Archive for October, 2008

cubicle 003.cub.432 Louis J. Sheehan

October 31, 2008

Got a smelly weirdo sitting next to you at work? Need a place to stick an intern? Well it looks like cubicle life as we know it is about to change. If some cutting-edge companies have their way, we may all soon be working from mobile workstations.

What those spaces will look like all depends on the designer. Here’s a look at the most notable designs:
Michiel van der Kley’s Globus folds up into a globe and unfolds into a desk and a chair.
• The ScooterDesk by Utilia may look uncomfortable, but its barstool design with wheels makes it highly portable.
• The Surf Chair Workstation by Kenneth Lylover brings your computer, and your bed, into the workplace. With a built in LCD display, a strategically placed spot for the keyboard and mouse, and a padded lounge chair, a nap at your desk might not be so far fetched.

And our favorite: Robert Preger has created a “living laboratory” at Carnegie Mellon to develop an ideal green workplace.

Employees can move around partitions and work areas as they like. A biodiesel-fueled generator engine powers Preger’s design, providing enough energy to heat and cool the building. To save energy, sensors are used to turn off lights when people aren’t around.

For those of you looking to lose weight, there’s also the treadmill desk, created by the Mayo Clinic’s Dr. James Levine. According to research, you can lose up to 57 pounds in one year. That’s a lot of weight—though nothing compared to what people shed on the Biggest Loser.

Louis J. Sheehan

domitian yyt.dom.45 Louis J. Sheehan, Esquire

October 30, 2008

On October 24 A.D. 51, the future emperor T. Flavius Domitianus, known as Domitian, was born in Rome to Domitilla and Vespasian who would be emperor from A.D. 69-79. Domitian was considerably younger than his brother Titus who was named as successor by Vespasian. Domitian only acquired real power when his brother died in A.D. 81.  Despite credit possibly warranted for his administrative and religious policies, Domitian is considered one of the most despotic of the Roman emperors, and was killed in a palace assassination in 96.

Louis J. Sheehan, Esquire

colombia 774.col.4321 Louis J. Sheehan, Esquire

October 29, 2008

In 1996, when a Colombian government official first approached marketing consultant David Lightle about a campaign to improve the nation’s image, Mr. Lightle looked around Bogota and told him the truth: “Don’t waste your money,” he recalls saying.

The country, he says, “was a mess.” Colombia was convulsed by violence from leftist guerrillas, and its president, Ernesto Samper, had been stripped of his U.S. visa amid evidence that drug traffickers had financed his election campaign.

When Colombia called Mr. Lightle again in 2004, the view from Bogota had changed for the better. Colombia’s tough-minded President Alvaro Uribe had developed a close alliance with Washington, and had unleased a military offensive that had the guerrillas reeling.

Colombia es Pasión

A ‘Colombia is Passion’ keychain, one of hundreds of products bearing the campaign’s heart-shaped logo.

Working with Colombia’s export, tourism and investment promotion agency, Proexport, Mr. Lightle devised a campaign called Colombia es Pasión, or “Colombia is Passion.” Now, the public-private partnership behind the campaign operates two stores in Bogota that offer hundreds of products featuring the campaign’s heart-shaped logo.

Nearly 250 companies have licensed the logo, which also appears inside boxes of Colombia’s exported roses and on the tail of one of the planes flown by national carrier Avianca. There’s even a “Colombia is Passion” bicycling team, which boasts the world champion among cyclists younger than 23 years old.

Eager to highlight their advantages, and play down their faults, Colombia and a growing number of countries are using branding strategies to set themselves apart in the global marketplace. But even as country branding campaigns proliferate, some critics say that such efforts often amount to mere sloganeering and question how much they actually enhance a country’s reputation.

Simon Anholt, a British author and consultant, is credited with coining the phrase “nation brand” in 1996. He says it summed up a simple observation that “it’s the responsibility of good governments to be, in effect, brand managers.”

Now, he says, advertising and marketing entrepreneurs have so distorted the concept, that he sometimes is sorry he brought it up. “It’s a lame dog following me the past 15 years, and I’ve spent that time trying to shoot the damn thing,” says Mr. Anholt, who edits the quarterly journal Place Branding and Public Diplomacy.

