Smoking Dope Kills Your Gums

Wanna see something really gross?

Well, let’s set up the clip first: Researchers in New Zealand, at Duke and at the University of North Carolina collaborated on a large study that found a link between smoking marijuana more than once a week for years and having gum disease. The article ran in JAMA last week, and the good folks at JAMA made a movie of some really bad-looking gums.

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When Doing Well Isn’t Good Enough

Interesting twist from newly-hired Duke biologist Katia Koelle, who’s really more like an epidemiologist:

If Thailand successfully reduced the infection rate of Dengue virus, how come more people were dying of the worst version of the infection?

Aedes aegyptiThe answer – after a lot of brutal number-crunching — lies in the way people develop immunity to the dengue virus. Basically, once you’ve had the fever, you’ve got about a year to run around unprotected in every mosquito-filled swamp you can find, trying to pick up the other three strains of the bug. If you don’t get your subsequent “challenges” quickly enough, the next time you get bitten, the virus uses your own antibodies to attack you. Charming things, viruses. Just charming.

String theory meets particle physics

OK, we’ve eased into the week long enough.

When the world’s most powerful particle accelerator starts up later this year, exotic new particles may offer a glimpse of the existence and shapes of extra dimensions.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of California-Berkeley say that the telltale signatures left by a new class of particles could distinguish between possible shapes of the extra spatial dimensions predicted by string theory.

Much as the shape of a musical instrument determines its sound, the shape of these dimensions determines the properties and behavior of our four-dimensional universe, says Wisconsin physicist Gary Shiu, lead author of a paper in the Jan. 25 issue of Physical Review Letters.

“There are myriad possibilities for the shapes of the extra dimensions out there,” he says. “It would be useful to know a way to distinguish one from another and perhaps use experimental data to narrow down the set of possibilities.”

Such experimental evidence could appear in data from a new particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider, scheduled to begin operating later this year near Geneva, Switzerland.

How? Read the full story on UW-Madison’s news page.

Flighty

There’s nothing earth-shattering about this news release at the University of Michigan.

Birds have been flying for a long, long time. And, hey, what do you know? Aerospace engineers learn from observing birds.

Hey, it’s Monday. Let’s ease into the week.

And, the photos are cool.

I feel a black hole rising

This Vanderbilt Exploration story reveals that hundreds of rogue black holes could be roaming our galactic neighborhood.

From editor and writer David Salisbury’s story:

In the past two years, scientists have succeeded in numerically simulating black hole mergers that incorporate Einstein’s theory of relativity. One of the big surprises to come from this effort is the prediction that when two black holes that are rotating at different speeds or are different sizes combine, the newly merged black hole receives a big kick due to conservation of momentum, pushing it away in an arbitrary direction at velocities as high as 4,000 kilometers per second.

If [the modeling is correct], and 200 globular clusters in the Milky Way have indeed spawned intermediate-sized black holes, this means that hundreds of them are probably wandering invisibly around the Milky Way, waiting to engulf the nebulae, stars and planets that are unfortunate enough to cross their paths.

Fortunately, the existence of a few rogue black holes in the neighborhood does not present a major danger. “These rogue black holes are extremely unlikely to do any damage to us in the lifetime of the universe,” says Vanderbilt astronomer Kelly Holley-Bockelmann. “Their danger zone, the Schwarzschild radius, is really tiny, only a few hundred kilometers. There are far more dangerous things in our neighborhood!”

Seeing green

What’s foul and gross and green all over? China’s Taihu Lake during a massive cyanobacteria bloom. Hans Paerl, seen here scooping up some of the algae, is consulting with the Chinese to control the blooms.

Developing countries aren’t the only places vulnerable; these blooms have killed livestock who sought to slake their thirst from U.S. lakes, Paerl says. Global warming will make the problem worse because the blue-green organisms thrive during droughts and in extreme conditions.

In the end (of the world), Paerl says, there will be cockroaches and blue green algae. And in the very end, there will be the algae. Read the Aug. 31, 07 issue of Science or go to the Paerl Lab.

Not nerdy? Where’s the fun in that?

The University of Maine has started a program just for middle-school girls to prove to them that “science and engineering aren’t nerdy.”

“Math, science and engineering [are] relevant,” Vetelino says, “and not such a nerdy field.”

John Vetelino is a computer science prof who started a very novel program to teach Maine’s high school teachers about sensor technology in a summer school program. He’s getting great NSF grants for these programs. Takin it to the streets!

ALSO from UMaine, a story about raising halibut on the farm. Indoors. Thanks largely to a fish called Wanda.
UMaine and a couple of entrepreneurs have raised the first generation of halibut on land, and now the university’s aquaculture incubator is growing the progeny.  Wanda’s an especially lovable and productive female.

Halibut look really weird, especially when they’re in giant tanks and swim up to the surface to spy you with their eyes.  But they sure do taste good. A little lemon, a little butter.

UMaine has video to go with the story. Good stuff.