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Monday, December 20, 2010

Stargazers Abuzz About Solstice Lunar Eclipse

Stargazers Abuzz About Solstice Lunar Eclipse:
Best viewing at 3:17 a.m. Tuesday according to NASA
(Posted on 12/20)
By Mike Lauterborn
ã 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – In some parts, they call it a “two-fer”, as you get two for the price of one. During the overnight span of Monday into Tuesday, North Americans will get a very special two-fer: a lunar eclipse paired with the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year.

In the wee morning hours between 2:41 and 3:53 a.m., the full moon will move into the earth’s shadow. The fact that the eclipse happens on the winter solstice is a true rarity. Though there’s debate about the date, experts generally agree that it last happened in 1638 – one year before the official incorporation of the town of Fairfield.

The Rolnick Observatory at 182 Bayberry Lane in Westport will bear witness to the event, noted Dan Wright, a member of the Board of Directors for the Westport Astronomical Society. The 35-year-old facility will be open specially from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. for any stargazing fans to visit and brave what Wright predicted would be “breezy and very cold” middle-of-the-night conditions. He advised, “Dress warm… really warm… and if you have binoculars, bring them. Depending on demand, we’ll have several telescopes set up, but plan on being in the elements.”

Wright said skies will be clear for those wanting to watch what he termed “the clockwork of the cosmos.” The totality of the eclipse will be 72 minutes.

There’s much speculation and interest in what color the Moon will turn. Some say it will be dim and copper-colored. Others, like Wright, guess it may be blood red. Of course, it may be entirely impossible to see. Wright said, “It really depends on the amount of aerosols in our atmosphere. The more dust, the redder the moon.”
This is because the moon will only be illuminated by light passing through the earth’s atmosphere.

If you miss this eclipse, said Wright, “The next lunar eclipse is just three years away here in North America. And you won’t have to wait another 372 years to see another eclipse on a solstice as there’s one predicted for December 21, 2094.” For his money though, he was feeling a lot more confident about catching this current eclipse.

Despite the chilly temps, a few hardy locals plan to take in the heavenly show. Christine Mangone of Black Rock, recognizing that she won’t be alive for the next solstice lunar eclipse, said, “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Since I am an early bird, I am going to try to get up at 4 a.m., grab a big mug of coffee and go out to St. Mary’s to see it. I was out this morning at 6 a.m. and the Moon was incredible.”

The eclipse, according to a NASA website, actually begins at 1:33 a.m. At that time, Earth’s shadow will show as a dark-red “bite” at the edge of the Moon. It will take about an hour for the bite to expand and swallow the entire Moon. The site advised that if you’re just planning on taking a quick peek, to do so at 3:17 a.m. “when the Moon will be in the deepest shadow, displaying the most fantastic shades of coppery red.”

Overnight temps, according to, were predicted to be in the low 20s, with a real-feel temp in the teens due to wind chill.

Fairfielder Chris Rieck posted an eclipse-related status update on his Facebook page: “Get the cocktails ready!! 2:41 a.m. tonight!” after noting’s announcement that the “Moon will turn into a reddish ball.” As an accompaniment to his libations, he planned to “crank Pink Floyd loud enough to wake the neighbors up.”

One thousand miles south, fellow Facebooker Grant Robin in Miami, FL, had also taken note of the event and planned to catch live footage being captured by WPBT-TV in collaboration with the Miami Science Museum. NASA is hosting a similar live feed of the eclipse, as well as a live chat. 

Trailers Enhance Ability of Towns to Meet Emergency Needs

Trailers Enhance Ability of Towns to Meet Emergency Needs:
Mass Care trailers deployed from Fairfield’s Regional Fire School
(Posted to 12/20)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – Like the wagon trains of old were circled up to ward off attackers, the new trailers were lined up and ready to play their part in helping southwestern Connecticut communities weather emergencies.

Late morning Monday Dec. 20, federal, state and town leaders and officials gathered in a meeting room at the Fairfield Regional Fire School at 205 One Rod Highway for the official hand-off of 14 Mass Care cargo trailers. The trailers were purchased with U.S. Department of Homeland Security funds provided through the CT Department of Emergency Management / Homeland Security (DEMHS) for the benefit of 14 southwestern Connecticut towns. Each unit costs approximately $9,000 and contains over 200 blankets, 110 standard cots, 12 supportive care cots and shelter management kits. The trailers will be used by the towns to help with sheltering operations in an emergency.

The purchase was coordinated through the DEMHS Region 1 Emergency Planning Team and paid for using Homeland Security Grant funds. The planning team includes representatives from Greenwich, Stamford, Darien, Norwalk, Westport, Fairfield, Bridgeport, Stratford, New Canaan, Wilton, Weston, Easton, Monroe and Trumbull.

Each of the towns was to pick up its respective trailer throughout the afternoon. As the press conference convened, Bridgeport Fire Dept. Captain Ed McCann was already hitching his trailer up to the sport utility vehicle in which he had arrived. He was glad to receive the trailer, noting, “This really enhances our ability to respond to emergencies like hurricanes and evacuations.”

Fairfield’s Assistant Fire Chief Christopher Tracy said Fairfield was just serving as the host site and added that it was appropriate given the town’s involvement in the 1993 Nor’easter. “This area was half underwater and trailers like these would have been critical in our response. We had to connect to hydrants that were under salt water. What we’re looking at now is the ability to house locals that had to be evacuated.”

