Archive | Occupational Health

Students Design Inflatable Space Habitats

WASHINGTON, June 24 (UPI) — The U.S. space agency says it’s challenging the nation’s college students to design concepts for inflatable habitat lofts to be used by space explorers.

“The X-Hab Academic Innovation Competition is a university-level challenge designed to encourage further studies in spaceflight-related engineering and architecture disciplines,” NASA said. “This design competition requires undergraduate students to explore NASA’s work to develop space habitats while also helping the agency gather new and innovative ideas to complement its current research and development. The winning concepts may be applied to the exploration habitats of the future.”

The space agency said students will design, manufacture and assemble an inflatable loft that will be integrated into NASA’s operational hard-shell prototype lab unit. The competition winner will participate in a demonstration of the submitted design during the 2011 Desert Research and Technology Studies, or a similar field test next summer.

Information about competition registration and requirements is available at http://www.spacegrant.org/xhab.

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Political Party Choice Steeped in Biology

TORONTO, June 11 (UPI) — Political preferences do not emerge from a simple rational consideration of issues, they are steeped in biology, University of Toronto researchers say.

Lead author Jacob Hirsh, a postdoctoral psychology student at the University of Toronto, and colleagues asked more than 600 Canadian and U.S. students to classify their politics as either small-L liberal or small-C conservative instead of a particular political party.

The study subjects were then given a personality test.

The study, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, found psychological concern for compassion and equality is associated with a liberal mindset, while concern for order and respect of social norms is associated with a conservative mindset.

“Conservatives tend to be higher in a personality trait called orderliness and lower in openness. This means that they’re more concerned about a sense of order and tradition, expressing a deep psychological motive to preserve the current social structure,” Hirsh said in a statement. “While everybody has the same basic motivational architecture, the relative strength of the underlying systems varies from one person to the next. If concerns for order and equality are relatively balanced, the individual is likely to be politically moderate; as either motive grows stronger than the other, political preferences move further to either end of the spectrum.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Nanotech Thin-film Advance Reported

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass., June 7 (UPI) — U.S. scientists say they’ve developed a “nanocoax” technology that can support a highly efficient thin-film solar cell that provides outstanding efficiency.

Boston College researchers said their nano-scale solar cell — inspired by the coaxial cable — offers greater efficiency than any previously designed nanotech thin-film solar cell. It does that, they said, by resolving the “thick and thin” challenge inherent to capturing light and extracting current for solar power.

The quest for high power conversion efficiency in most thin-film solar cells has been hampered by competing optical and electronic constraints — a cell must be thick enough to collect a sufficient amount of light, yet it needs to be thin enough to extract current.

Boston College physicists said they resolved that challenge through a nanoscale solar architecture based on the coaxial cable — a technology that dates to the mid 1800s.

“Many groups around the world are working on nanowire-type solar cells, most using crystalline semiconductors,” Professor Michael Naughton, a co-author of the study, said. “This nanocoax cell architecture, on the other hand, does not require crystalline materials, and therefore offers promise for lower-cost solar power with ultrathin absorbers. With continued optimization, efficiencies beyond anything achieved in conventional planar architectures may be possible, while using smaller quantities of less costly material.”

The research appears in the early online edition of the journal Physica Status Solidi.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Space Technology Used to Study the Maya

ORLANDO, Fla., May 18 (UPI) — University of Central Florida scientists say they have used laser technology to collect 25 years worth of archaeological data on the Maya in four days.

The researchers said a flyover of Belize’s thick jungles using LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) equipment has revolutionized archaeology, illustrating the complex urban centers developed by one of the most-studied ancient civilizations — the Maya.

Aboard a Cessna 337, the scientists used LiDAR to bounce laser beams to sensors on the ground, penetrating the thick tree canopy and producing images of the ancient settlement and environmental modifications made by the inhabitants of the Maya city of Caracol.

The researchers said the technology detected thousands of new structures, 11 new causeways, tens of thousands of agricultural terraces and many hidden caves.

“It’s very exciting,” said UCF anthropology Professor Arlen Chase. “The images not only reveal topography and built features, but also demonstrate the integration of residential groups, monumental architecture, roadways and agricultural terraces, vividly illustrating a complete communication, transportation and subsistence system.”

UCF Biology Professor John Weishampel, who designed the unique LiDAR approach, said it was the first time the specific technology fully recorded an archaeological ruin under a tropical rainforest.

“Further applications of airborne LiDAR undoubtedly will … effectively render obsolete traditional methods of surveying,” Chase said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Study: Lots of Overtime Can Kill You

HELSINKI, Finland, May 11 (UPI) — A study of British civil servants found overtime-induced work stress may contribute to a substantial proportion of cardiovascular disease, researchers said.

