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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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