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Blueberry vinegar improves memory in mice with amnesia

Cognitive Improving Effects by Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium crymbosum L.) Vinegar on Scopolamine-Induced Amnesia Mice Model
Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry

Dementia affects millions of people worldwide, robbing them of their ability to think, remember and live as they once did. In the search for new ways to fight cognitive decline, scientists report in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry that blueberry vinegar might offer some help. They found that the fermented product could restore cognitive function in mice.

Recent studies have shown that the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, have lower levels of the signaling compound acetylcholine and its receptors. Research has also demonstrated that blocking acetylch oline receptors disrupts learning and memory. Drugs to stop the breakdown of acetylcholine have been developed to fight dementia, but they often


don’t last long in the body and can be toxic to the liver. Natural extracts could be a safer treatment option, and some animal studies suggest that these extracts can improve cognition. Additionally, fermentation can boost the bioactivity of some natural products. So Beong-Ou Lim and colleagues wanted to test whether vinegar made from blueberries, which are packed with a wide range of active compounds, might help prevent cognitive decline.

To carry out their experiment, the researchers administered blueberry vinegar to mice with induced amnesia. Measurements of molecules in their brains showed that the vinegar reduced the breakdown of acetylcholine and boosted levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein associated with maintaining and creating healthy neurons. To test how the treatment affected cognition, the researchers analyzed the animals’ performance in mazes and an avoidance test, in which the mice would receive a low-intensity shock in one of two chambers. The treated rodents showed improved performance in both of these tests, suggesting that the fermented product improved short-term memory. Thus, although further testing is needed, the researchers say that blueberry vinegar could potentially be a promising food to help treat amnesia and cognitive decline related to aging.

Note: ACS does not conduct research, but publishes and publicizes peer-reviewed scientific studies.


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Squeezing oil from stone

In many oil wells, especially newly drilled ones, natural subsurface pressure suffices to expel oil from the pores of oil-bearing rock. To squeeze out more oil, companies have long injected water into wells. Despite the effectiveness of that practice, geophysicists don’t know exactly how the oil and pressurized water interact. To investigate, physicist Denis Bartolo of École Normale Supérieure in Lyon, France, and his team built a miniature oil field: an array of interconnected 80-μm-wide channels imprinted in a layer of transparent resin and flooded with silicone oil. The researchers injected dyed water through the structure, varying the flow rate to mimic the range used in real wells. The results reveal that whereas faster water injection moves more oil per unit time, a lower flow rate extracts more oil per unit water volume.





Space thriller explores the solitude of exploration and the strength of the human spirit

By Jovana J. Grbić


Space movies, such as “Gravity,” are almost always grandiose in their storytelling aspirations. The enormity of space, the raw power of a space shuttle, the existential quandary of whether we are alone in a vast universe, and (as is the case in “Gravity”) an inevitable crisis that must be resolved to steer astronauts to safety.


There is one critical detail, however, that most space films fail to convey visually—solitude. “Gravity” gets it right, giving viewers an insight into the loneliness. Catherine Coleman, who spent thousands of hours aboard the shuttle Columbia and the International Space Station, and who was a primary adviser to lead actress Sandra Bullock, recounts isolation—spatial separation, physical movements, zero gravity, and a distant Earth—as the biggest challenge and reward an astronaut faces. With a story line centered on one brave scientist in crisis, “Gravity” becomes a virtual spaceflight for the audience. Through this vista, we perceive how beautiful, terrifying and full of possibility space truly is.


In director Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity,” we are introduced to Mission Specialist Ryan Stone (Bullock), a scientist turned novice astronaut sent as part of a team to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. We also meet ebullient, assertive veteran Mission Commander Matt Kowalsky (Clooney) out on his last voyage in space. During a routine maintenance operation, an intentional demolition of an obsolete satellite sends debris hurtling through space right in their direction. With catastrophic damage to their shuttle, Kowalsky and Stone are the sole survivors and have no access to NASA Mission Control. A series of tragic consequences soon leave Stone alone, relying on her instincts to attempt a last-ditch escape via an international space station—her only hope for returning to Earth.

