Saturday, August 27, 2005

Da Vinci right, again

One of the things that interests me in science is when a theory from hundreds of years ago is finally proven - scientists have proven a theory of the great Leonardo Da Vinci, scientist and artist.

The Ames Laboratory of the US Department of Energy report says, Leonardo Da Vinci continues to inspire even 500 years after his remarkable life. His theories on friction are helping a group of scientists unlock the mystery of friction at the molecular level.

The press statement says, "In a nutshell, Da Vinci proposed that if two contacting surfaces are geometrically similar, they will have a much higher coefficient of friction than two geometrically dissimilar surfaces, due to the fact that the similar surfaces have a tendency to interlock. To test this theory at the molecular level, the research team looked at a quasicrystalline material that exhibits both periodic and aperiodic configurations in its crystal structure. What they found, and reported in the journal Science, was that friction along the periodic surface was about eight times greater than the friction along the aperiodic axis.

Okay, so it's cool to see the old guys were right most of the time, but why is understanding friction so important... well there are tons of reasons if you google "friction" and "molecular."

But here is one interesting explanation from meteorologist Jeff Haby from Weather "Friction is an extremely important force to meteorology. Not only does friction decrease the wind speed, it also changes the direction of the wind. Two types of friction occur in the atmosphere. One is molecular friction (friction between individual air molecules, called viscosity) and friction between two surfaces (i.e. friction between air and land). Since air molecules are free to move about, friction by viscosity is much less significant than friction between two surfaces."

There you go - so much good science, so little time to learn more about it!

Thursday, August 25, 2005

PlaceLab follows daily behaviors

This is taking big brother into the 21st century... and if you are a fan of CBS's Big Brother show this will sound familiar.

According to a story on the Technology Review web site, "Think back on the last two weeks: try to remember how you spent your time at home. How many hours did you watch television?

"How many times did you open the refrigerator, and what exactly did you eat? How much water did you use? And did you remember to take your vitamins? Out of context, these questions may seem trivial. But together, they create a comprehensive portrait of everyday activity. And that could lead to better indoor air quality and energy management, technologies that simplify - rather than complicate - everyday tasks, and advances in personalized home health care.

"The only problem is that gathering this kind of mundane data is often difficult and tedious. But MIT's PlaceLab aims to get around that problem by inviting volunteer test subjects to live in a sensor-rich apartment where researchers can monitor everything from how long they leave a window open to exactly what time they wake up. This information will make it easier for researchers not only to study everyday human behavior but also to develop better tools with which to do so."

The story continues, "The PlaceLab is, by all outward appearances, a typical one-bedroom, Ikea-clad Cambridge apartment near Central Square. Volunteers spend 10 to 14 days living there as they would in their own homes. But behind the sleek cabinetry and wall panels are more than 350 sensors and dozens of cameras and microphones that can record every movement and activity of the apartment's inhabitants," say the researchers.

Tune in the the last few weeks of CBS's Big Brother 6 to get a taste of the 24/7 on people's daily habits.

Heart surgery and Alzheimer's linked

I think this finding is significant, and I am certain researchers will continue to look into the link between heart surgery and Alzheimer's disease.

The Journal of Alzheimer's Disease reports that researchers have discovered that patients who have either coronary artery bypass graft surgery or coronary angioplasty are at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. They say that the findings pinpoint stress and trauma of surgery as the major cause for the increased risk.

"The coronary bypass patients had a 70 percent increased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease," the scientists say. They say early cognitive impairment is an immediate reaction to the stress of surgery.

Researchers believe this early cognitive impairment is an immediate reaction to the stress of surgery. "Heart bypass surgery represents a traumatic insult to the brain, particularly by reducing oxygen supply to the brain and increasing the stress response," the scientists say.

"We believe that the compensation that occurs by one year masks an underlying deficit in the central nervous system caused by the heart surgery," says Boston University School of Medicine's Benjamin Wolozin. "As individuals age, this underlying deficit might exacerbate progressive cognitive deficits associated with mild cognitive impairment, a precursory phase before diagnosis of Alzheimer's."

