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Holiday science tips from Indiana University

NOTE: This tipsheet is one of several holiday-related features being published by IU Media Relations over the next few days.

All Earth wants for Christmas? A sock for its coal. Concerns about greenhouse gases and global warming are getting scientists to think in unconventional ways about how to stem the carbon dioxide tide. Indiana University Bloomington geologist Chen Zhu is trying to determine whether -- and how -- a new strategy known as "carbon sequestration" can work. Zhu and other imaginative scientists believe it may be possible to grab carbon dioxide before it shoots out of power plant smokestacks, diverting it to geological carbon sinks that trap carbon dioxide forever. Or, at least, for a very long time. Zhu isn't suggesting humans stop worrying about more conventional methods of reducing greenhouse gases, such as simply producing less of them. Rather, he thinks humans should adopt all available strategies to reduce the gases. Extra greenhouse gases are produced across the United States in December and January as plant matter degrades and power stations work overtime to keep Americans warm. Measurements made at Hawaii's Mauna Loa Observatory earlier this year showed atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have hit an all-time high -- about 380 parts per million (by volume), which may be as much as a 36 percent increase in carbon dioxide levels since pre-industrial times. To speak with Chen Zhu or global warming experts at the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs, please contact David Bricker at 812-856-9035 or

Temporary weight gain over the winter holidays might be a good thing. We are admonished not to gain weight during winter's two big eating holidays -- but might a little temporary fat actually strengthen our immune systems? Indiana University Bloomington biologist Gregory Demas is studying the relationship between fat reserves and immune function in animal models. So far, Demas has found that sudden weight loss leads to the rapid depression of immune function, and he says the opposite also holds true: an increase in fat reserves bolsters the strength of the animals' immune systems. Similar studies in humans have not yet been conducted. A little extra fat could help humans and other animals deal with cold weather by providing extra insulation from the cold as well as extra energy to immune systems facing an onslaught of pathogens. To speak with Gregory Demas, please contact David Bricker at 812-856-9035 or To speak to a medical scientist about why cold exposure impairs human immune function, contact Mary Hardin at 317-274-5456 or