Rebranding requires sweeping societal transformations, he says, not just clever public relations. He says South Africa rebranded when it ended apartheid; Ireland when it became a prosperous nation, rather than a mass producer of immigrants; Slovenia when it embraced democracy, joined the European Union and showed that a historically unstable part of Eastern European could be different.

If a country does undertake fundamental changes, marketing can complement them, Mr. Anholt acknowledges. After the death of longtime dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, Spain went from an economically hobbled backwater to a thriving democracy. Spain helped sell the change to tourists with a colorful logo and the slogan “Everything Under the Sun.”

But campaigns based strictly on marketing can fall flat. A decade ago, a push by the British government of Tony Blair to adopt the catchphrase “Cool Britannia” flopped because the slogan was too narrow, says Thomas Cromwell, president of East West Communications in Washington. “Cool Britannia,” first applied to a British resurgence in pop music and fashion, didn’t characterize British companies and was ill-suited to attacting older tourists, he says.

María Claudia Lacouture, Colombia’s general manager for country image, says her country is ripe for rebranding because the popular perception of Colombia has lagged far behind the improving reality. Kidnappings and assassinations, once frequent occurrences, are now comparatively rare. President Uribe’s strategy to take the war to the Marxist guerrillas has culminated this year in the death of three of the insurgency’s top leaders.

Ms. Lacouture asks why people don’t talk more about Colombia’s dazzling variety of birds and orchids, the classic colonial architecture of Cartagena, or cultural titans like novelist Gabriel García Marquéz and painter and sculptor Fernando Botero.

“Colombia is Passion” is designed to help change the conversation about Colombia, she says.

Colombia is working with a limited budget, having spent just $5 million on the campaign since its inception. Even so, its logo won an American Graphic Design Award in 2006, and the “Colombia is Passion” Web page averages 77,000 monthly visits.

Tourism and foreign investment are rising, though Ms. Lacouture doesn’t claim that the campaign is responsible for all of the progress.

Kokoriko, a big Colombian chain of chicken restaurants has rolled out a “Colombia is Passion” meal, given away CDs tied to the campaign and adopted “Passion Made Into Flavor” as its own slogan. “Our customers love it,” says Guillermo Beltran, Kokoriko’s marketing director.

Not everybody is sold on “Colombia is Passion.” A well-designed campaign “should be rooted in [qualities] that distinguish Colombia,” says East West’s Mr. Cromwell. “You could just as easily say ‘Bolivia is passion’ or ‘Venezuela is passion.’ ”

He says Colombia should have adopted something closer in spirit to the Juan Valdez coffee campaign, which features a sombrero-clad Colombian farmer who has become an international icon.  Louis J. Sheehan, Esquire

plastic 664.pla.4325 Louis J. Sheehan

October 25, 2008

Because plastic products can be mass-produced cheaply, they have long been considered the poster child of a throwaway culture. Plastics are versatile: Some are soft and flexible, but others are completely rigid. A few mimic natural substances; some are infused with colors rarely found in nature. Others are as clear as glass. And some polymer substances composing plastics can be molded into shapes impossible to reproduce with materials such as wood.

Perhaps because they are so versatile, some objects made from plastics have become highly collectible. Some museum collections, in fact, specialize in items commonly made of plastic — toys, games and dolls, for example. Other museums couldn’t avoid the polymers if they tried: Plastics show up in everything from fabrics to furniture, sequins to sculpture.

Though often praised for their chemical stability, plastics don’t last forever. Vinyl can crack, polyurethane can get cloudy and flexible tubing can become stiff. Even Ken and Barbie, like anyone approaching 50, can succumb to blemishes, age spots and loss of skin tone.

A decade ago, a survey of museum collections in London confirmed the ephemeral nature of polymers: About one out of every eight plastic items showed signs of physical degradation such as cracking, discoloration or deformation, says Bertrand Lavédrine, an analytical chemist at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. That doesn’t mean the other plastic objects will stay in good shape. Even items that appear fine for long periods can suddenly deteriorate once chemical changes start, he notes.

Most chemical changes triggering polymer degradation are irreversible. But given the right conditions, the demise of plastics can be slowed. Often, however, the challenge is to find those conditions.