Go to Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease or Eurekalert for more information.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Brain and gut linked

The New York Times covers an interesting topic this week on the connection between the brain and the gut, so check it out:

"Two brains are better than one. At least that is the rationale for the close - sometimes too close - relationship between the human body's two brains, the one at the top of the spinal cord and the hidden but powerful brain in the gut known as the enteric nervous system.

For Dr. Michael D. Gershon, the author of "The Second Brain" and the chairman of the department of anatomy and cell biology at Columbia, the connection between the two can be unpleasantly clear. 'Every time I call the National Institutes of Health to check on a grant proposal,' Dr. Gershon said, 'I become painfully aware of the influence the brain has on the gut.'

In fact, anyone who has ever felt butterflies in the stomach before giving a speech, a gut feeling that flies in the face of fact or a bout of intestinal urgency the night before an examination has experienced the actions of the dual nervous systems."

To read the whole article go to "The Other Brain Also Deals With Many Woes."

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Tweaking the speed of light

This looks interesting, as it flies in the face of an expression we have heard all of our lives - traveling at the speed of light. Constant, right, something to count on.

Well now researchers have shown, for the first time, that it is possible to control the speed of light – both slowing it down and speeding it up.

Researchers were successful in controlling the speed of light in a simple optical fiber. They were able to make light go faster than the speed of light.

The press statement says that "this is not the first time that scientists have tweaked the speed of a light signal. Even light passing through a window or water is slowed down a fraction as it travels through the medium. In fact, in the right conditions, scientists have been able to slow light down to the speed of a bicycle, or even stop it altogether."

Okay, I'm listening...

"In 2003, a group from the University of Rochester made an important advance by slowing down a light signal in a room-temperature solid. But all these methods depend on special media such as cold gases or crystalline solids, and they only work at certain well-defined wavelengths." With the publication of their new method, the scientists have used a technique to slow light with "off-the-shelf optical fibers, without requiring costly experimental set-ups or special media."

Find more about tweaking the speed of light by scientists at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Applied Physics Letters.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Blogging moves to business

You are going to learn alot more about science and medicine as more blogs are started on these topics, but this story today is more on the business of blogging.

Today I noticed a interesting article on Corante’s Get Real blog - on the business of blogs! Stowe Boyd says about writing blogs (and notice he has a book coming out):

"As the number of blogs and bloggers continues to double every three months, some paradoxical realities are beginning to show up. Like here, at Business Blog Summit, where I was puzzled to see that there is less and less maturity in the attendees: I don't mean that they are young, but that they are newbies. I mean, these folks don't know very much. And I am not knocking the conference folks. It's just simple numbers.

When you a show with an absolute number of attendees -- 200 or 250 attending -- and an additional 5 million blogs went live last quarter, and 10 million this quarter -- guess what? A lot more rank beginners are going to show up.

That also means that the time is right for advanced seminars and symposia to start, and that's where Corante will be pushing in the upcoming months. In an environment where six or seven of the folks speaking at this conference have "Business Blogging" books in press or in process, it is time for more specialization and depth. For example, I could see a conference dedicated just to the technical issues of blogging on Movable Type, or a one day Master Class on Blog Writing for non-newbies who want to dramatically improve the quality of their writing."

I guess it is time journalism schools started up classes on writing blogs....

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Support clean water around the world

Why don't you join fellow Americans and others around the globe in supporting CARE and its efforts to help address the issues of poverty around the world.

CARE operates 150 water projects in 43 countries around the world, working to expand access to safe water and help communities manage resources for future generations.

The House of Representatives recently acknowledged the importance of this work by introducing a piece of legislation that promotes access to safe water and sanitation across the globe: The Water for the Poor Act of 2005 (H.R.1973).

Find your member of Congress and make a difference by showing support for this bill as it makes its way to the House floor and a vote for final passage.

Contact CARE Action Network now.