Fairfield Fire Chief Felner recalled the ’93 storm. “I went off duty at 8, was called back at 9 and had to evacuation at the beach. The trailers would have allowed us to be better prepared with extra equipment. Now that the surrounding towns will all have the same equipment, we can work together and help each other as needed.”

The Red Cross is a partner with the towns in providing sheltering services, and a small team from Bridgeport, led by Sr. Director for Emergency Services Stephen Wood, was on hand. Woods is also the co-chair of the DEMHS Region 1 Emergency Support Function Six Mass Care Committee. Its role is specific to mass feeding and sheltering in the event of an emergency.

“In Region 1, the Red Cross has six pre-existing trailers, so these new trailers will double our capacity and abilities in the region,” said Wood.

Michelle DeLuca, Deputy Emergency Management Director for Norwalk and co-chair of the Mass Care Planning Group was glad to see the trailers come to fruition. “This has been a work in progress for the last couple of years. The trailers are assets to help with sheltering and each town can respond and help each other. Hopefully we won’t need them!” she said.

Fairfield First Selectman Ken Flatto thanked state officials for the assist. “It’s so important to get the help and support and we’re thrilled that Congressman Himes could join us. He has been instrumental in helping first responders in this region.”

Himes, who represents the 4th District, was pleased to see government working together in this effort and said, “This is a capability we need, for hurricanes, sewer main breaks, coastal flooding and, heaven forbid, terrorist incidents. We’ll be able to keep our colleagues comfortable and safe in emergencies.”

DEMHS Commissioner Peter Boynton remarked on the work of his state agency and the towns collaborating to make this possible. “For every one state dollar, we bring in eight Federal dollars from among 20 Federal grants. In 2005, we only had three Federal grants. And now that we have towns working together as regions, the Feds are more apt to help fund initiatives. They were disinterested in helping individual towns.”

Boynton said his department seeks to establish resiliency in emergency situations and that there are three basic legs to that – the ability to withstand, recover and adapt. He said, “We don’t want to repeat a cycle without the ability to withstand it. With these trailers, we are better able to withstand and recover.”

Fairfield Professor Introduces Math Tool to Help Streamline Cancer Research

Fairfield Professor Introduces Math Tool to Help Streamline Cancer Research
(Posted to Fairfield Citizen newspaper’s website w/o 12/20)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Fairfield, CT – A Moscow-born math professor with a knack for numbers has helped develop an algebraic tool that will help take the guesswork out of scientific experimentation and refine genetic research processes – a plus in the ongoing battle with cancer.

Newtown resident Vera Cherepinsky, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Fairfield University, met with the Citizen News recently on the school’s campus to shed light on her inspiration and how the tool can help researchers.

“I was a family outlier,” said Cherepinsky, an emigrant to the U.S. from Russia in 1991. “My whole family was computer science oriented. I always liked math puzzles, and studying patterns. Math is really a study of patterns and how we organize them.”

Cherepinsky graduated from Polytechnic University in Brooklyn in 1998 and from Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at New York University in 2003. While she was a graduate student, she and her doctoral advisor, Dr. Bud Mishra, were hired to do consulting work by a bio-tech company called BioArray Solutions in Warren, NJ. The company had detected some results in the lab that they couldn’t explain.

Cherepinsky and Mishra focused on the problem together with BioArray researchers. Respectively, they brought to the table multi-disciplinary backgrounds including math, computer science, biology and physics.

As the professor explained, “The issue was that when two experiments were performed at the same time (in parallel), the results from each differed from the results when the experiments were done individually.”

The team labeled this anomaly “Competitive Hybridization” or the “Competition Effect” for short, and developed a mathematical model to explain the effect. It was validated using experimental data and can now be applied to predict this kind of interaction and used to design better experiments in many areas of biology, including cancer research.

“Some of the work that I did on this problem became a chapter of my doctoral dissertation,” said Cherepinsky. “Here at the university, I revisited it and brought it into publishable form.”

Why is this significant in a larger world view? “If you’re a cancer researcher interested in a particular gene, you can apply this tool to choose how you search for that gene,” she said. “A gene has a long sequence, measured in hundreds to thousands of DNA bases, and there are many possible short “snippets” you could use to search for it. Which of them should be used is a question in experiment design, which our model can help answer.”

The benefits overall are more efficient experimentation and more reliable answers. In a global view, this could result in tremendous research cost savings as it helps by “nipping in the bud” potential false positive and false negative errors in advance by predicting them in simulation.

The work of Cherepinsky and her colleagues, BioArray’s Ghazala Hashmi and NYU’s Mishra, has just been published in the scientific journal Physical Review E and, thus far, the reaction has been very positive. The journal’s parent organization, the American Physical Society, also included the paper in a November compilation of significant research developments in biological physics.

“Increasingly, problems in many areas dealing with the human genome require the collaboration of mathematicians and scientists from many related disciplines to adequately address biological dilemmas,” said Cherepinsky. It’s an exciting time with rapid discoveries that could ultimately help eradicate disease and major medical conditions that plague our world.

Cherepinsky reflected, “There’s a song by folk rock singer Catie Curtis that has a line that I take to heart. ‘If I can’t change the world, I’ll change the world within my reach,’ and I think that the work we’ve done here has addressed one piece of a larger puzzle.”