“Gravity” is a technical, pinpoint-accurate movie that relied on input from NASA astronauts and physicists. Michael Massimino, a Hubble service specialist who completed missions on the space bbloggshuttles Columbia and Atlantis, provided insight into space travel and space walking. In addition, Clooney and Bullock spent hours training for zero-gravity conditions, and the film’s artistic directors and technical crew built special light boxes and green screens to render space from all angles with the power of computer-generated imagery, better known as CGI. “Even if [“Gravity”] was a work of fiction,” Cuarón remarked at a press junket last week, “we wanted everything, especially the physics of space, to be as accurate as possible.”

Despite the thrilling story and technical fidelity, there is a stylistic beauty to “Gravity” rooted in simplicity, a silent abyss in the midst of intergalactic chaos. Cuarón’s desire to showcase space as a central piece of his movie is reflected in every frame. He perceived “Gravity” to be an existential film about “a woman drifting into the void and confronting adversity,” he said. Rather than the constraints of a time and place, however, the celestial bodies are the proof of life that inspires her to keep going.

“I used to think that astronauts wanted to go into space for the thrill and adventure,” Bullock reflected. “When I spoke to them, though, I was so moved by their deep love of that world and the beauty of Earth from their perspective. It’s amazing to realize how small we are in this massive universe.” These are the very details that are magnified as the story unfolds: a tiny human being drifting in the enormity of space, a comforting human voice, a teardrop defying gravity, the magic of another sunrise viewed from millions of miles away.

Far more than just a creative interpretation of space, “Gravity” is that rare piece of art that can inspire and entertain. As Massimino reminded the press during the preview screening, centers such as NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., are still doing important research as part of a space program that is very much thriving and as critical as it has ever been. “Gravity” is a magical way to bring the masses into space and inspire a new generation of support for NASA. “This movie will make folks understand what we do and why it is so important,” Massimino said.

As a love letter to space exploration and the sheer strength of human tenacity, “Gravity” exceeds these expectations.

Chemical & Engineering News
American Chemical Society


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Mathematics and Voting: More Than Just Counting Votes



By Michael A. Jones

Voting has been used as a way to aggregate information since at least the 7th century B.C., when the first recorded democracy in Sparta included in its constitution a way for a general assembly to vote on bills.  Nearly 2700 years later, people are still voting, using a variety of election procedures.   Perhaps surprisingly, once votes are cast, a change in the procedure can result in a change in the outcome!  In such cases, how we tally votes is just as important as how we rank the candidates.  Mathematics is used to determine how and how often such outcomes occur, to analyze properties of procedures, and to design election procedures to satisfy specific desirable properties.

Take for example the 1860 election for President of the United States.  Such a highly regarded president as Abraham Lincoln, the first U.S. president to appear on a U.S. coin, would have lost the election to Democratic candidate Stephen A. Douglas under most election procedures.  Not only would this have changed the face of U.S. currency, but many historians agree that if Douglas had been elected he would have helped the U.S. avoid the Civil War.

The debate over election procedures is very much alive.  Recently, Voter Choice Act-House Resolution 2690 (in the U.S. House of Representatives) included a provision to use the Instant Runoff Procedure for all single-winner federal elections.  And, voting is not limited to the political arena: Major League Baseball votes on its Most Valuable Players, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences votes to award its Oscars™, and companies vote to choose between business alternatives.

The myriad of procedures is a testament to Kenneth Arrow, who proved that there is no “best” election procedure, a result known as Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem for which Arrow received, in part, the 1972 Nobel Prize in Economics.  Because not all desirable properties are available in one procedure, it is paramount for voters and designers of election procedures to understand which properties their procedure satisfies.



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Color Charge: BZ Patterns

The PhysicsCentral team is excited to announce a new project that they’ve been working on: Color Charge!

