Noël Heaney / Cornell University

The team is studying melting rates of the Thwaites Glacier.

February 19, 2023

Science Slices of the Week: Male Contraceptives, Underwater Robots and Sloan Research Fellowships

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The Science Slices is a weekly series that expands coverage on Cornell science discoveries, and briefly highlights science news and breakthroughs that have occurred each week. 

Cornell Researchers Identify Potential On-Demand Male Contraceptive

On Feb. 14, Weill Cornell Medicine researchers published a preclinical study regarding a drug that inhibits sperm motility and prevents pregnancy, opening the possibility to a on-demand male contraceptive. Prof. Jochen Buck, pharmacology, and Prof. Lonny Levin, pharmacology, co-senior authors of the study, told The Sun they first discovered the protein soluble adenylyl cyclase and its function in sperm maturation and motility. “Jochen and I have been working together for 20 years and we first collaborated to discover [soluble adenylyl cyclase] as independent scientists,” Levin said. “But then we merged our laboratories, and we’ve been studying and doing basic research on this enzyme for a long time.” 

In 2018, Melanie Balbach, postdoctoral student of Buck and Levin’s lab, began developing inhibitors for sAC when she discovered TDI-11861. According to Balbach, when testing TDI-11861 on mice, she observed inactivation of sAC that resulted in lowered motility. Since then, TDI-11861 has become a candidate for an on-demand male contraceptive due to its various advantages. TDI-11861 inhibits sperm movement within 30 minutes with no side effects, while other male contraceptives target hormonal activity and sperm development, which take eight to 10 weeks to have effects and often leave men infertile. Buck, Levin and Balbach say their future plans include producing improved compounds of TDI-11861 and sending them to clinical trials, where they hope the drug can pass to become an effective and safe contraceptive for men. 

Cornell Research Team Develop Underwater Robot to Help Explain Rapid Melting of Antarctic Glaciers 

Cornell researchers from the Department of Astronomy and the Planetary Habitability and Technology Lab have recently shared findings about the rapid melting patterns of Antarctica glaciers using a remote controlled underwater robot developed by the team to help collect data. “[Icefin] has a variety of sensors,” said Andrew Mullen, co-author of the study and senior research engineer. “Some of the most important things it measures are the temperature of the water, how fast that water is moving, and the shape of the ice surfaces.” 

The team is using the Icefin robot to study the Thwaites Glacier, a glacier located in West Antarctica, because it slows the flow of ice from West Antarctica into the ocean. The team also observed the retreat of the Thwaites Glacier’s grounding line, a region where ice attached to land starts floating into the sea. According to Peter Washam, co-author of the study and research associate of the Planetary Habitability and Technology Lab, melting of the Thwaites Glacier influences retreating of the grounding line. This means that more ice will float into the sea and cause sea levels to rise. Washam also notes that certain areas, like steep surfaces of the Thwaites Glacier, melt faster which contributes to the stability of glaciers and retreat of the ground line. As for future plans, Mullen Washam shares that the team hopes to continue collecting data on the Thwaites Glacier with the Icefin robot, as well as study glaciers in other areas of Antarctica and America.  

Cornell Faculty Awarded 2023 Sloan Research Fellowships
Several Cornell faculty have been granted the 2023 Sloan Research Fellowships from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, receiving $75,000 in two-year fellowships for their research. Among these individuals is Prof. Andrew Musser, chemistry, who focuses on interactions between molecular materials and light using ultrafast laser spectroscopy.  This technique utilizes ultrafast lasers to study absorption and emission of light to understand the materials’ properties. Musser also studies the properties of polaritons, hybrid states formed from interactions between light and an absorbing material. According to Musser, his research has various applications in technology development, such as new types of lasers and efficient solar cells. Musser hopes to use the Sloan Research Fellowship to provide new technology to enhance his lab’s experimental capabilities. Another faculty member who also received the fellowship for his research is  Prof. Debanjan Chowdhury, physics. His research focuses on quantum materials where trillions of electrons interact with each other, specifically superconductors. Chowdhury aims to create theoretical methods to understand quantum behavior of electrons, and predict when these behaviors can produce properties of superconductivity and magnetism. Through the Sloan Research Fellowship, Chowdhury hopes to provide funds to students and postdoctorals contributing to his research.