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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Last modified: Tuesday, October 10, 2006

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Vol. 3, no. 12
September 15, 2006

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

August science news:
* Golf grass flees to Oregon's wilds
* "Big Red" supercomputer is dedicated
* Plasticizer implicated as possible carcinogen

August science news

"Study links chemical used in plastics to breast cancer" (MEDICINE)
Aug. 25, 2006

EXCERPT: A chemical used in plastic bottles and other household products may be linked to the development of breast cancer, researchers said yesterday... US scientists showed that high concentrations of Bisphenol A (BPA), an oestrogen-like chemical which mimics female hormones, can stimulate cancer cells.

* The finding explains why BPA is found at elevated levels in breast cancer cells, but is absent or at low levels in other bodily tissues.

IU press release:


"IU dedicates new supercomputer, one of world's most powerful" (COMPUTER SCIENCE)
Associated Press
Aug. 22, 2006

EXCERPT: Indiana University officials dedicated a supercomputer dubbed "Big Red" on Tuesday that's one of the world's fastest supercomputers.

* "Big Red" is currently the fastest university-owned and operated supercomputer in the United States. Its purchase will allow the university to acquire new grants that support scientific projects that involve a lot of number-crunching and data processing. Rumor has it several grants are already in the works...

IU press release:


"Internet search engines go on trial" (INFORMATICS)
New Scientist
Aug. 19, 2006

EXCERPT: "THESE search engines think they are private companies, but they're not. How many times a day do you search using one of these engines? They're everywhere, and it's disingenuous of them to act as if they're not public." So says attorney Tim Hanigan of Lang, Hanigan & Carvalho in Los Angeles. Hanigan is representing Avi Datner, founder of party supply website, who last month filed a lawsuit against the search engine Yahoo.

* The article about search engine tampering (or the lack thereof) references a study by IU Informatics (Bloomington) researchers Filippo Menczer, Alessandro Flammini, and Alessandro Vespignani, and post-doctoral fellow Santo Fortunato, published in an August issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The PNAS paper suggests popular search engines actually give special prominence to Web sites that are not popular, though it is also true that the most popular Web sites are usually ranked first or second on a list of page hits.

IU press release:


"Patient Power: Making Sure Your Doctor Really Hears You" (MEDICINE)
New York Times
Aug. 15, 2006

EXCERPT: It's one thing to feel like a master of the universe when wearing a buttoned-down power suit. But how can you negotiate anything -- how can you even contemplate "Getting to Yes," as one motivational best seller puts it -- when standing barefoot in a paper gown under the fluorescent lights at a hospital or a medical clinic?

* IU School of Medicine (medical) sociologist Richard Frankel helped develop a training program for Kaiser Permanente hospitals that teaches doctors to be better listeners during consultations. Frankel says that studies show that patients downplay the importance of key symptoms, such as growths or depression, and may only mention those symptoms casually or in passing.


"'Fears as grass for golf goes fair way" (BIOLOGY)
Aug. 11, 2006

EXCERPT: A genetically modified grass designed to improve golf courses and lawns has caused alarm in the US after escaping into the wild... Creeping bentgrass (Agrostis stolonifera) has spread up to 5km outside a test site in Oregon.

* The artificially modified grass is impervious to glysophate and is fairly hardy. Some worry the grass may have detrimental effects on local habitats. IUB geneticist Eric Baack was recently quoted in the journal Current Biology as saying, ''It's definitely a new set of variables we've not had to deal with in previous GM crops.''

Not available online


"Tropical Wrens Sing Complex Tunes, Researchers Find" (BIOLOGY)
National Geographic News
Aug. 8, 2006

EXCERPT: Plain-tailed wrens sing what is perhaps the most complex and coordinated birdsong known, researchers have discovered. But you might not realize it just by listening... "It sounds rather boring, truth be told," said Peter Slater, a biologist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

* The report refers to a report by IUB graduate student Kimberly Dingess and others that was the first to explore the wrens' songs. The songs, it seems, are indicative of the wren's highly coordinated group behavior.


"News Focus: Making Connections" (SOCIOLOGY)
Vol. 313, no. 5787
Aug. 4, 2006

EXCERPT: Linton Freeman, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Irvine, has just offered the perfect alibi for murder. A colleague was known to attend every one of the talks in a weekly seminar series. At the end, as part of an experiment, Freeman's students asked the other attendees if he'd been at the last meeting. Those who attended regularly assumed that he must have been, because he'd been to every other session.

* The article summarizes recent work in "social network analysis," which, simply put, maps human-human interactions. Where these interactions are concerned, IU Bloomington statistician and sociologist Stanley Wasserman finds reality is just as important as a person's perception of reality. Wasserman tells Science reporter Karen Heyman, "Network analysis with a cognitive twist studies the individual's perceptions of social structure... such as your view of who the cliques are versus the actual cliques."
(This article can be viewed from computers on IU campuses)


"Transforming the Alchemists" (HISTORY OF SCIENCE)
New York Times
Aug. 1, 2006

EXCERPT: Historians of science are taking a new and lively interest in alchemy, the often mystical investigation into the hidden mysteries of nature that reached its heyday in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries and has been an embarrassment to modern scientists ever since.

* IUB Dept. of the History and Philosophy of Science Professor William R. Newman is studying the manuscripts of Sir Isaac Newton, a polymath credited with deriving three fundamental laws of physics using calculus and... inventing calculus, too. Newton was obsessed with alchemy, and believed an ancient alchemic text written by Egyptians contained fundamental truths.
(Access to full article requires a fee)


* * * * 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,, or Hal Kibbey at 812-855-0074,

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,

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