A coloring book for all ages (but particularly well suited to physics students who need a break from their homework), Color Charge will feature some of the most interesting and intricate images straight from the pages of the American Physical Society’s journals, as well as a few from other sources.

They picked mostly based on which ones would make good coloring pages, but each picture will be accompanied by a caption explaining what’s going on in the image—and in the paper that it’s from. Keep an eye out for the coloring book itself, and for more images from it to be posted here!

Weird Wavefronts


What’s Going On Here?

A Belousov-Zhabotinsky (BZ) reaction is a complex bit of chemistry that involves atoms losing electrons, gaining them back, and losing them again. In the right conditions, certain atoms look different depending on how many electrons they’ve got in their outer shell, so the BZ reaction creates visible concentric rings that slowly spread out from a central point—at least when the reaction takes place in calm circumstances.

In a more chaotic environment, like one where there are multiple origin points that these waves radiate out from, patterns like the image above can form when wavefronts run up against one another and interfere.

Want to color it yourself? You can download a .pdf of this page from the coloring book by clicking the image below, and print it out!


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Gravitational Wave Observatories Open New Era in Astronomy

Teams report detection of neutron-star merger along with optical and gamma-ray signals

Following closely the announcement of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics, the LIGO and Virgo collaborations reported on October 16 in Physical Review Letters that they have detected the coalescence of two neutron stars — objects of lower mass and much different in character from the black holes in the previously observed mergers. Moreover, reports from about 70 ground — and space-based observatories confirm that a variety of electromagnetic signals — from gamma rays to radio waves — was detected as well.


Map of the sky showing gravitational wave detections. GW170817 is the most recent and was correlated with electromagnetic signals observed by around 70 ground- and space-based telescopes.

The gravitational wave signal, denoted GW170817, was first observed by LIGO and Virgo on August 17. Researchers concluded that the inspiraling objects were in the range of 1.1 to 1.6 times the mass of the Sun, and thus were unlikely to be black holes. This mass range corresponds to that of neutron stars, typically formed in the aftermath of supernova explosions. The data indicated that the neutron-star merger took place some 130 million light years from Earth.

Black-hole mergers are expected to produce no electromagnetic signals, as these photons could not escape the grip of gravity. Neutron-star collisions, however, could yield bright flashes across the electromagnetic spectrum. And indeed, a gamma-ray burst was detected by NASA’s Fermi spacecraft and confirmed by the European Space Agency’s INTEGRAL space-borne detectors.

The coordinates for the origin of the signal corroborated those from the LIGO/Virgo data. Soon, follow-up observations by other telescopes revealed emissions at various wavelengths. These results helped identify the merger as located in galaxy NGC 4993 in the Hydra Constellation.

“This detection opens the window of a long-awaited ‘multi-messenger’ astronomy,” said Caltech’s David H. Reitze, executive director of the LIGO Laboratory, in a press statement. “It’s the first time that we’ve observed a cataclysmic astrophysical event in both gravitational waves and electromagnetic waves — our cosmic messengers. Gravitational-wave astronomy offers new opportunities to understand the properties of neutron stars in ways that just can’t be achieved with electromagnetic astronomy alone.”

The Other End of the Stethoscope


I receive a call from my father. His voice heavy and calm, he says my name as I pick up the phone. Am I someplace where I can talk? There is news, unfortunately. A mass. He speaks with the same quiet reserve and scientific openness to the fact that have made him a good physician. There is courage, I think, in his maintenance of this stance, even as he finds himself on the other end of the stethoscope. The surgeon has already called. His name is Master. It calms my father to know that Dr. Master advises the World Health Organization on renal cancer. They will meet tomorrow. I bite my lip through the call, not wanting to burden him with my own fear, my own sorrow at the thought of losing the man on the other end of the line.

My mother calls from the OR waiting room. She is pleased to tell me that Papa, as our family calls her father, trained the anesthesiologist. I find myself soothed by this idea as well: my grandfather, the difficult man partly responsible for my father’s decision to go into academic medicine, resurrected after an untimely death in the form of my father’s anesthesiologist. I board the plane.

