Last modified: Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Vol. 4, no. 9
June 14, 2007
Indiana Science Monthly is a selection of recent news stories about Indiana University scientists and their research. Comments or questions about this newsletter may be directed to David Bricker, Office of Media Relations (812-856-9035 or email@example.com).
May science news:
* Solid "crusts" and liquid "oceans" around neutron stars
* Do pesticides cause premature births in the U.S.?
* Monitoring Wikipedia's most controversial pages
* Eduardo Fernandez to turn Bloomington Science Cafe into a zoo
"Walking Upright May Have Started in Trees" (ANTHROPOLOGY)
HealthDay (via Forbes)
May 31, 2007
EXCERPT: New research with wild orangutans suggests that walking on two legs -- long considered a defining trait of humans and close ancestors -- may have started among tree-dwelling apes... Traditionally, many scientists have thought that walking on two legs -- called bipedalism -- took hold after the ancestors to chimps, gorillas and humans descended from trees and began walking on the ground on all fours, a theory known as the savannah hypothesis.
* Indiana University Bloomington anthropologist Kevin Hunt points out that the Australopithecines lived in woodlands and not in rainforests, as orangutans do, and argues that the evolution of bipedalism in human ancestors was likely useful both for life on the ground and in the branches.
"Cicada Outbreaks Linked to Other Animals' Booms, Busts" (BIOLOGY)
National Geographic News
May 30, 2007
EXCERPT: Periodical cicadas, like the Brood XIII bugs slamming the U.S. Midwest, have an unusual survival strategy: They simply ignore their predators... "They don't do anything to get away. They don't fly away, they don't try to escape," said John Cooley, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.
* IUB biologist Keith Clay tells NG News reporter John Roach that the southern Indiana mole population surged just before the emergence of Brood X periodical cicadas in 2004, then crashed. "That is, the mounds and runways in lawns and park areas were extremely common and evident in 2003 and 2004, and now you don't see them," Clay says.
"Newscripts: Spring Babies" (MEDICINE/ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE)
Chemical & Engineering News
Vol. 85, No. 22
May 28, 2007
EXCERPT: It's a widely held belief that the birthday tells a lot about a person. Take this reporter, for example. I was born in March, which makes me a Pisces. Miss Cleo would say it means I'm easygoing, likable, and imaginative, but also rather dramatic (no comment on that one). Researchers at the University of Indiana School of Medicine might add, however, that a March birthday also makes me terrible at math... A possible culprit? PESTICIDES.
* IU School of Medicine pediatric researcher Paul Winchester tells C&E News's Faith Hayden, "The fetal brain begins developing soon after conception," and that although the evidence is not conclusive, the researchers "... strongly support such a hypothesis."
(Access may require a subscription)
IUSM press release:
"PHILOSOPHY OF MIND: Who Watches the Watcher?" (COGNITIVE SCIENCE)
Vol. 316, no. 5828
May 25, 2007
EXCERPT: Douglas Hofstadter has made a career of thinking about thinking, and he is rightfully famous for writing the Pulitzer-winning Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid at the tender age of 27. That book was a roller-coaster ride that defied classification then as today, but much to the author's chagrin the central message that he tried to convey, concerning the nature of human consciousness, seemed to have been lost among the fireworks.
* California Institute of Technology cognitive scientist reviews IUB cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter's most recent book, I am a Strange Loop. Amani writes, "I believe that Hofstadter's views on consciousness will play an important part, on at least two levels, as we go forward in exploring our mind."
(Access may require a subscription)
"Marijuana-Like Chemicals Guide Fetal Brain Cells" (MEDICINE)
May 24, 2007
EXCERPT: Natural marijuanalike chemicals may direct key brain cells to make proper connections while in the womb, according to a new study. Researchers report that the molecules, called cannabinoids, serve as guideposts for young cells in the attention and decision-making parts of fetal mouse brains.
* IUB neuroscientist Ken Mackie, who co-led the study, tells Scientific American's J.R. Minkel that natural cannabinoids can reach very high concentrations but are secreted by the brain in precise locations. "The effects of endocannabinoids released in a regulated fashion," he says, "will almost always be different from THC from smoked cannabis."