“The museum world, in particular, has suffered badly from a lack of detailed understanding about the materials and techniques used for the manufacturing, the conservation and the restoration of artifacts that are now in critical condition,” says Lavédrine.

Hence the need for the POPART project. This 42-month, multimillion-dollar program — whose name is a shortened version of “Preservation of Plastic ARTefacts in museum collections” — was launched in October to address many of the problems that curators now face. Funded by the European Commission, researchers from the dozen participating museums, government agencies and universities in eight countries will survey museum collections, study how certain polymers deteriorate, develop techniques to display and clean plastic items and design equipment that can quickly discriminate one type of plastic from another.

Chain, chain, chain

Plastics are a type of polymer, a class of materials that gets its name from the Greek words for “many parts.” Researchers create polymers by chemically stringing together large numbers of simple carbon-based units called monomers (“single parts”). The near-endless variety of plastics stems from the diversity of monomers—esters, amides and imides, to name a few—and the degree of linkage that exists between polymer chains: In general, the more bonds there are, the stiffer the plastic.

Materials scientists can use a variety of additives to further tailor a plastic’s physical properties, says Brenda Keneghan, a polymer scientist at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Plasticizers such as phthalates, phosphates and glycerols add flexibility and make the plastic workable, she explained in July at the Euroscience Open Forum in Barcelona. Lead and other metallic substances can chemically stabilize the material. Other additives, including pigments and flame retardants, slow degradation that results from exposure to heat, light and atmospheric oxygen.


DESIGNER PLASTICS?ENLARGE | Early items first made of cellulose nitrate, now a common plastic, were marketed as luxurious because they resembled tortoiseshell and ivory. As the plastic naturally breaks down, it releases nitric acid. The acid corroded the lead motif on the comb, shown at left. The sunglasses on the right remained inside their case, but the plastic still broke down and the nitric acid did its own damage.John lee/National Museum of Denmark

The problem, says Keneghan, is that many of these components aren’t chemically bound to the polymer chains. Thus, over time and under certain conditions, the additives can ooze out of the plastic. Studies suggest that many of these substances—including phthalates (SN: 6/4/05, p. 355), flame retardants (SN: 3/26/05, p. 206) and bisphenol A (SN: 9/13/08, p. 15)—leach from consumer products and can cause significant health problems for humans.

Loss of these additives doesn’t help the plastic either. When liquids leach from the material, surfaces can become covered with bloom—the same sort of powdery coating that forms on chocolate when sugar and fat migrate to the surface after the chocolate is stored in cool or wet conditions, says Keneghan. If the oozing liquids are oily or sticky, they attract dirt that often can’t be easily removed.

Such physical changes in plastic materials are just the beginning. Any number of factors—including exposure to ultraviolet light, ozone or even atmospheric oxygen—can trigger chemical changes that can cause the plastic to crack or become discolored. Vinyl car roofs, a popular option on automobiles in the 1970s, are a good example, says R. Scott Williams, an analytical chemist at the Canadian Conservation Institute in Ottawa. The roofs “looked fine for a while after they were purchased, and then they suddenly degraded” when chemical reactions accelerated by long-term exposure to sunshine and pollutants consumed the vinyl’s stabilizers and antioxidants.

There is no standard way to preserve damaged plastic items. Any attempt to ameliorate their deterioration often causes more problems than doing nothing, says Keneghan. At present, she notes, the most effective interventions are preventive—displaying at-risk items in a cool, low-light environment with stable humidity, for example. Other tricks include using materials such as activated charcoal and other absorbent materials to scavenge oxygen or acidic fumes from the atmosphere surrounding the objects.

In the POPART project, researchers will explore ways to conserve plastics. One possibility, says Lavédrine, might be to use gamma rays to repolymerize the material in fragile plastics such as polyurethane foam, often used in furniture cushions or to pad museum drawers. The same technique could be used to form a protective veneer on some types of plastics. Scientists also will evaluate various solutions and cleaning techniques to see how well they clean an object without causing long-term damage.