The air in Atlanta is warmer than the air I left behind in New York. As I enter my father’s room, he sees me first. My mother is asleep in the chair beside him. He pulls me close, holds my head to his chest for a long time. He is still groggy, not long post-op, but he wants to show me his scars. He lifts his gown with pride to reveal three small holes, one for each trocar, and a large incision in the midline.

At 3 a.m., I awake uncomfortably in the chair beside him to the squeaky wheels of the phlebotomy cart. At its helm is a tiny woman cloaked in headscarf and accent and night. Anonymous, ageless, she is a gentle ambassador from a faraway place, destined to wander dim halls into dark rooms to draw the blood of the sick of this place. “You’ve done this before,” he tells her. I hear her smile in the darkness.

In the morning, the residents are nervous, untucked, their confidence and unquestioned authority unsettled by the presence of a senior member of the medical faculty in the bed before them. When Master arrives, he is crisp, pressed, and clean, deep blue suit pants beneath his white coat. My father is in the chair now. Master asks to sit on his bed. A foot below my father, he looks up at him to ask how he’s feeling. He proceeds to cite four articles in 5 minutes, one on the benefits of ice after abdominal surgery, another on postnephrectomy kidney function. He wants the same thing from my father that the residents did, but he is better equipped to get it. When he leaves, my father turns to me,
wants to know if I caught that — how Master sat below him on the bed, approached from below to put him at ease.

Later I return from the cafeteria to the sound of my father’s voice. He is on the phone with his nurse’s aide, calls her by name. He wonders if she’s free to take a walk, he says. Of all the people on the floor, he has connected most with her, the lowest paid member of the team, with the least training. By a twist, she is the one least afraid of him. “They told me you would be trouble because you’re a doctor,” she tells him when she reaches
his room, “but you’re OK.” They walk slowly, IV pole in tow. She insists he holds the wooden railing while she remains firmly at his other side. The first lap is enough. But he is ready again an hour later. Two laps, then four.

At first, I walk with them, but then I leave them to it. I catch snippets of their conversation as they pass his room. She hopes to go into speech pathology if she can afford the training. “You’ll be good at that,” he tells her. He begins to push himself to break his own record, a moving goalpost scrawled on the whiteboard in his room with the green erasable marker. Twenty laps to a mile. Thirty laps. Forty laps. Home.

My father is back at work. His scans are clear 3 years out. I am now in my fourth year of medical school. As I walk the halls of my hospital, I often think of those nights I spent with him in his. I think, too, about what I’m looking for in medicine. I enjoy the dynamic

Of all the people on the floor, my father
has connected most with his nurse’s aide,
the lowest-paid member of the team,
with the least training. By a twist,
she is the one least afraid of him.

strength of its methods — the double edge of its empiricism — which damns it to abandon its most sacred truths as soon as still holier evidence comes to light. But I know that I am here for something loftier than a certain methodology and the mechanisms it illuminates. I want to find, somewhere in the depth of a fluorescent light or the stillness of a linoleum day, some understanding of life and death, my own life, my own death, your life and your death. I believe I have come to medicine looking for some kind of peace and some kind of purpose. I do wonder whether it lives here. What I believe my father showed me — as he was learning to be a patient for the first time in a life full of patients — is that it does.



Disclosure forms provided by the author are available at NEJM.org.
From Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York.
DOI: 10.1056/NEJMp1707514
Copyright © 2017 Massachusetts Medical Society.

Cell phone data coupled with sewage testing show drug use patterns


The Use of Mobile-Device Data to Better Estimate Dynamic Population Size for Wastewater-Based Epidemiology
Environmental Science & Technology

The drugs people inhale, inject or ingest ultimately end up in some form down the toilet. So scientists have started monitoring drug use through sewage-based epidemiology. But this approach hasn’t taken into account the variation in the number of people who add to wastewater in a given area at a given time. Now one team reports in ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology a way to account for commutes and vacations: by tracking cell phone signals.

