Regarding Reptiles


All photos by Jake Socha

 

The animal kingdom is constantly amazing us, offering scientists new information and insight to help solve questions we face on a day-to-day basis. Recently, two separate groups of GW researchers have been investigating unique characteristics of reptiles, and they’ve unearthed some incredible findings.

Snakes Take to the Skies

What’s that saying — snakes of a feather flock together? That can’t be right: Snakes don’t have plumage. But, as GW professor Lorena Barba and her team are aware, there are five species of snake that regularly take to the air, jumping from their perches atop the tropical forests of Southeast and South Asia and gliding gracefully through the skies.  

By leaping from treetops and flattening their bodies, snakes of the genus Chysopelea create aerodynamic drag, slowing their descent and allowing them to glide. They can cover up to 20 meters horizontally from a 10-meter high branch. One species, Chrysopelea paradisi, has even displayed the ability to turn in mid-air!  


By leaping from treetops and flattening their bodies, snakes of the genus Chysopelea create aerodynamic drag, slowing their descent and allowing them to glide.


Dr. Barba and her crew have been re-creating this phenomenon with a self-built computer model, using graphic processing units, as well as computational fluid dynamics and a Tesla K20 GPU accelerator. Dr. Barba next hopes to construct a 3D model to research how and why the snake moves in the air as it glides.

She said unraveling the mystery of the “flying” snake might offer solutions for real-world problems.

“It’s not wild to think that our understanding of the fluid mechanics of this particular shape could lead us to, for example, design a different type of air flow that is ideal for energy harvesting, or a wind turbine — or who knows,” Dr. Barba said. “You find applications in unexpected places.”

From Whence It Slithered

Reptiles are adaptable creatures when it comes to reproduction, according to new research by Alex Pyron, Robert F. Griggs Assistant Professor of Biology in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.

The ancestors of snakes and lizards likely gave birth to live young, rather than laid eggs, Dr. Pyron posits in a paper recently published in Ecology Letters, and it’s likely many species have switched back and forth in their preferred reproductive mode over time. The study also suggests that these frequent shifts in birth mode are a response to changes in ecological conditions.

“Before, researchers long assumed that the ancestor of snakes and lizards laid eggs, and that if a species switched to live birth, it never reverted back,” Dr. Pyron said. “We found this wasn’t the case.”

His research — supported by recent plesiosaur and mosasaur fossil discoveries as well as the fossil record of a few lizards from the Cretaceous period — pushes back the evolutionary timetable of live birth to 175 million years ago, much earlier than previously believed.

To draw this conclusion, Dr. Pyron analyzed the squamate evolutionary tree, in which lizards and snakes reside. The tree, which was created using DNA sequence analysis to group thousands of lizards and snakes, includes all families and subfamilies and most genus and species groups.

About 115 groups of lizards and snakes (2,000 species) have live birth. The other 8,000 species — at least for the time being — lay eggs.

 

Regarding Reptiles

The animal kingdom is constantly amazing us, offering scientists new information and insight to solve issues that affect us on a day-to-day basis. Recently, two separate groups of GW researchers have been investigating unique characteristics of reptiles, and they’ve unearthed some incredible findings.

Some Snakes Don’t Need a Plane

What’s that old saying — snakes of a feather flock together? No, that can’t be right: Snakes don’t have plumage. But, as GW professor Lorena Barba and her team are aware, there are three species of snake that regularly take to the air, jumping from their perches atop the tropical forests of Southeast and South Asia and gliding gracefully through the skies.  

By leaping from treetops and flattening their bodies, three species of snake in the genus Chrysopelea are able to create aerodynamic drag, slowing their descent and allowing them to glide as far as 70 feet. One species, Chrysopelea paradisi, has even displayed the ability to turn in mid-air!  

Dr. Barba and her crew have been re-creating this natural phenomenon with a self-built computer model, using one of the latest technologies in computing, known as graphic processing units, as well as computational fluid dynamics and a Tesla K20 GPU accelerator. Dr. Barba next hopes to construct a 3D model to research how and why the snake moves in the air as it glides.

She said that unraveling the mystery of the “flying” snake might have the potential to offer solutions for real-world problems.

“It’s not wild to think that our understanding of the fluid mechanics of this particular shape could lead us to, for example, design a different type of air flow that is ideal for energy harvesting, or a wind turbine — or who knows,” Dr. Barba said. “You find applications in unexpected places.”

