Posts about Princeton

Exercise Reduces Anxiety While Also Promoting the Growth of New Neurons

Exercise reorganizes the brain to be more resilient to stress

These findings potentially resolve a discrepancy in research related to the effect of exercise on the brain ”” namely that exercise reduces anxiety while also promoting the growth of new neurons in the ventral hippocampus. Because these young neurons are typically more excitable than their more mature counterparts, exercise should result in more anxiety, not less. The Princeton-led researchers, however, found that exercise also strengthens the mechanisms that prevent these brain cells from firing.

From an evolutionary standpoint, the research also shows that the brain can be extremely adaptive and tailor its own processes to an organism’s lifestyle or surroundings, Gould said. A higher likelihood of anxious behavior may have an adaptive advantage for less physically fit creatures. Anxiety often manifests itself in avoidant behavior and avoiding potentially dangerous situations would increase the likelihood of survival, particularly for those less capable of responding with a “fight or flight” reaction, she said.

The anxiety-reducing effect of exercise was canceled out when the researchers blocked the GABA receptor that calms neuron activity in the ventral hippocampus.

Interesting research (with mice) that explores how exercise makes us more resilient to stress. I know for me, exercise seems to help relieve stress.

Related: Feed your Newborn NeuronsNew Neurons are Needed for New MemoriesRegular Aerobic Exercise for a Faster Brain (2007)Inactivity Leads to 5.3 Million Early Deaths a YearHow Aerobic Exercise Suppresses Appetite

Evolution Follows a Predictable Genetic Pattern

Far from random, evolution follows a predictable genetic pattern

The researchers carried out a survey of DNA sequences from 29 distantly related insect species, the largest sample of organisms yet examined for a single evolutionary trait. Fourteen of these species have evolved a nearly identical characteristic due to one external influence ”” they feed on plants that produce cardenolides, a class of steroid-like cardiotoxins that are a natural defense for plants such as milkweed and dogbane.

Though separated by 300 million years of evolution, these diverse insects ”” which include beetles, butterflies and aphids ”” experienced changes to a key protein called sodium-potassium adenosine triphosphatase, or the sodium-potassium pump, which regulates a cell’s crucial sodium-to-potassium ratio. The protein in these insects eventually evolved a resistance to cardenolides, which usually cripple the protein’s ability to “pump” potassium into cells and excess sodium out.

Andolfatto and his co-authors examined the sodium-potassium pump protein because of its well-known sensitivity to cardenolides. In order to function properly in a wide variety of physiological contexts, cells must be able to control levels of potassium and sodium. Situated on the cell membrane, the protein generates a desired potassium to sodium ratio by “pumping” three sodium atoms out of the cell for every two potassium atoms it brings in.

Cardenolides disrupt the exchange of potassium and sodium, essentially shutting down the protein, Andolfatto said. The human genome contains four copies of the pump protein, and it is a candidate gene for a number of human genetic disorders, including salt-sensitive hypertension and migraines. In addition, humans have long used low doses of cardenolides medicinally for purposes such as controlling heart arrhythmia and congestive heart failure.

Cool stuff. It makes sense to me which is nice (it is nice to get confirmation that I find what actually exists is sensible). When things that are true just seem crazy it is a bit disconcerting – like quantum mechanics. It is fun to read stuff that totally shakes up preconceived notions, but even then it is nice once I think understand it to find it sensible.

Related: All present-day Life on Earth Has A Single AncestorCambrian Explosion SongBacteriophages: The Most Common Life-Like Form on EarthMicrocosm by Carl Zimmer

Using Bacteria to Power Microscopic Machines

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory and Northwestern University have discovered that common bacteria can turn microgears when suspended in a solution, providing insights for designs of bio-inspired dynamically adaptive materials for energy.

“The ability to harness and control the power of bacterial motion is an important requirement for further development of hybrid biomechanical systems driven by microorganisms,” said Argonne physicist and principal investigator Igor Aronson. “In this system, the gears are a million times more massive than the bacteria.”

A few hundred bacteria work together in order to turn the gear. When multiple gears are placed in the solution with the spokes connected as in a clock, the bacteria will turn both gears in opposite directions, causing the gears to rotate in synchrony””even for long stretches of time.

“There exists a wide gap between man-made hard materials and living tissues; biological materials, unlike steel or plastics, are ‘alive,'” Aronson said. “Our discovery demonstrates how microscopic swimming agents, such as bacteria or man-made nanorobots, in combination with hard materials, can constitute a ”˜smart material”™ which can dynamically alter its microstructures, repair damage, or power microdevices.”

