Contradictory Medical Studies

Posted on July 30, 2007  Comments (2)

I have written before about false research findings. This is an important topic – we need to remember that the interpritation of one study (or many studies) in not necessarily conclusive. Another article – When Medical Studies Collide:

Two years ago, the headlines blared that echinacea was a bust. Millions of people who believed the best-selling herbal remedy was warding off colds were probably deluding themselves, according to The New England Journal of Medicine. Now echinacea is back in the news. This time, it works! So says a study in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

How could two studies come to such different conclusions—especially when there have been no new trials of the herb? While the New England Journal reported on one clinical trial, authors of the latest report combined data from previous studies, a controversial approach called a meta-analysis. Its conclusion is dramatically different—not just from that of the New England Journal paper, but also from a review last year of the same studies.

The problem is, the world of medical and health research is messier than most people realize. Black-and-white answers are rare, even when it comes to a single drug trial.

Just remember those last two sentences. Very simple. And most people would agree if you showed them those two sentences and asked if they agreed. But then they see a headline and away they go… Just force yourself to repeat that idea every time you see a health report. Don’t believe the headline without strong support.

An interesting tidbit from the article. The coneflower is the source of echinacea. I tried to find photos that I am pretty sure I have on my hard drive of the flowers in my back yard, but I couldn’t.

Related: Correlation is Not CausationAnother Paper Questions Scientific Paper Accuracy

High Pay for Engineering Graduates – July 2007

Posted on July 29, 2007  Comments (8)

From the National Association of Colleges and Employers survey , Starting Salary Offers to Class of 2007 Continue to Rise.

Degree Average Salary Offer Increase over 2006
Chemical Engineering $59,361 5.4%
Civil Engineering $48,509 5.4%
Computer Engineering $56,201 4.8%
Computer Science $53,396 4.1%
Mechanical Engineering $54,128 4.6%
Electrical Engineering $55,292 3.2%
Information sciences and systems $50,852 4.6%

Economics was the next highest pay reported by NACE at $48,483. So once again engineering graduates are being paid well. Some other majors: Accounting – $46,718; English – $32,553 and Psychology $31,631.

Related: Lucrative college degreesEngineering Graduates Get Top Salary Offers (2006)Engineering Starting Salaries (2005)science and engineering career related posts

Research on Why Healthy Living Leads to Longer Life

Posted on July 29, 2007  Comments (1)

New Clue into How Diet and Exercise Enhance Longevity

In their experiments, the researchers sought to understand the role of the insulin-like signaling pathway in extending lifespan. This pathway governs growth and metabolic processes in cells throughout the body. The pathway is activated when insulin and insulin-like growth factor-1 switch on proteins inside the cell called insulin receptor substrates (Irs).

Other researchers had shown that reducing the activity of the pathway in roundworms and fruitflies extends lifespan. Despite those tantalizing clues, White said, “The idea that insulin reduces lifespan is difficult to reconcile with decades of clinical practice and scientific investigation to treat diabetes.” “In fact, based on our work on one of the insulin receptor substrates, Irs2, in liver and pancreatic beta cells, we thought more Irs2 would be good for you,” said White. “It reduces the amount of insulin needed in the body to control blood glucose, and it promotes growth, survival and insulin secretion from pancreatic beta cells.

“Diet, exercise and lower weight keep your peripheral tissues sensitive to insulin. That reduces the amount and duration of insulin secretion needed to keep your glucose under control when you eat. Therefore, the brain is exposed to less insulin. Since insulin turns on Irs2 in the brain, that means lower Irs2 activity, which we’ve linked to longer lifespan in the mouse.”

Related: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.Regular Exercise Reduces FatigueDiabetes Breakthrough$500 Million Over the Next 5 Years to Help Reduce Childhood Obesity in USA

Evolutionary Design

Posted on July 28, 2007  Comments (4)

Evolutionary algorithms now surpass human designers by Paul Marks:

Evolutionary Algorithms take two parent designs – for a boat hull, say – and blend components of each, perhaps taking the surface area of one and the curvature of another, to produce multiple hull offspring that combine the features of the parents in different ways. Then the algorithm selects those offspring it considers are worth re-breeding – in this case those with the right combination of parameters to make a better hull. The EA then repeats the process. Although many offspring will be discarded, after thousands of generations or more, useful features accumulate in the same design, and get combined in ways that likely would not have occurred to a human designer. This is because a human does not have the time to combine all the possibilities for each feature and evaluate them, but an EA does.