Hiding in plain sight

Soon after Graham Martin, an analytical chemist who is now head of science at the Victoria and Albert Museum, arrived at the V&A in the early 1980s, he asked curators to inventory the plastic items in their collections. “They all said that they had none, and they were all wrong,” he says. “Today curators are much more aware of polymers, but then again there was a lot of room for improvement.”

As the United Kingdom’s national museum of art and design, the V&A contains many items composed of at least some plastic parts. While some plastics are obvious, others turn up in unexpected places, says Keneghan. A partial survey of the museum’s holdings recently found more than a thousand polymer-containing objects in the metalwork collection — many of them plastic baubles in jewelry — and dozens of items with plastic components in the furniture and woodwork collection. Unsurprisingly, the curators tallied more than 6,000 plastic artifacts related to childhood, including dolls, toys and games. In the fashion collection, which wasn’t part of the recent inventory, plastic items include everything from vinyl boots and accessories to fabrics, jewelry and sequins, she told the audience in Barcelona.

Of nearly 8,000 items identified by the inventory, researchers deemed 15 percent to be in poor or unacceptable condition. Another 13 percent of the objects showed signs of chemical changes; more than half of those had become brittle, and one-fifth of the items were discolored.

One of the first tasks of the POPART project will be to conduct similar inventories of other national collections in Europe, says Lavédrine. By assessing the frequency and type of degradation among a wider sampling of museums, the project’s scientists can better tailor research priorities for later phases of the effort.

Determining the current condition of an object, plastic or not, is critical to figuring out how to preserve it, says Keneghan. Perhaps more important, researchers also need to know what type of plastic the object is made of. For 94 percent of the objects surveyed in the Victoria and Albert collections, the identity of the plastic — and therefor how the material might degrade — is unknown. More than half of the rest are known to be made of an unstable material, she says.

Pinning down a plastic’s identity typically involves sending a piece back to a lab for analysis, but museum curators often are loath to mar an artifact to gain even a small sample. Nondestructive methods such as infrared spectroscopy — shining low-level light on an object and then scrutinizing the intensities and wavelengths of the light that bounces back to a detector — is a promising technique, says Williams, who is trying to develop and refine such equipment.

Using a portable unit and a database of reflectance spectra that are signatures of various plastics, researchers could swoop into a museum and efficiently identify the composition of hundreds of artifacts in the course of an afternoon, he says.

POPART aims to develop other nondestructive analytical techniques for identifying plastics, says Lavédrine. Researchers will also work to enhance current analytical methods, such as gas chromatography and mass spectrometry, making them quicker, more accurate and able to take smaller samples.

Incomplete census

Even an accurate tally of a museum’s artifacts wouldn’t include all of its polymers. Drawers and storage boxes can be lined with foam cushions, and the tubing that circulates air through display cases sometimes is made of plastic, as are parts of the display cases themselves. Photographic slides and negatives often are stored in plastic sleeves. Degradation of these auxiliary materials can damage a museum artifact as surely as deterioration of the item itself.

Williams has long crusaded against the use of flexible polyvinyl chloride tubing to circulate air through exhibits. As much as 40 percent of the material by weight can be plasticizers, not polymer. Even slight changes in humidity can affect the material’s stability, driving the oily additives out where they damage nearby objects. The tubes also can emit vapors such as hydrogen chloride, which when dissolved in water droplets creates hydrochloric acid.

As they degrade, many polymers give off corrosive byproducts—which has led chemists to dub them “malignant” plastics. One of the most prevalent is cellulose acetate, a material used in jewelry to simulate natural materials such as tortoiseshell, ivory and mother-of-pearl but most commonly used as photographic film. When cellulose acetate deteriorates, it gives off acetic acid — the ingredient that gives vinegar its pungent odor and taste. Not only does the acetic acid eat away at the surface of the object that’s deteriorating, its vapors can chew away at any artifacts nearby. “When you open up a box and smell vinegar, you know your items are in trouble,” says Keneghan.

POPART scientists will study the degradation of cellulose nitrate — a forerunner of cellulose acetate that gives off nitric acid as it deteriorates — and of polyurethane, says Lavédrine. Researchers will look to identify chemical markers for polyurethane degradation and measure how variations in humidity, temperature and atmospheric oxygen affect the material’s rate of deterioration.