"European Man Found in Ancient Chinese Tomb, Study Reveals" (ANTHROPOLOGY)
National Geographic News
May 24, 2007
EXCERPT: Human remains found in a 1,400-year-old Chinese tomb belonged to a man of European origin, DNA evidence shows. Chinese scientists who analyzed the DNA of the remains say the man, named Yu Hong, belonged to one of the oldest genetic groups from western Eurasia. The tomb, in Taiyuan in central China, marks the easternmost spot where the ancient European lineage has been found.
* IUB anthropologist Frederika Kaestle says it'd be hard to determine whether the man's presence is an anomaly or related to a larger migration event. "Was it just this one man [who moved into the area], or was it a large family including this man, or was it an even larger group of people from his ancestral population?" she tells NG News's Stefan Lovgren.
"Chemistry of neutron stars modelled for first time" (PHYSICS)
May 22, 2007
EXCERPT: Neutron stars are like layered candies, with different chemicals concentrated at different depths, reveal the first detailed computer simulations of the stars' chemistry. If correct, this could affect the strength of any gravitational waves the stars emit, and may help explain the origin of the spectacular nuclear explosions seen tearing across their surfaces.
* The new study by IUB physicist Charles Horowitz and others suggests neutron stars may form liquid and solid regions far from the star's center. Specifically, Horowitz envisions a solid, iron-heavy bottom layer and a liquid, oxygen-heavy top layer. This is not a particularly placid surface, however, especially if carbon is around. "The heavier stuff freezes, but the carbon doesn't like to go in the solid, it likes to stay in the liquid," Horowitz tells New Scientist's David Shiga. "That could explain how there was enough carbon in the ocean to explode."
"Is your family toxic?" (ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE)
Daily Mail (U.K.)
May 22, 2007
EXCERPT: ... My concern about pesticides was new... It had been triggered by research into the life of a largely forgotten food scientist: Jack Drummond, architect of the remarkably successful World War II rationing. At the end of the war, we British were healthier than we'd ever been. What, I wanted to know, had gone wrong? Why, just 60 years later, are we in the grip of an obesity epidemic, eating junk food and, I'd just discovered, food riddled with toxic chemicals?
* Daily Mail reporter James Ferguson says his concern about toxins in common foods surged after reading about a four-year-old study by IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs (Bloomington) chemist Ron Hites and others that showed elevated levels of organic toxins in farmed salmon.
"Power struggle" (INFORMATION SCIENCE)
May 19, 2007
EXCERPT: How do you keep track of the bubbling mass of information that is Wikipedia? This chaotic-looking mosaic is one attempt to show which topics are contained in the online encyclopedia, and those most hotly contested.
* IU School of Library and Information Science researchers Bruce Herr and Todd Holloway have written a program that demonstrates -- in a rather spectacular way -- which Wikipedia pages are experiencing the most changes.
"Automatic Networking: Brain systems charge up in unconscious monkeys" (COGNITIVE SCIENCE)
Vol. 171, no. 18
May 5, 2007
EXCERPT: Anesthetized monkeys may be dead to the world, but their brains remain surprisingly lively. Organized patterns of activity continually course through neural networks that during waking life control the animals' eye movements and other critical functions, a new brain-scan investigation finds.
* In related research, Sporns and his coworkers have developed a computational model of neural activity in macaques at rest, including simulated blood-flow alterations in interconnected structures. "The demonstration that anatomical connections among brain regions powerfully shape spontaneous fluctuations in neural activity is a major advance," IUB neuroscientist Olaf Sporns tells Science News reporter Bruce Bower.
(Access requires a subscription)
IU press release:
Conservationist and ethologist Eduardo Fernandez to turn Bloomington Science Cafe into a zoo
Why do wild animals exist in captivity? How do zoos and aquariums help their animals behave more 'naturally'? What are the conservation implications of captive animals in general? Eduardo J. Fernandez, an animal welfare researcher who works for the Indianapolis and Cincinnati zoos, will talk. More information about the BSC: http://www.sciencecafebloomington.org/.
* * * * Do you have an important and/or interesting paper in press? A major event or presentation coming up? Please contact IU Office of Media Relations science writers David Bricker at 812-856-9035, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Hal Kibbey at 812-855-0074, email@example.com.
Indiana Science Monthly is produced for internal use only. If you have received this eMail in error, or do not wish not to receive this monthly eMail, or if you have a news item for the next edition of ISM, please contact David Bricker at 812-856-9035, firstname.lastname@example.org.