Evolving new designs is very cool. One point I would like to make (I am biased since my father did a great deal of work in this area) is the power of design of experiments to allow experimenting on multiple factors at once. This is a methodology that is still used far too little. Regardless, evolutionary design is very cool. The Human-Competitive awards highlight some examples.

Related: Statistics for ExperimentersInvention MachineEvo-DevoEvolution In Action

National Science and Technology Medals

Posted on July 28, 2007  Comments (2)

photo of White House Technology Medal Ceremony - July 2007

The 2005 and 2006 National Medals for Science and Technology were awarded at a White House Ceremony this week. The National Science and Technology Medals Foundation web site has photos of each award winner receiving their medals this year and a list of all winners. The National Medal of Science was established by Congress in 1959 as a Presidential award, has recognized 441 of America’s leading scientists and engineers. The evaluation criteria is based on the total impact an individual’s work has had on the present state of physical, chemical, biological, mathematical, engineering, behavioral or social sciences.

The National Medal of Technology was established by Congress in 1980 as a Presidential award, has recognized 146 individuals and 26 companies whose accomplishments have generated jobs and created a better standard of living. Their accomplishments best embody technological innovation and support the advancement of global U.S. competitiveness.

Related: 2004 Medal of Science Winners (including Norman E. Borlaug)2004 National Medal of Science and Technology Ceremony2007 Draper Prize to Berners-LeeShaw Laureates 2007Millennium Technology Prize to Dr. Shuji Nakamura

List of all winners from the White House press release: Read more

Highly Paid Professor

Posted on July 27, 2007  Comments (0)

A Raise for the Record Books:

Under the new agreement, the base state salary for Alain E. Kaloyeros, a professor of nanosciences and vice president and chief administrative officer for the college, rose from $525,000 to roughly $667,000.

That’s in addition to money he earns from his research efforts: In the 2006 fiscal year, he also received $258,701 based on his generation of external grants, contracts, licenses and royalties, which Kaloyeros estimated via e-mail amount to about $250 million per year. (He added in his e-mail that he turns down all offers for consulting, board service, and the like, so does not have any income external to the university).

“Alain has been responsible for bringing in billions of dollars to U Albany for nanotechnology research and development … about $4 billion to date,” said Susan V. Herbst, provost and officer in charge, or acting president, at Albany. Herbst approved the raise, which was subsequently approved by SUNY’s former systemwide chancellor, John R. Ryan. “Certainly in medicine, engineering, the life sciences, the great universities across the country need to pay competitive salaries to keep the very best faculty with them. We are no different.”

Kaloyeros’s salary increase comes with an increase in duties related to economic development, for which a full announcement is pending in a few weeks, Herbst said. She pointed, though, to one major economic development initiative already announced and under way: Kaloyeros’s work to bring the international headquarters for SEMATECH, a consortium of semiconductor manufacturers representing about half the world’s production, to Albany.

Related: Educational Institutions Economic ImpactReport on Faculty SalariesScience Jobs for a Strong EconomyEngineering Economic Success


Posted on July 27, 2007  Comments (3)

Newsflash: Time May Not Exist

Planck time—the smallest unit of time that has any physical meaning—is 10-43 second, less than a trillionth of a trillionth of an attosecond. Beyond that? Tempus incognito. At least for now. Efforts to understand time below the Planck scale have led to an exceedingly strange juncture in physics. The problem, in brief, is that time may not exist at the most fundamental level of physical reality.

Einstein’s theories also opened a rift in physics because the rules of general relativity (which describe gravity and the large-scale structure of the cosmos) seem incompatible with those of quantum physics (which govern the realm of the tiny). Some four decades ago, the renowned physicist John Wheeler, then at Princeton, and the late Bryce DeWitt, then at the University of North Carolina, developed an extraordinary equation that provides a possible framework for unifying relativity and quantum mechanics. But the Wheeler-­DeWitt equation has always been controversial, in part because it adds yet another, even more baffling twist to our understanding of time.

“One finds that time just disappears from the Wheeler-DeWitt equation,” says Carlo Rovelli, a physicist at the University of the Mediterranean in Marseille, France. “It is an issue that many theorists have puzzled about. It may be that the best way to think about quantum reality is to give up the notion of time—that the fundamental description of the universe must be timeless.”