Still searching for women in science

I have been around the medical and science world for a couple of decades, and this is one finding that seems to repeat: "Bias has created a significant barrier to women and under-represented groups from pursuing technological or scientific careers, according to the upcoming report "More Women in Science," published in the journal Science.

The research shows that for many fields, such as biology, the balance of men and women faculty is quite uneven despite the fact that women make up almost half of their graduating PhDs.

"Evidence shows that women faculty members are more often asked to provide campus service on committees and as student advisers, not necessarily the best activity to win tenure approval in Research I institutions," the press statement on Eurekalert states.

Essentially, the climate has always been challenging for women would-be scientists, and although progress has been made in small ways, much is left to do. Recently Georgia Tech developed a tool to help address this issue with a Web-based kit called Awareness of Decisions in Evaluating Promotion and Tenure as part of a National Science Foundation grant. This program is designed to help promotion and tenure committee members, chairpersons, and deans to better understand biases related to gender, race, and disability.

Although incremental steps may seem inadequate to tackle this major problem, at least the issue is still addressed in some way.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

More on Yahoo Blog for Hope

I am reading more Yahoo Blog for Hope blogs today, and I have appreciated the thoughtful way celebrities are bringing attention to cancer.

I like the post by Tom Green, who had testicular cancer. He says, "When I noticed my cancer, I personally didn't go to the doctor right away. I waited about two weeks. But they say the average young person waits as much as six months, usually hoping it will go away, before going to a doctor. This is when the cancer can spread. If you feel any sort of pain, numbness, or whatever in your er... private area... just go to a doctor."

He reached out to young men with a program on MTV, and now he is again helping men learn about testicular cancer with his blog on Yahoo. Check it out!

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Yahoo Blog for Hope

You should take a minute and visit the Yahoo Blog for Hope today - sponsored by Yahoo and the American Cancer Society!

I like Deepak Chopra, one of the bloggers and a well-known health guru, and here is a short excerpt from one of his entries: "The process of releasing emotional toxins is similar to that for releasing physical ones. You must first have a clear intention that you want to replace life-depleting emotions with life-enhancing ones. The metabolism of regret and resentment into compassion and forgiveness can dramatically awaken your body, mind, and spirit to you primordial vital energy."

His premise is always that a happy heart helps support a healthy body.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Emotional ads appeal to skeptics

I like this study on advertising claims and how people respond.

The study, reported in the Journal of Advertising, says that consumers who are very skeptical about the truth of advertising claims are more responsive to emotionally appealing ads than ones peppered with information. Emotional ads are characterized as providing an emotional experience that is relevant to the use of the brand; informational ads predominantly provide clear brand data.

The scientists looked at consumers' responses to advertising, including brand beliefs, responses to informational and emotional appeals, efforts to avoid advertising, attention to ads, and reliance on ads versus other information sources. They found that skeptical consumers like advertising less, rely on it less, and respond more positively to emotional appeals.

And I like this part in the press statement: "Skeptics are not, however, immune from the influence of advertising. The researchers said that this finding may appear counter-intuitive, as many consumers are inclined to express skepticism about overtly emotional ads, which they view as manipulative. And, such ads are successfully manipulative."

You can find more about the study "Ad skepticism: the consequences of disbelief" at the University of Washington web site.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Downy chick feathers and tufted branches

I am always facinated by researchers when they study for years at a time a very specific and undoubtedly esoteric question, and I continue to admire the patience it takes.

A study about how bird feathers are formed was reported in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week.

In a previous study, according to the press statement (yes reporters are really interested in this stuff) John F. Fallon showed that Sonic hedgehog (Shh) and bone morphogenetic protein 2 (Bmp2) must be expressed in order to produce barb ridges, which are among the first structures to form in the tufted branches of the simple downy chick feather. The two proteins, which tend to play off each other in organ development, also are involved in the embryonic development of limbs, lungs, teeth and the gut.

In the current study, a team of scientists showed that "during the development of barbs-filamentous structures that form the feather, the function of these two proteins interact. SHH up-regulates its own expression and that of Bmp2, and Bmp2 then signals the down-regulation of Shh expression. This dynamic signaling interaction fits a longstanding mathematical model known as an activator-inhibitor mechanism," says the press statement.

