIN
University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH
University of Colorado, Boulder, CO (Winner 2005)
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL
University of Maryland, College Park, MD
University of Missouri-Rolla, Rolla, MO
University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX

*Santa Clara University added as a participant; California Polytechnic State University withdrew from the competition.

The Solar Decathlon is an international competition that brings student teams from universities across the United States, Europe and Canada to compete in designing, building and operating highly energy-efficient, completely solar-powered houses. The teams will assemble their homes on the Mall and will be open to the public. Contest rules require that each house generate enough energy from the sun to operate a household, a home-based business and related transportation needs.

Teams are judged in ten different categories, seven of which focus on energy efficiency; others include design and comfort of the house. The team with the most points – the most energy-efficient and innovatively designed house – wins.

The Solar Decathlon takes place every other year; the 2005 winner was the University of Colorado.

For more information please visit
Santa Clara University added as a participant; California Polytechnic State University withdrew from the competition
Media contact(s):Tom Welch, 202/586-5806

The Birdhouse Network

The Birdhouse Network: A Decade of Dedication
Citizen scientists keep tabs on the lives of nesting birds

Ithaca, NY—For 10 years, a network of dedicated birders has made it their mission to help birds by providing nest boxes where birds can raise their families—and by recording information for scientists. Together, they’ve kept a decade of meticulous records about when the birds build their nests, how many eggs they lay, and when the gawky fledglings take their first flights. Combined, they have sent nearly 70,000 nest records to The Birdhouse Network, a citizen-science project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. These efforts have helped expand scientific knowledge about bluebirds, Tree Swallows, House Wrens, and other cavity-nesting birds for whom the motto may be rephrased, “Hole Sweet Home.”

Getting Oriented: Using records from participants, scientists have examined factors that affect the success of nesting birds across time and space. They have found, for example, that in northern latitudes, nest boxes facing east or northeast produce more fledglings. The hypothesis is that cavity entrances facing toward the sunrise remain warmer on cold spring mornings, increasing survival rates. In contrast, the orientation of the nest box has no effect in southern latitudes.

Some Don’t Like it Hot: A significantly higher number of eggs fail to hatch in the South than in the North. Researchers are investigating whether prolonged warm temperatures cause some of the eggs to start developing before the female begins incubating, leading to abnormal development. Birds in warmer climates tend to produce more broods—perhaps to balance the loss. Scientists will be keeping close tabs on rates of hatching in the face of global climate change.
The Birdhouse Network also invites participants to help in a special study called Personality Profiles. Participants follow an experimental protocol and observe how birds react to harmless novel objects placed near nest boxes. Scientists use the information to learn more about birds, such as why some species fare better in cities or around people. They invite anyone interested in animal behavior to help by joining the study.

People of all ages and skill levels can be part of The Birdhouse Network. “Without the data sent in by participants, we would not be able to track large-scale trends in the reproductive cycles of these birds,” says project leader Tina Phillips. “Whether they monitor one box or 100, our participants are so dedicated to the birds, and the data they provide us year after year are incredibly powerful.”

To sign up or find out more about The Birdhouse Network, visit, or call (800) 843-2473. The project fee is $15 ($12 for Lab members). Join in this spring to “keep your eye on the birdy” and help scientists develop a clearer picture of the intricate and fascinating

NASA'S Mars Rover Finds Evidence of Ancient Volcanic Explosion

The lower coarse-grained unit shows granular textures toward the bottom of the image and massive textures. Also shown in this false-color view is a feature interpreted to be a "bomb sag," which is 4 centimeters across. Related Images

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit has discovered evidence of an ancient volcanic explosion at "Home Plate," a plateau of layered bedrock approximately 2 meters (6 feet) high within the "Inner Basin" of Columbia Hills, at the rover's landing site in Gusev Crater.

This is the first explosive volcanic deposit identified with a high degree of confidence by Spirit or its twin, Opportunity. There is strong evidence that those layers are from a volcanic explosion, said Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. Squyres is principal investigator for the rovers' science instruments.

The findings about volcanic activity are reported in a paper published in the May 4 issue of the journal Science. Evidence shows the area near Home Plate is dominated by basaltic rocks. "When basalt erupts, it often does so as very fluid lava, rather than erupting explosively," Squyres said. "One way for basaltic lava to cause an explosion is for it to come into contact with water it's the pressure from the steam that causes it to go boom."

Scientists suspect that the explosion that formed Home Plate may have been caused by an interaction of basaltic lava and water. "When you look at composition of the rocks in detail, there are hints that water may have been involved," Squyres said. One example is the high chlorine content of the rocks, which might indicate that basalt had come into contact with a brine. One of the strongest pieces of evidence for an explosive origin for Home Plate is a "bomb sag" preserved in layered rocks on the lower slopes of the plateau. Bomb sags form in volcanic explosions on Earth when rocks ejected skyward by the explosion fall into soft deposits, deforming them as they land. Spirit arrived at Home Plate in February 2006 and spent several months exploring it in detail before driving to "Low Ridge" to pass the Martian winter.

Spirit has now returned to Home Plate to continue exploration there. "We decided to go back to Home Plate, once the Martian winter ended, because it is one of the most interesting places that we've found on Gusev Crater," Squyres said. "Last year we primarily explored the northern and eastern sides of it. This time we're hoping to get to the southern and western sides." Spirit's continued exploration of Home Plate will focus largely on testing the idea that water was involved in its formation process.

Spirit and Opportunity are in their fourth year of exploring Mars. They successfully completed their three-month prime missions in April 2004, and the missions have been extended four times. As of April 26, Spirit had spent 1,177 sols, or Martian days, on the surface of Mars and had driven 7,095 meters (4.4 miles), and Opportunity had spent 1,157 sols and driven 10,509 meters (6.5 miles)."

Considering their age, both rovers are in good health. All science instruments are functioning and continuing to return superb science data," said John Callas, project manager of the Mars Exploration Rover mission at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif



Guy Webster/Natalie Godwin 818-354-6278/0850Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CaliforniaDwayne Brown 202-358-1726NASA Headquarters, Washington D.C.