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From the College of Natural Sciences
Computer Scientists Explore How Artificial Agents Collaborate on a Shared Task

Computer Scientists Explore How Artificial Agents Collaborate on a Shared Task

There's an (albeit cliché) saying that says that two heads are better than one. Unsurprisingly, this idiom extends to artificial agents. In the field of AI, researchers have been working to understand how to make independent agents, who may have different goals, work together in an environment to complete a shared task. Three researchers in the Department of Computer Science, graduate student Ishan Durugkar, recent doctoral alumnus Elad Liebman, and professor Peter Stone, have been working to solve this problem. 

Locking Down Shape-Shifting Spike Protein Aids Development of COVID-19 Vaccine

Locking Down Shape-Shifting Spike Protein Aids Development of COVID-19 Vaccine

An engineered protein developed by UT Austin researchers and their colleagues is a key element of COVID-19 vaccines currently in human trials by Moderna, Novavax, Pfizer-BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson.

The experimental vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 that was the first to enter human trials in the United States has been shown to elicit neutralizing antibodies and a helpful T-cell response with the aid of a carefully engineered spike protein that mimics the infection-spreading part of the virus.

A Young Sub-Neptune-sized Planet Sheds Light onto How Planets Form and Evolve

A Young Sub-Neptune-sized Planet Sheds Light onto How Planets Form and Evolve

New detailed observations from the Habitable Zone Planet Finder on the Hobby-Eberly Telescope, as well as NSF’s NOIRLab facilities, reveal a young exoplanet, orbiting a young star in the Hyades cluster, that is unusually dense for its size and age. Slightly smaller than Neptune, K2-25b orbits an M-dwarf star — the most common type of star in the galaxy — every 3.5 days. Credit: NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/J. Pollard

A team of astronomers including McDonald Observatory's Bill Cochran have made a detailed study of a young planet slightly smaller than Neptune with the Habitable-zone Planet Finder at The University of Texas at Austin's McDonald Observatory. They characterized the planet's mass, radius, and the tilt of its orbit. This work provides insight into how such planets form and evolve, and has been accepted for publication in the Astronomical Journal.

The Universe Doesn’t Stop for the Pandemic

The Universe Doesn’t Stop for the Pandemic

Hobby-Eberly Telescope stands a silent sentinel at McDonald Observatory.

Under one of the darkest skies in the world, in the Davis Mountains of West Texas, a telescope operator at the McDonald Observatory walks alone under the bright stars toward the massive Hobby-Eberly Telescope. Sitting inside the dome and communicating over the internet with their counterparts back in Austin, astronomers punch coordinates into the control panel and guide the huge telescope as it probes distant galaxies and black holes.

New Tool to Guide Decisions on Social Distancing Uses Hospital Data and Emphasizes Protecting the Vulnerable

New Tool to Guide Decisions on Social Distancing Uses Hospital Data and Emphasizes Protecting the Vulnerable

With communities throughout the United States combating surges in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, researchers at The University of Texas at Austin and Northwestern University have created a framework that helps policymakers determine which data to track and when to take action to protect their communities. The model specifies a series of trigger points to help local entities know when to tighten social distancing measures to prevent hospitals from being overrun by virus patients. The method also aims to minimize the economic impact to communities by suggesting the earliest times for safely relaxing restrictions.

E-Cookbook Promotes Healthy Eating Amid COVID-19 and Raises Funds for Charity

E-Cookbook Promotes Healthy Eating Amid COVID-19 and Raises Funds for Charity

The Coordinated Program in Dietetics 2020 class contributed recipes from their diverse cultural backgrounds into an e-cookbook that benefits charity. Back row from left: Matt Landry, Grace Carstens, Kyndal Klose, Eloise Westlake, Jessica Kyle, Cami Eastman, Elizabeth Hill. Middle row from left: Yanni Liu, Danielle Kolsin, Mariam Eid, Linda Steinhardt, Heather Jones, Miao Lin, Hannah Wang, Wendy Snowden, Rose Hyak. Front row from left: Annie Lee, Sarah Johnston, Bailey Irvin, Shannon Sullivan.

A team of 20 undergraduates from the University of Texas at Austin created a donation-based e-cookbook titled "Food: For the Love of Community" that offers easy recipes and guidance on how to maintain healthy food habits amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Studying Radioactive Aluminum in Solar Systems Unlocks Formation Secrets

Studying Radioactive Aluminum in Solar Systems Unlocks Formation Secrets

This artist's concept illustrates a solar system that is a much younger version of our own. Dusty disks, like the one shown here circling the star, are thought to be the breeding grounds of planets, including rocky ones like Earth. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

An international team of astronomers including Stella Offner of The University of Texas at Austin has proposed a new method for the formation of aluminum-26 in star systems that are forming planets. Because its radioactive decay is thought to provide a heat source for the building blocks of planets, called planetesimals, it's important for astronomers to know where aluminum-26 comes from. Their research is published in the current issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

COVID-19 Vaccine Innovation Could Dramatically Speed Up Worldwide Production

COVID-19 Vaccine Innovation Could Dramatically Speed Up Worldwide Production

Jason S. McLellan, associate professor of molecular biosciences, left, and graduate student Daniel Wrapp, right, work in the McLellan Lab at The University of Texas at Austin Monday Feb. 17, 2020.

Responding to a need to quickly develop billions of doses of lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines, a scientific team at The University of Texas at Austin has successfully redesigned a key protein from the coronavirus, and the modification could enable much faster and more stable production of vaccines worldwide.

UT Austin to Partner in New NSF Quantum Computing Institute

UT Austin to Partner in New NSF Quantum Computing Institute

Illustration credit: Nicolle R. Fuller/National Science Foundation

The University of Texas at Austin's Scott Aaronson is an initial member of a new multi-institution collaboration called the NSF Quantum Leap Challenge Institute for Present and Future Quantum Computation. The institute will work to overcome scientific challenges to achieving quantum computing and will design advanced, large-scale quantum computers that employ state-of-the-art scientific algorithms developed by the researchers.

Investigating How to Make Robots Better Team Members

Investigating How to Make Robots Better Team Members

Imagine that you are a robot in a hospital: composed of bolts and bits, running on code, and surrounded by humans. It's your first day on the job, and your task is to help your new human teammates—the hospital's employees—do their job more effectively and efficiently. Mainly, you're fetching things. You've never met the employees before, and don't know how they handle their tasks. How do you know when to ask for instructions? At what point does asking too many questions become disruptive?