Researchers say these findings suggest that simple relationships between developmental genes can provide the basis for the formation of complex forms. They predict that a more complicated version of the model can be applied to the formation of more complex feathers.

Bottom line: "Our model supports paleontologic evidence that pennaceous feathers are more advanced than plumalaceous feathers." I know, you are going to consider becoming a paleontologist after this exciting news!

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Choose your words wisely

A new study looks at "Do Speakers Avoid Ambiguities During Dialogue?" I was curious about the topic, but I found the press release could have been clearer in looking at ambiguities in public speaking!

It starts with an example: if someone told you to "put the apple in the basket on the table," what would you do? Depending on how many apples and baskets are in your kitchen, it might not be clear. Would you move the apple in the basket to the table, or move the apple to the basket on the table?

The researchers say some studies have shown that speakers choose their sentences based, in part, on how easy those sentences are to produce for themselves while not taking ease of comprehension into account.

"An ambiguous phrase is often easier to construct than an unambiguous one, so some people will speak ambiguously even if they are likely to be misunderstood," the statement says.

To learn more about "optional disambiguating words" you can read the full report in Psychological Science, a journal of the American Psychological Society.

What about my coverage of this report - hopefully not too ambiguous!

Friday, August 05, 2005

Driving breast cancer to the lungs

I don't cover basic science research in cancer all that much, but some news this week was significant when researchers pinpointed genes that drive the spread of breast cancer to the lungs.

Howard Hughes Medical Institute researchers have identified a telltale set of genes that causes breast cancer to spread and grow in the lungs, where cancer cells often flourish with lethal consequences.

The researchers say that the genes are more than markers that identify the presence of metastatic cancer. These genes are mediators that enable fragments of breast cancer tumors to take root in the lungs, according the HHMI press statement.

“It's all about selection, but it’s a combination of Darwin and Murphy," says the study's senior author Joan Massagué, at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. "These cells are mutating in a largely random fashion, so mutation that gives a cell an advantage will be selected for in a Darwinian manner. And like Murphy’s Law, if a cell can get nasty, it will get nasty.”

The scientists are hopeful that their research will give clinicians a new set of molecular tools to test tumor biopsies for the activity of these specific genes. This, in turn, should help guide treatment by permitting the early diagnosis of breast cancers that will ultimately metastasize to the lung.

Research that will undoubtedly be followed with more research.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Art worth viewing today

One of my interests is new art, and the flickr web site points to amazing work I want to share today.

Go to flickr to see more of antimethod's inspiring and beautiful photography.

Ice shelf collapses in Antarctica

I must be developing a greater interest in global warming, or I am just coming across some amazing news (to me).

Today, scientists say that the Antarctic Peninsula is undergoing greater warming than almost anywhere on Earth, a condition that may be linked with human-induced greenhouse effects.

Says the journal Nature this week, "The spectacular collapse of Antarctica's Larsen B Ice Shelf, an area roughly the size of Rhode Island, is unprecedented during the past 10,000 years."

Here is the gist of it from a press statement: "Evidence shows that the break-up of the ice shelf was caused by a combination of long-term thinning (by a few tens of meters) over thousands of years and short term (multi-decadal) cumulative increases in surface air temperature that have exceeded the natural variation of regional climate during the Holocene period (the last 10,000 years since the end of the last Ice Age)."

Eugene Domack, professor of geosciences at Hamilton College, authors this new report. He says that the Larsen B ice shelf is not alone in its demise. In recent years, the Antarctic Peninsula has lost ice shelves totaling over 4,825 square miles.

According to the G8 Summit Gleneagles 2005 in July, our "climate is changing. Over the past century average global temperatures have risen by 0.6° Celsius – the 10 warmest years on record have all been since 1990. There is now scientific consensus that this warming has been brought about by the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which in turn has been caused by human activities - primarily the burning of fossil fuels and changes in land use."

Something to think about.