Interesting. As usual, quantum actions seem bizarre. Related: Quantum Mechanics Made Relatively Simple PodcastsPhysicists Observe New Property of MatterParticles and WavesQuantum Theory Fails Reality ChecksPhysics Concepts in 60 Seconds

Light-harvesting Bacterium Discovered in Yellowstone

Posted on July 26, 2007  Comments (4)

photo of Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park, by John Hunter

Surprising new species of light-harvesting bacterium discovered in Yellowstone

In the hot springs of Yellowstone National Park, a team of researchers has discovered a novel bacterium that transforms light into chemical energy.

Remarkably, the new genus and species Cab. thermophilum also belongs to a new phylum, Acidobacteria. The discovery marks only the third time in the past 100 years that a new bacterial phylum has been added to the list of those with chlorophyll-producing members. Although chlorophyll-producing bacteria are so abundant that they perform half the photosynthesis on Earth, only five of the 25 major groups, or phyla, of bacteria previously were known to contain members with this ability.

“The microbial mats give the hot springs in Yellowstone their remarkable yellow, orange, red, brown and green colors,” explained Bryant. “Microbiologists are intrigued by Octopus and Mushroom Springs because their unusual habitats house a diversity of microorganisms, but many are difficult or impossible to grow in the lab. Metagenomics has given us a powerful new tool for finding these hidden organisms and exploring their physiology, metabolism and ecology.”

Unexpectedly, the new bacterium has special light-harvesting antennae known as chlorosomes, which contain about 250,000 chlorophylls each. No member of this phylum nor any aerobic microbe was known to make chlorosomes before this discovery. The team found that Cab. thermophilum makes two types of chlorophyll that allow these bacteria to thrive in microbial mats and to compete for light with cyanobacteria.

This discovery is particularly important because members of the Acidobacteria have proven very hard to grow in laboratory cultures, which means their ecology and physiology are very poorly understood. Most species of Acidobacteria have been found in poor or polluted soils that are acidic, with a pH below 3. However, the Yellowstone environments are more alkaline, about pH 8.5 (on a scale of 1 to 14). Bryant noted, “Judging from their 16S rRNA sequences, the closest relatives of Cab. thermophilum are found around Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone and hot springs in Tibet and Thailand. As we look more closely, we may find relatives of Cab. thermophilum in the microbial mats of thermal sites worldwide.”

Photo of Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park by John Hunter.

Related: Yellowstone National Park Photo EssayBacterium Living with High Level RadiationWhere Bacteria Get Their Genes

Camera Fashion

Posted on July 26, 2007  Comments (7)

Kameraflage photo

Another merging of fashion and technology. Images are printed that are not visible to the eye but are to a camera. It does bring to mind some interesting applications.

Related: Hug ShirtGadgets and Gifts

Laser Tool Creates “blueprints” of Archeology Sites

Posted on July 25, 2007  Comments (2)

Laser mapping tool traces ancient sites

Born in northern Iraq in 1940, Kacyra developed this laser-mapping tool several years ago to solve a problem in construction — keeping accurate records of the real dimensions of factories and power plants when they deviate from the architect’s plans.

The 67-year-old sold his invention in 2001 and now works with his wife, Barbara, to get the $100,000 tool into the hands of archaeological researchers who are using it to create electronic blueprints so accurate that scientists sitting at computer terminals can glean the secrets of ancient monuments remotely. “We both loved the ancient-built environment and we wanted to put high technology to use saving ancient places,” Kacyra said.

Today the Kacyras have created a Web site, at, that allows anyone to see these blueprintlike images. But that’s just the start. Down the line they would like to superimpose real graphics on top of these geospatial maps — recreating ancient worlds onscreen.

“Using the latest laser-scanning technology, CyArk collects the most accurate 3D model of cultural heritage sites, stores them safely and provides them freely to the world.” More on the laser tool:
Read more

Robot Hall of Fame

Posted on July 25, 2007  Comments (1)

Robot Hall of Fame at Carnegie Mellon

Two categories of robots are honored in the Robot Hall of Fame:

Robots from Science – These are real robots that have served useful or potentially useful functions and demonstrated unique skills in accomplishing the purpose for which they were created. These may also be robots created primarily to entertain, as long as they function autonomously.

Robots from Science Fiction -These are fictional robots that have inspired us to create real robots that are productive, helpful, and entertaining. These robots have achieved worldwide fame as fictional characters and have helped form our opinions about the functions and values of real robots.

The web site is not exactly great yet but the idea seems to have merit and the location is sensible; Tour the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Lab.

Related: Toyota RobotsLego Learningrobots related postsR2D2 (from Curious Cat Boston Science Museum photos)