From Whence It Slithered

Reptiles, evolutionarily at least, are adaptable creatures when it comes to reproduction, according to new research by Alex Pyron, Robert F. Griggs Assistant Professor of Biology in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.

The ancestors of snakes and lizards likely gave birth to live young, rather than laid eggs, Dr. Pyron posits in a paper recently published in Ecology Letters, and it’s likely that many species have switched back and forth in their preferred reproductive mode over time.

“Before, researchers long assumed that the ancestor of snakes and lizards laid eggs, and that if a species switched to live birth, it never reverted back,” Dr. Pyron said. “We found this wasn’t the case.”

His research — supported by recent plesiosaur and mosasaur fossil discoveries as well as the fossil record of a few lizards from the Cretaceous Period — pushes back the evolutionary timetable of live birth to 175 million years ago, much earlier than previously believed.

To draw this conclusion, Dr. Pyron analyzed the squamate evolutionary tree, in which lizards and snakes reside. The tree, which was created using DNA sequence analysis to group thousands of lizards and snakes, includes all families and subfamilies and most genus and species groups.

About 115 groups of lizards and snakes (2,000 species) have live birth. The other 8,000 species, at least for the time being, lay eggs.

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Robot Eye

Why daydream about the future when you can actively shape it? And not just through policy and activism, but by creating the robots that can take over tasks that humans couldn’t or shouldn’t do.

Robotics researchers at GW are working to build machines that will pull victims from rubble, walk alongside U.S. soldiers, perform difficult surgery, or just lend a claw around the house for those in need. Of course, those goals all come with unique challenges.

That’s why Gabe Sibley is teaching robots to see, so a robot moving through the woods can avoid trees or stepping in the wrong place or a self-driving car can drive in degraded conditions like rain or darkness. It’s why Pinhas Ben-Tzvi is working on search-and-rescue robots that can act and react, help without causing more harm, flip over without immobilizing itself, flex without snapping, and even disassemble into smaller robots to fit through smaller openings and then reassemble once inside. It’s why Evan Drumright is developing robots that can change lightbulbs, carry objects of varying weights and shapes, and open all kinds of doors when even human beings don’t always know whether to push or pull.

But before the robots can walk through that door, researchers at GW need to endow them with the perception, control and mechanics required to assimilate into society. 

Here, a Stroke of Genius Can Become a Stroke of the President's Pen

From the humanities to the hard sciences, GW’s diverse research portfolio continues to generate ideas that influence the world. Our ties to powerful people and institutions enable our research to shape public policy in profound ways. But it is the resolve of our faculty to continue making these profound discoveries in the first place that remains GW’s lifeblood—and its future.

In the next decade, the university is set to invest more than $250 million in facilities and faculty who will discover innovative solutions in everything from groundbreaking cancer research and high-performance computing to the arts, sustainable energy and other innovative cross-disciplinary initiatives. 

The university's current ascent is garnering notice, bolder projects and impressive faculty. In fact, in 2011, the renowned biochemist Ferid Murad became GW’s first Nobel Laureate faculty member. While Professor Murad’s accomplishments are certainly a feather in GW’s three-cornered hat, it's his dedicated engagement with students and faculty that will have a profound influence on the university for years to come.   

Faculty Expertise

GW has expert faculty members in dozens of research fields, ranging from nanotechnology to social sciences to medical research.

General Faculty Databases:

Schools and Colleges Resources:

College of Professional Studies

Columbian College of Arts and Sciences

Elliott School of International Affairs

Graduate School of Education and Human Development

Law School

School of Business

School of Engineering and Applied Science

School of Medicine and Health Sciences

Milken Institute School of Public Health

Research Training

Undergraduate Research

The Center for Undergraduate Fellowships and Research offers programs through which students engage in research and interact closely with faculty members. Undergraduate research experiences provide invaluable preparation for students interested in pursuing nationally-competitive fellowships that recognize academic and extracurricular excellence.

Graduate Research Training

Graduate students gain valuable experience by working with faculty members and engaging in research. GW offers three major opportunities to provide students with essential training and skills:

  • Graduate Research Assistantships
  • Graduate Teaching Assistantships
  • Fellow Awards

Most fellowships and scholarships are offered through the academic departments and some are offered through the Office of Graduate Student Assistantships and Fellowships

Medical Residency Research Training

The medical residency program has a rich history at GW, which in the 19th century was one of the first hospitals to start a clinical practice with resident student participation. Residents may take advantage of research opportunities at the George Washington University as well as at the nearby National Institutes of Health, the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the Food and Drug Administration.