Related: Tiny Machine Commands a Swarm of BacteriaUsing Bacteria to Carry Nanoparticles Into CellsMoving Closer to Robots Swimming Through BloodsteamBacteria Power Tiny MotorMicro-robots to ‘swim’ Through Veins
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Researchers Find High-Fructose Corn Syrup Results in More Weight Gain

A Princeton University research team has demonstrated that rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than those with access to table sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same. In addition to causing significant weight gain in lab animals, long-term consumption of high-fructose corn syrup also led to abnormal increases in body fat, especially in the abdomen, and a rise in circulating blood fats called triglycerides

Photo of Princeton University research team, including (from left) undergraduate Elyse Powell, psychology professor Bart Hoebel, visiting research associate Nicole Avena and graduate student Miriam Bocarsly, by Denise Applewhite

Photo of Princeton University research team, including (from left) undergraduate Elyse Powell, psychology professor Bart Hoebel, visiting research associate Nicole Avena and graduate student Miriam Bocarsly, by Denise Applewhite

The first study showed that male rats given water sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup in addition to a standard diet of rat chow gained much more weight than male rats that received water sweetened with table sugar, or sucrose, in conjunction with the standard diet. The concentration of sugar in the sucrose solution was the same as is found in some commercial soft drinks, while the high-fructose corn syrup solution was half as concentrated as most sodas.

The second experiment — the first long-term study of the effects of high-fructose corn syrup consumption on obesity in lab animals — monitored weight gain, body fat and triglyceride levels in rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup over a period of six months. Compared to animals eating only rat chow, rats on a diet rich in high-fructose corn syrup showed characteristic signs of a dangerous condition known in humans as the metabolic syndrome, including abnormal weight gain, significant increases in circulating triglycerides and augmented fat deposition, especially visceral fat around the belly. Male rats in particular ballooned in size: Animals with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained 48 percent more weight than those eating a normal diet. In humans, this would be equivalent to a 200-pound man gaining 96 pounds.

“These rats aren’t just getting fat; they’re demonstrating characteristics of obesity, including substantial increases in abdominal fat and circulating triglycerides,” said Princeton graduate student Miriam Bocarsly. “In humans, these same characteristics are known risk factors for high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, cancer and diabetes.” In addition to Hoebel and Bocarsly, the research team included Princeton undergraduate Elyse Powell and visiting research associate Nicole Avena, who was affiliated with Rockefeller University during the study and is now on the faculty at the University of Florida. The Princeton researchers note that they do not know yet why high-fructose corn syrup fed to rats in their study generated more triglycerides, and more body fat that resulted in obesity.

Related: High Fructose Corn Syrup is Not Natural Food says the FDAWaste from Gut Bacteria Helps Host Control WeightAnother Strike Against ColaThe Calorie Delusion
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S&P 500 CEO’s: Engineers Stay at the Top

2008 Data from Spencer Stuart on S&P 500 CEO (link broken so it was removed, it is so sad that companies still pay people to manage web sites that don’t even understand basic web usability principles such as web pages must live forever) shows once again more have undergraduate degrees in engineering than any other field, increasing to 22% of CEO’s this year.

Field
   
  
% of CEOs
2008
   
2007
   
2006
   
2005

Engineering 22 21 23 20
Economics 16 15 13 11
Business Administration 13 13 12 15
Accounting 9 8 8 7
Liberal Arts 6 6 8 9
No degree or no data 3 3

In 1990 Engineering majors accounted for 6% of the bachelor’s degrees in the USA (1970 5%, 1980 7%). Business accounted for 23% of the majors in 1990 (1970 14%, 1980 21%). Liberal arts 3% in 1980 (1970 1%, 1980 2%).

The report does not show the fields for the rest of the CEO’s. 39% of S&P CEOs have MBAs. 28% have other advanced degrees. The University of Wisconsin-Madison and Harvard tied for the most CEO’s with undergraduate degrees from their universities at 13. Princeton and the University of Texas had 9 and Stanford had 8.

While the CEO’s have engineering education backgrounds the work they have done is often in other functions. The top function that CEO’s that have worked in during their careers: Operations (42%), Finance (31%), Marketing (24%), Sales (17%), Engineering (11%).

Data for previous years is also from Spencer Stuart: S&P 500 CEOs are Engineering Graduates (2007 data) 2006 S&P 500 CEO Education StudyTop degree for S&P 500 CEOs? Engineering (2005 study)

Related: Another Survey Shows Engineering Degree Results in the Highest PayScience and Engineering Degrees lead to Career SuccessThe Future is Engineering

Bacteria Communicate Using a Chemical Language

Each person has about 1 trillion human cells and about 10 trillion bacterial cells. In the webcast Bonnie Bassler, Department of Molecular Biology at Princeton University, discusses the chemical language that lets bacteria coordinate defense and mount attacks (quorum sensing). The find has stunning implications for medicine, industry — and our understanding of ourselves.