The POPART project is all about preserving cultural heritage, says Martin. “One of the big questions is, ‘How can we keep what we have longer?’” he says. “A lot of the damage we see might be difficult to reverse, but it still needs to be assessed.”

Challenges in preserving plastics will not be small, and figuring out how to preserve one type of plastic won’t necessarily solve all a curator’s problems. “I’ve always been jealous of film archivists,” Martin notes. “They only have to deal with one type of plastic, and we’ve got a multitude of them.… A plastic chair might have a nylon cover over a polyurethane foam cushion over a polypropylene base,” he bemoans. “That’s three plastics right there in just one item.”

Louis J. Sheehan, Esquire

egfr 7774.egfr.443 Louis J. Sheehan

October 23, 2008

A comprehensive analysis increases from 10 to 24 the number of genes linked with lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide.  The new study also identifies new cellular pathways that can trigger these malignancies.

“This study gives us insights that we didn’t have before,” says oncologist Ramaswamy Govindan of Washington University in St. Louis, who was not involved in the study. “Lung cancer is many different things cobbled together,” he says. “Now we’re able to untangle the different types.”

Researchers at Washington University, Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, Mass., have been collaborating on the Tumor Sequencing Project. These scientists analyzed DNA sequences from tumors in 188 people with adenocarcinoma, the most common form of lung cancer. Because of this large sample size, researchers had the statistical power needed not only to find genes that are associated with this cancer, but also to compare the particular groupings of gene mutations present in the tumors. The findings appear in the Oct. 23 Nature.

The data offer yet another reason not to smoke: Tumors from nonsmokers exhibited a maximum of four mutations; the max in smokers’ tumors was 49. “This clearly shows that cigarette smoking induces mutations,” says Li Ding of Washington University, a coauthor of the new study.

It’s well known that cigarettes are the leading cause of lung cancer. Yet 10 percent of lung cancers occur in people who never smoked. When researchers in the new study compared the types of genes that underwent mutations, they found that some genes were mutated primarily in nonsmokers, while other genes were more likely to be mutated in smokers.

What triggers tumors is very different in smokers and nonsmokers, concludes Govindan.

Moreover, not all suspect genes turned out to be big players.

Two genes that affect tumor growth, KRAS and TP53, did turn out to be instrumental. These genes were mutated in more than 30 percent of the tumors in this new genetic snapshot of a broad population of lung-cancer patients. Yet coauthor David Wheeler from Baylor notes that some genes implicated in cancer formation, like PTEN, were seldom mutated.

Just because a mutation can cause cancer doesn’t mean it actually does, Wheeler points out. Because this study provided a glimpse of actual tumors in a population, it could pinpoint the relative abundance of particular mutations.

The new study also identified genetic networks within cells that are critical to keeping them from turning cancerous. Ding said her team found that “most mutations are clustered in a few key signaling pathways.” Researchers already knew that some of these pathways were involved in lung cancer formation, but other pathways, like a network of genes known to regulate human development, were a surprise.

“This study unearthed novel mutations that force us to think about specific treatments,” says Govindan. He points to the example of the gene EGFR, which is mutated in some adenocarcinomas. Patients with this gene mutation respond very well to treatments with a specific drug. It’s becoming clear, he says, that for effective treatment, “The key is to mold these drugs to the type of cancer.”

Newly identified mutations in both individual genes and large genetic pathways are potential drug targets. As a result, Ding predicts, more pathway-based treatments “will emerge quickly” from studies like these.

Louis J. Sheehan, Esquire

Gold 993.22w Louis J. Sheehan

October 18, 2008

Gold has been known and highly-valued since prehistoric times. It may have been the first metal used by humans and was valued for ornamentation and rituals. Egyptian hieroglyphs from as early as 2600 BC describe gold, which king Tushratta of the Mitanni claimed was “more plentiful than dirt” in Egypt. Egypt and especially Nubia had the resources to make them major gold-producing areas for much of history. The earliest known map is known as the Turin papyrus and shows the plan of a gold mine in Nubia together with indications of the local geology. The primitive working methods are described by Strabo and included fire-setting. Large mines also occurred across the Red Sea in what is now Saudi Arabia.

