The Art and Science of Medicine
Volume XXVI Number 1
21st Century Journalism
When journalists such as Jayson Blair make the headlines instead of write them, what's the state of American journalism? Researchers at the IU School of Journalism have completed a survey of 1,149 U.S. journalists, continuing a decennial study that began in 1971. Here are a few key findings:
The study was conducted by IUB professors David Weaver, Randal Beam, Bonnie Brownlee, G. Cleveland Wilhoit, and Paul Voakes, now dean of the School of Journalism at University of Colorado, Boulder. See www.poynter.org for more.
Dip a weirdly bent coat hanger into a tub of soap, and you'll pull out an even weirder looking bubble. That's a minimal surface, says Matthias Weber, assistant professor of mathematics at IUB. A minimal surface is formed when pressure on both sides of a surface is the same¤no matter its shape, a minimal surface minimizes area and surface tension. Weber studies mathematical problems associated with minimal surfaces, but he also appreciates their aesthetic qualities. The image here is of the classical helicoid, a screw-shaped surface discovered before 1900. It comes from Weber's online "galleries" of minimal surfaces, intended to convey "some of the intriguing enchantment a mathematician feels when exploring mathematical objects," he says. See Weber's minimal surfaces at www.indiana.edu/~minimal/gallery/index.html.
Awarding Arts and Humanities
In the third round of Arts and Humanities Initiative funding, 34 faculty members from four IU campuses have received grants. The faculty and their projects are:
Great Balls of Fire
Appearing in the constellation Canes Venatici, this ball of fire is made up of 500,000 stars. Called M3, the dense globular cluster is approximately 160 light years across and 100,000 light years from Earth. This M3 image was taken at the WIYN Observatory in Arizona using the Tip-Tilt Module, an instrument that provides high-speed corrections to reduce atmospheric blurring. WIYN is owned and operated by University of Wisconsin, Indiana University, Yale University, and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory. Photo: Stella Kafka and Kent Honeycutt, Indiana University/WIYN/NOAO/NSF, © WIYN Consortium, Inc., all rights reserved.
Flame Retardant Blood
A flame retardant commonly used in plastic, electronics, textiles, and construction materials has been found in the blood of a small sample of Indiana mothers and their newborn babies. Concentrations of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) were 20 to 106 times greater than levels found in a similar Swedish study. PBDEs are detrimental to rats and may pose an environmental health risk to humans. Although the researchers don't know why European PBDE levels are lower, IUB Distinguished Professor Ronald Hites points out that the flame retardant is not manufactured in Europe while the United States has at least two PBDE producers. The study was conducted by Hites, Robert Bigsby, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the IU School of Medicine, and colleagues affiliated with IU's Institute for Research in Environmental Science. Hites is co-director of the institute.
Tweet Tweet, Coo Coo
A mother's touch makes baby's babbling better, say IU researchers in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Birdsong is considered a model for human speech development, and the development of young birdsong is sensitive to social stimulation from adult birds. To test the parallel phenomenon in humans, Michael Goldstein, Andrew King, and Meredith West studied 30 infants. When mothers moved close, smiled, and touched their children without changing how they spoke, the number and quality of the babies' vocalizations shifted significantly to more developmentally advanced sounds. In other words, the infants' babbling changed in response to the mothers' reactions to the sounds they made. These findings "introduce social shaping as a general process underlying the development of speech and song," say the scientists. King is a senior scientist in psychology, and West is professor of biology and psychology at IUB.
Can cross-breeding fast-forward evolution? Hybridization--the cross-breeding of different species--is common (think corn, mules, or any number of oak tree species), but its role in evolution and adaptation has long been poorly understood. Now, a report from researchers at IU Bloomington (with other American and French colleagues) published in Science offers "the clearest evidence to date that hybridization is evolutionarily important," according to lead author Loren Rieseberg, professor of biology at IUB. Rieseberg and his team compared traits of five sunflower species. Two species were ancient "parental" hybrids; the other three were hybrids of the parental flowers from 60,000 to 200,000 years ago, found in extreme habitats such as sand dunes. Scientists speculate that gene combinations generated by hybridization helped the flowers adapt to the divergent habitats. Rieseberg and others created synthetic hybrids, discovering that they quickly acquired traits necessary to survive in the extreme habitats of the natural hybrids. They also found that the traits were largely the same as those produced by natural selection during evolution of the natural hybrid species. "We were able to demonstrate a possible mechanism for rapid evolutionary change," says Rieseberg, " by replicating the births of three unusual and ecologically divergent species within a extremely short period of time, just a few generations." Reiseberg's report followed closely on findings published in Nature by IUB Distinguished Professor of Biology Jeffrey Palmer suggesting significant, "evolutionarily frequent" exchange of genes between completely unrelated species of flowering plants. Palmer, Class of 1955 Endowed Professor of biology, and his team found that genes from five species, including kiwi fruit and honeysuckle, were more related to the same genes of unrelated species than to those of closer species, offering strong evidence that unrelated plants can donate DNA horizontally.