The GW Graduate Medical Education website provides links to each department’s residency program.

Professional Research Training

Postdoctoral researchers can be found in all areas of the university, including the biology, chemistry, high-performance computing, physics, and psychology departments. Each GW department maintains its own listing of postdoctoral research needs. GW’s Office of Graduate Student Assistantships and Fellowships is another resource for graduates looking to find postdoctoral work at both GW and other institutions.

Lab Facilities

Anthropology

GW's anthropology labs include the following:

Biology

Laboratories in Bell Hall house a cold room, animal care facilities, fully equipped molecular biology laboratories, a photographic dark room, a microscopy room with a state-of-the-art Leo Scanning Electron Microscopy, a common instrumentation room, a computer room with scanners and microcomputers, fossil preparation rooms, a DNA sequence facility with an automated capillary sequencer, and two greenhouses. Facilities available in the GW Institute for Biomedical Studies include a microchemistry core facility with an oligonucleotide synthesizer and a Transmission Electron Microscopy and confocal microscopy suite.

Business

The GW School of Business is home to the Capital Markets Trading Room, a virtual Wall Street laboratory equipped with software and information systems for financial modeling, trading, and portfolio management.

Education

The Graduate School of Education and Development’s (GSEHD’s) Research Laboratory provides GSEHD faculty and students with technical assistance and support services related to conducting research. GSEHD Research Laboratory services include statistical tutoring and a variety of research methods workshops and assistance.

Engineering

A partial list of School of Engineering and Applied Science laboratories includes:

For the full list of SEAS labs visit SEAS’s centers and institutes page,which also lists its laboratories and facilities.

Forensic Science

The Department of Forensic Science houses a microscope lab, a forensic chemistry lab, and a forensic molecular biology lab. Included among the equipment in these labs are a scanning electron microscope and a DNA sequencer.

Geography

The Spatial Analysis Laboratory is housed in the Geography department. The laboratory consists of 12 networked PCs, featuring the latest in GIS (ArcMap 9.1) & Remote Sensing (IMAGINE) software.

Medicine

Please refer to our Core Facilities

Computing Capabilities

GW’s focus on high-performance reconfigurable computing spans several initiatives at the university. These three research centers conduct much of the research in the area:

The Computing Facility within the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) is a hub for computer-related engineering research. The facility provides, coordinates, and manages a comprehensive, integrated set of computers, software, and network resources dedicated to engineering and computer science programs. The Institute for Computer Graphics is among the facility's users.

SEAS is also a member of the Cadence University Program, which provides a wide range of high-level electrical engineering design, simulation, and analysis tools used by leading developers in industry and research.

Other GW faculty research focuses:

Facilities & Technology

The George Washington University provides a variety of resources and research space. From conducting traditional laboratory research to developing super-computers, students and faculty members have access to a number of high-quality campus facilities to pursue cutting-edge work.

Computing Capabilities

GW enjoys a longstanding reputation as a center for advanced computing research across disciplines. Learn more about our computing capabilities

Laboratory Facilities

GW offers a variety of laboratories. Learn more about our laboratory facilities, listed by subject area. 

Science and Engineering Hall

The Science and Engineering Hall, set to open in 2015, will usher in a new era of research and innovation at GW and help put knowledge into action.

Core Facilities

Animal Research Facility

The Animal Research Facility (ARF) provides space, equipment, and care for laboratory animals used for research and teaching purposes. Working closely with the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, the ARF provides the highest standards of humane care and use of laboratory animals and assures compliance with University and federal regulations.

BSL-3 Core Facility

The BSL-3 Core Facility is a biosafety level-three laboratory designed for research with hazardous biological agents that have a potential for respiratory transmission and may cause serious health effects.

The Center for Microscopy and Image Analysis

The Center for Microscopy and Image Analysis provides University-wide core resources for acquisition and processing of microscopic images of relevance to biological, biomedical and translation sciences.

Flow Cytometry Core Facility

The Flow Cytometry Core Facility houses a state-of-the-art, digital high-speed sorter and an analog analyzer used for functional assays, gene expression studies, cloning of gene-modified cells or proteomic analyses.

Genomics Core Facility

The Genomics Core Facility available to serve all faculty members at the University whose work involves gene profiling, molecular pathogenesis, mutation detection, and biomarker discovery.