The legend of the golden fleece may refer to the use of fleeces to trap gold dust from placer deposits in the ancient world. Gold is mentioned frequently in the Old Testament, starting with Genesis 2:11 (at Havilah) and is included with the gifts of the magi in the first chapters of Matthew New Testament. The Book of Revelation 21:21 describes the city of New Jerusalem as having streets “made of pure gold, clear as crystal”. The south-east corner of the Black Sea was famed for its gold.  Exploitation is said to date from the time of Midas, and this gold was important in the establishment of what is probably the world’s earliest coinage in Lydia between 643 and 630 BC.

Louis J. Sheehan, Esquire

electrode 9993.2.3 Louis J. Sheehan, Esquire

October 16, 2008

Louis J. Sheehan, Esquire.  It’s a case of mind over muscle, by way of machine. By electronically connecting a monkey’s forearm muscles to its brain, researchers gave a temporarily paralyzed monkey the ability to clench those muscles.

An electrode implanted in the monkey’s brain picked up the electrical signal from a single neuron, and the monkey learned to control the activity of that neuron to regain control of its wrist — even if the neuron was in a sensory rather than a muscle-controlling region of the brain.

It’s a powerful demonstration of the brain’s flexibility, and the first time that scientists have electronically linked a single neuron to an animal’s own muscles, researchers report in the Oct. 16 Nature. Louis J. Sheehan, Esquire

Such an artificial connection could replace the electrical signals that nerves normally carry to muscles, but that, in people with paralysis, are blocked, the researchers suggest.

“We were interested in developing a potential treatment for paralysis, whether it’s from spinal cord injury or other injury,” says study coauthor Chet Moritz of the Washington National Primate Research Center in Seattle. The current experiment is only meant to show that such an electronic connection is possible, Moritz adds. More work is needed before the technology could be ready for use in people. “We are several years away if not several decades away.”

But some scientists are skeptical of whether the new technique will ever be well suited for restoring motion in paralysis patients. In the experiments, the monkey only had to learn to control two muscles, which pushed and pulled its wrist in a motion like revving a motorcycle. Its arm was otherwise braced and immobilized.

In more natural situations, even simple motions require the coordinated control of a dozen or more muscles. Reach forward to press a button, and muscles in your torso, back, shoulder, upper arm, forearm and hand will all contract in concert.

With the approach from Moritz’s team, a patient would have to learn to control each muscle separately, and then consciously coordinate perhaps 20 or so muscles to achieve even one simple task. “That to me would be extremely complex and probably very difficult to train a subject to do,” comments Andrew Schwartz, a neurobiologist at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.

Schwartz has previously connected a monkey’s brain to a robotic arm using a different technique that gave the monkey control over its arm that was more complex.

Schwartz’s team first watched the monkey’s brain activity while it used its own arm in a natural way. Decoding this neural activity allowed the researchers to later wire the monkey’s brain to a robotic arm that would adapt to the monkey, instead of making the monkey adapt to it. That way, the monkey could simply “will” the movement to happen without having to concentrate on contracting individual muscles.

All this decoding of brain impulses takes the computing horsepower of a modern desktop computer, though. The advantage of Moritz’s approach is that the signal from a single neuron can be interpreted by a much less powerful computer chip, perhaps one small and low-powered enough to implant into the animal’s — or a patient’s — body.

Moritz also suggests that his team’s approach could eventually control several muscles at once by electrically stimulating nerves in the spinal cord, rather than stimulating the muscles directly. Eventually the researchers hope to develop wireless electrodes that wouldn’t involve wires sticking out of the skull, Moritz says.

spin 55.t555600012 Louis J. Sheehan

October 11, 2008

Louis J. Sheehan.  Physicists have discovered a phenomenon that may lead to a new type of battery, one that could create magnetic, rather than electric, currents. Magnetic currents are the basis of the emerging field of spintronics, which promises to extend the long run toward computer chip miniaturization by reducing overheating from waste heat.

The new type of battery gives a convenient source of magnetic currents, which were cumbersome to generate in the past, comments physicist Phuan Ong of Princeton University. “Future generations of physicists can then use it to design devices of their own,” he says.