Bacteria do all sorts of amazing things for us: educating your immune system to keep bad microbes out, they digest our food, they make our vitamins…

Related: Disrupting Bacteria CommunicationTracking the Ecosystem Within UsBeneficial Bacteria

Educating the Biologist of the 21st Century

An Introductory Science Curriculum for 21st Century Biologists by David Botstein (webcast)

At Princeton”™s new Lewis-Sigler Institute, Botstein is spearheading an innovative effort at interdisciplinary undergraduate education. Students will take advantage of state of the art laboratories and computers capable of crunching vast amounts of data generated by actual research. Professors will “provide essential fundamental concepts as required, using the just-in-time-principle” – no more of the “learn this now, it will be good for you later” approach, which Botstein likens to hazing. Botstein says there is “lots of overhead in teaching historical and traditional origins” so his students will learn instead “with ideas and technologies of today.” He wants to create a new basic language that will enable his biology students to make sense of the fundamental issues of other disciplines.

Very good look at future of biology education.

Related: MIT Faculty Study Recommends Significant Undergraduate Education ChangesThe Importance of Science EducationWebcast: Engineering Education in the 21st CenturyEducating the Engineer of 2020: NAE Report

$25 Million to Princeton for Engineering Education

$25 million to support innovation in engineering education

The gift builds on Princeton’s longstanding strength in educating engineers who are broadly grounded in the liberal arts and can reach beyond purely technical approaches to achieve wise and creative solutions. The new center also seeks to extend those connections by creating and supporting engineering courses that attract liberal arts students. For all students, the center emphasizes entrepreneurship, leadership and service.

“The quality of life for all societies is increasingly connected to our ability to understand, enhance and use technologies,” said Keller. “Since the rise of civilization, engineering has been integral to the development of societies and has helped people lead richer and more satisfying lives. More than ever, we must equip our graduates to be effective and innovative in deploying technology in the service of our nation and all nations.”

Currently, 60 percent of nonengineering students at Princeton take at least one engineering course; one of the center’s goals is to push that percentage to 100. Princeton’s School of Engineering and Applied Science currently offers more than 20 courses that engage students from outside the engineering school. These courses place technology in a social and historical context, emphasize entrepreneurship and provide substantial exposure to issues such as energy, the environment, cybersecurity and telecommunications. The gift will strengthen those courses and encourage the development of new ones. It also will support internships, entrepreneurial activities and a vibrant program of lectures and visiting professorships from leaders in business, government and academics.

“We see all students as engineering students,” said Sharad Malik, director of the newly named Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education. “Despite its pivotal role in modern life, engineering has often been perceived as an isolated discipline. I am extremely grateful to have the Kellers’ support in pushing hard in a new direction, shaping an education that spans engineering, the sciences and the humanities and connects academic learning to societal needs.”

Related: $15 Million for San Jose State College of Engineering$25 Million for Marquette College of Engineering$35 million to the USC School of Engineering$75 Million for 5 New Engineering Research CentersArt of Science at Princeton

Internships Pair Students with Executives

photo of Zhen Xia Florence Hudson

Preparing to Lead: Internships pair students with executives

Mechanical and aerospace engineering major Zhen Xia is accustomed to solving problems that have cut-and-dried solutions, but an internship at IBM this past summer taught him how to approach problems that don’t have one right answer.

As part of a new internship program, Xia spent three months working with senior marketing executives at the IBM corporate offices in Somers, N.Y. From analyzing the brand’s image to establishing a business case for a new product launch, he found himself in the midst of the complicated intricacies of the business world.

“Unlike technical problem-solving where everything is black and white, problem-solving in business deals heavily with people and customers who have many different viewpoints,” Xia said. “In business, there are various shades of gray, which make things exciting and interesting.”

Related: science internshipsengineering internshipsGoogle Summer of Code 2007The Naval Research Enterprise Intern Program

Art of Science 2006

Seahorse

2006 Art of Science exhibition from Princeton University has many amazing images.

Image: “created in Photoshop to illustrate the vertebral column of the genus Hippocampus. While most fish have scales, seahorses have bony plates over which a thin layer of skin is stretched. Seahorses are vertebrates and thus have a vertebral column that runs through the center of their body and the center of their prehensile tail.” – larger view

National Spherical Torus Experiment

Photo: The National Spherical Torus Experiment (NSTX) is an innovative magnetic fusion device that was constructed by the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) in collaboration with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Columbia University, and the University of Washington at Seattle. This image is of the interior of the experiment showing the protective carbon tiles and the central column. Various diagnostics are mounted at the midplane. larger view

See the full gallery of images and movies. Previous post: Art of Science at Princeton.

Ocean Life – photos and videos

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