Past attempts to monitor drug use have often involved simply asking people about their habits. But surveys might not be the most effective measure of trends as respondents are not always reliable. To try to address this uncertainty, scientists have turned to testing communities’ wastewater for various pharmaceutical and illicit substances and their metabolites. These measurements can be coupled with local population data to estimate how many people within a given area are taking certain drugs. One of the major limitations with this method, however, is that it doesn’t count how many people are in a specific location in real time. To address this limitation, Kevin V. Thomas, along with colleagues at the Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA) and Telenor turned to cell phone signals.

By collecting anonymous cell phone data, the researchers could better estimate how many people were in a sewage catchment area in Oslo, Norway, over time. The average number changed dramatically over the course of the study, which included June and July 2016, when a lot of people go on vacation. Even within a 24-hour period, the population could change by more than 40 percent, the researchers found. Taking into consideration these fluctuations, the researchers found that pharmaceutical use remained relatively stable. But illicit drug use rose from June to July, with use of ecstasy — also known as molly — spiking on weekends. The results suggest that mobile data could help public health officials, law enforcement, and epidemiologists better refine their understanding of drug use trends, the researchers say.

The researchers acknowledge funding from the Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA).


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Chemistry poets go beyond the call of duty

periodic table

Periodic poetry returns
Using element symbols to spell out words reached a new level in 2006 when Dow Chemical produced ads that included the new symbol Hu for humanium. The ads were a bid to show how the “human element” is missing from the chemistry enterprise.
The public relations pitch inspired retired Dow environmental engineer Stacy Leroy Daniels to compose a poem using the symbols for the 111 named elements at that time and Hu, extolling Dow’s vision for capitalizing on humanium’s potential. Titled “HuMn FAcEs IN Th PErIODyK TbLaS,” the poem, which premiered in Newscripts, requires “considerable poetic and chemical license,” Daniels said 11 years ago.
With the Dow-DuPont merger taking place, Daniels is at it again. He has written a poem about the reactive chemistries of new elements being created by the corporate commingling, titled “Matter Becomes Alchenomical.”
The poem describes how dowium (Dw) and dowcorningium (Dc) combine, then in a humanium-catalyzed reaction with dupontium (Dp) form an intermediate, DwxDpy, which transforms into the new elements agriculturium (Agr), materialsium (Mat), and specialtium (Spe).
Not one to be bashful, Daniels took the opportunity to read the poem during the open session of Dow’s annual meeting in May. Dow CEO Andrew N. Liveris informed Daniels that the poem momentarily caught him “in a state of speechlessium.” Daniels adds that only time will tell whether the reaction of Dw with Dp will be endothermic or exothermic and whether an alchenomical side reaction of turning Pb into Au is irreversible.
Elemental haiku
Not to be out written by Daniels’s poetics, science fiction and fantasy writer Mary Soon Lee has created “Elemental Haiku,” an interactive periodic table containing a haiku poem for each of the 118 named elements, plus a closing haiku for element 119, which is not yet synthesized. “Elemental Haiku” was published online by the journal Science on Aug. 4.
Haiku are traditional Japanese poems evoking images of the natural world. They consist of 17 moras, or sound units akin to syllables, broken into three lines of five, seven, and five moras.
“I wrote the first couple of haiku, hydrogen, and helium, on a whim,” Lee tells Newscripts. “I then decided to see if I could continue all the way to the end of the periodic table.”
Lee says it’s hard for her to pick a favorite, “but I am fond of potassium.” Here’s her haiku on the element K:
Leftmost seat, fourth row,.
yearning for the halogens.
on the other side.
Turns out this is not the first periodic table of haiku. Lee found out about two others after hers was posted. Since Lee’s table appeared, would-be chemist-poets have been sharing their elemental haiku on Twitter with the hashtag #ChemHaiku. From Newscripts, we’ll close with a haiku for all the periodic tables of haiku:
Periodic poems.
from chemists’ sacred table.
they’re elemental.
Steve Ritter wrote this column.
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