Eiji Saitoh of Keio University in Yokohama, Japan, and his collaborators found that heating one side of a magnetized nickel-iron rod changes the arrangement of the electrons in the material according to their spins. These spins are the quantum-physics analogs of the south-north magnetic axes in bar magnets.

In the heated rod, electrons with spins that are aligned “up,” or with the material’s magnetic field, tend to prefer the warmer side, while those with spins pointing in the opposite direction, or “down,” tend to prefer the cooler side, the researchers report in the Oct. 9 Nature.

Engineers could harness this spin effect to design new devices for computer chips, Saitoh says. For example, a spintronic battery could produce spin imbalances at its two electrodes, and the chip could use that imbalance, instead of an ordinary electric current, and store information magnetically. Electric currents produce heat, but transferring information by flipping spins does not. Such spintronics devices would then cut down power consumption and operate at faster speeds without overheating.

The team calls the newly discovered phenomenon the spin Seebeck effect, in analogy with the thermoelectric effect discovered by physicist Thomas Johann Seebeck in the 1800s. In the thermoelectric effect, heating one side of an electrically conducting rod creates a voltage, because electrons at the warmer end become faster as they heat up and thus tend to move toward the cooler end, just like a heated gas tends to expand.

In a magnetized metal, Saitoh explains, electrons throughout the material tend to align their spins up. The team had expected that when one end is warmed, the thermoelectric effect would push more of the spin-up electrons toward the cooler end — just because there are more electrons pointing up than down — reducing the excess of up spins, but only at one edge. Instead, the researchers measured a change in spins along the entire length of each sample, over distances of as many as six millimeters.

“The amount is much more significant than the prediction,” Saitoh says.

The spin difference between the two ends of the device could be tapped to produce magnetic currents in a circuit, he explains, to transfer information into memory storage, for example.  Louis J. Sheehan, Esquire

clenched teeth 885.3er Louis J. Sheehan, Esquire

October 7, 2008

Louis J. Sheehan, Esquire.  Does the sinking stock market cause you to clench your teeth?

Do you wake up with a headache, sore teeth or a sore jaw? Millions of people clench and grind their teeth without realizing it, particularly while they’re sleeping. Both habits can escalate into serious pain and problems of the temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, which joins the jaw to the skull. And they are far more common at times of stress.

“TMJ and Wall Street go hand in hand, especially lately,” says Anthony Chillura, a longtime dentist in New York City’s financial district. “Some people get ulcers. Some people get high blood pressure. Some manifest their stress dentally.”

While most people clench or grind their teeth (a condition known as bruxism) from time to time, about 10% suffer from TMJ problems — and those can set in suddenly. Sarah Aroeste, a professional singer, woke up one morning last summer with shooting pain every time she tried to open her mouth. “It was excruciating, and it happened right before an important concert,” she says. The pain persisted for weeks until a combination of a mouth guard, painkillers, Valium, a liquid diet and massage made it ease up.

TMJ disorder can mimic migraine headaches, earaches, sinus infections and tooth abscesses. It can cause dizziness, ringing in the ears and muscle pain that radiates down the neck and shoulders. Adding to the frustration, it’s often hard to get insurance coverage for treatment, since medical insurers view it as a dental problem, and dental insurers view it as medical.

In some people, the real culprit is a misaligned bite — either from birth or a trauma like a fall or a collision in sports. “It’s like you’re chewing with a limp,” says Harold Gelb, an oral orthopedist in Manhattan who says problems can be building for years and flare up under stress.

Other people “brux” only when they’re under stress, especially at times of change like a divorce or financial crisis, says Andrew S. Kaplan, another Manhattan TMJ expert and former president of the American Academy of Orofacial Pain. “Once they get acclimated to the new situation, the grinding sometimes stops.”

Much of the tension comes out at night, when higher centers of the brain that keep it in check during the daytime are asleep, says Noshir Mehta, director of the Craniofacial Pain Center at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine.

A clenched jaw can exert up to 300 pounds of pressure, which can wear teeth down and crack them, particularly where there are cavities or old fillings. Over time, arthritis, inflammation and degenerative changes can occur in the jaw joint. The disc in the joint can shift and make clicking or popping sounds. It can also “lock” out of place, making it impossible to open the mouth more than an inch or so, as it did with Ms. Aroeste.

All that tension also strains the big jaw muscles, making them contract continuously and activates irritable knots called myofascial trigger points, which produce still more tension and refer pain to other muscles.

Women have more TMJ problems than men — possibly because the jaw muscle bulks up in men, whereas it becomes dysfunctional in women, says Dr. Mehta. He notes that people taking antidepressants are also more prone to bruxing, for reasons not well understood.

If you suspect that you’re bruxing — if you wake up with a sore jaw or your partner complains about a grinding noise — it’s a good idea to check with a dentist before it escalates.

The most common treatment for TMJ is a night guard that fits between the teeth and makes grinding more difficult. “You can’t prevent anybody from bruxing, unless they are heavily sedated. The appliances just functions as a buffer so that when they do clench and grind at night, the stresses are distributed well,” says Dr. Chillura, who also makes smaller appliances that permit talking for patients who can’t stop clenching during the day. Custom-made appliances cost anywhere from $300 to $1,800. Devices that correct misaligned bites can cost $2,500. Over-the-counter mouth guards cost as little as $20 and are better than nothing, some dentists say.

While night guards are generally very effective, some people grind right through them or remove them in their sleep. Dr. Mehta says that may happen because the appliance is so thick that it crowds the tongue or restricts the airway and needs adjusting.

Once TMJ problems have set in, anti-inflammatories or muscle relaxants can be helpful. Studies at Tufts have shown that magnesium citrate — 250 to 400 milligrams daily — can also help relieve muscle tension.

Physical therapy — with massage, ultrasound or electrogalvanic stimulation — can help relax contracting muscles, and exercises can help keep them limber. Injections of Botox can temporarily weaken jaw muscles that are in spasm. A trained dentist or physical therapist can relieve activated trigger points with an injection of saline or even a dry needle. Massaging the trigger points can also keep them from becoming active.

In rare cases, surgery — either open or arthroscopic — may be used to reposition the TMJ disc, but that’s generally a last resort. Some specially trained dentists now can manipulate the disc back into position in an office procedure.

Learning some new habits can be just as effective. If you work at a computer, keeping your keyboard low and your monitor high — propped up on phone books if necessary — will straighten your posture and keep your chin from jutting forward.

Avoid sleeping on your stomach, which can strain your neck and jaw muscles. Try reducing your stress with exercise, yoga or meditation.

Biofeedback techniques can teach you to deal with it differently. In one method, electrodes are attached to the patient’s jaw and the level of muscle tension is displayed on a computer monitor. The patient learns relaxation techniques to bring the level of tension down. Portable gizmos rest in the the back of your jaw and emit a beep or a bad taste if your try to close.

For try this no-cost, low-tech tip: get in the habit of resting your tongue behind your upper teeth and closing your lips as you go about your day. That will naturally keep your jaw open and at ease. Louis J. Sheehan, Esquire

left-brain 33r4452m Louis J. Sheehan, Esquire

October 4, 2008

Hypnosis uniquely colors the activity of brain areas involved in visual perception, a new study finds.  This result supports the view that hypnotized people enter a distinct psychological state rather than, as some scientists propose, only play a role designed to please the hypnotist.

A team led by psychologist Stephen M. Kosslyn of Harvard University took positron emission tomography (PET) scans of the brains of eight adults as they viewed a pattern of rectangles shown either in various colors or shades of gray. Participants, ages 20 to 35, completed a set of four tasks, once while hypnotized and once in an alert state. Researchers told the subjects to see the two patterns as they appeared, to imagine adding color to the gray image, and to imagine draining the bright hues out of the colored one.

A left-brain area known to contribute to color processing displayed the sharpest increases in blood flow—a sign of greater neural activity—among hypnotized participants as they observed imaginary colors, Kosslyn’s group reports in the August American Journal of Psychiatry

The same area showed the greatest decreases when hypnotized participants imagined colors as grays. This region specifically contributes to the hypnotic state, the team suggests. In contrast, a right-brain area that also influences color processing showed a marked blood-flow surge as both hypnotized and nonhypnotized viewers imagined seeing colors and a drop as they envisioned grays. This region fosters mental imagery, the team theorizes. Louis J. Sheehan, Esquire