The study, published online ahead of print in the European Heart Journal, found that compared with government employees who didn’t work overtime, workers who added 3 or more hours to the workweek — but not 1 to 2 hours– had a 60 percent higher risk of as death due to heart disease, non-fatal heart attacks and angina.

The study involved 4,262 men and 1,752 women, ages 39-61, whose normal workday was 7 hours, were tracked until 2002-04, with an average 11.2 years of follow-up.

During the study period, there were 369 cases of fatal coronary heart disease, non-fatal heart attacks or angina.

Marianna Virtanen, an epidemiologist at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, and colleagues in England and France said the finding was independent of other risk factors such as smoking, being overweight or having high cholesterol.

“Our findings suggest a link between working long hours and increased coronary heart disease risk but more research is needed before we can be confident that overtime work would cause coronary heart disease,” Virtanen said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Study: The Human Brain May Not Be Special

CAMBRIDGE, England, April 27 (UPI) — A British-led study has found striking similarities among the human brain, the nervous system of the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans and computer chips.

A team of U.K., U.S. and German neuroscientists and computer experts led by University of Cambridge Professor Edward Bullmore compared the way the systems are organized and found all three have the same networking principles.

The researchers said they found all three share two basic properties: All have the same architecture, with the same patterns repeating at different scales; and all show what’s known as Rentian scaling — a rule used to describe the relationship between the number of elements in a given area and the number of links between them.

“These striking similarities can probably be explained because they represent the most efficient way of wiring a complex network in a confined physical space — be that a three-dimensional human brain or a two-dimensional computer chip,” Bullmore said.

He said the findings, aside from expanding the understanding of the human brain’s evolution, show humans can learn important lessons about evolution by studying the way in which technology has developed and by looking to very simple organisms such as the nematode.

“This challenges the commonly held belief that the human brain is special,” Bullmore said. “In fact, it actually has much in common with simple organisms such as the worm and with other animal species.”

The paper appears in the journal PLoS Computational Biology.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Ancient Ruin Reminiscent of Ikea Furniture

TORRE SATRIANO, Italy, April 22 (UPI) — Archaeologists in Italy unearthed the remains of what they say may be an ancient temple with components inscribed with instructions for assembly.

The archaeologists are likening the possibly 6th-century temple discovery in Torre Satriano, Italy, to Ikea furniture, the inexpensive home furnishings the purchaser assembles at home, the British Daily Telegraph and the Times of London reported Thursday.

The head of archaeology at Basilica University, Professor Massimo Osanna, said that the team working at what was once Magna Graecia had found a sloping roof with red and black decorations, with “masculine” and “feminine” pieces inscribed with instructions on how to slot them together.

The director of the British School at Rome, Professor Christopher Smith, told The Times the discovery was “the clearest example yet found of mason’s marks of the time. It looks as if someone was instructing others how to mass-produce components and put them together in this way.”

Osanna said that a taste for the Grecian style among the indigenous population must have caused an industrious builder to create inexpensive do-it-yourself components similar to classical Greek architecture.

The roof was designed to filter rainwater down the decorative panels, known as cymatiums, with projections to protect the lower wall.

“So far around a hundred inscribed fragments have been recovered, with masculine ordinal numbers on the cymatiums and feminine ones on the friezes,” Osanna said, adding that the result was “a kind of instruction booklet.”

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Study: Toads can predict earthquakes

MILTON KEYNES, England, April 1 (UPI) — British scientists say they’ve discovered common toads can detect impending earthquakes, sometimes days in advance of any apparent seismic activity.

Researchers from The Open University said they found 96 percent of male toads (Bufo bufo) in a population abandoned their breeding site five days before an earthquake struck L’Aquila in Italy last year. The breeding site was located about 45 miles from the earthquake’s epicenter.

The scientists said the number of paired toads at the site also dropped to zero three days before the earthquake.

“Our study is one of the first to document animal behavior before, during and after an earthquake,” the study’s lead author, Rachel Grant, said. “Our findings suggest that toads are able to detect pre-seismic cues, such as the release of gases and charged particles, and use these as a form of earthquake early warning system.”

The research is reported in the Zoological Society of London’s Journal of Zoology.

Work chemicals may up breast cancer risk

MONTREAL, April 1 (UPI) — A Canadian study found occupational exposure to synthetic fibers and petroleum products may increase a woman’s breast cancer risk, researchers say.

France Labreche of the Occupational Health Research Institute in Montreal suggests exposure to workplace chemicals and pollutants — synthetic fibers and petroleum products may increase breast cancer risk the most — before a woman reaches her mid-30s could triple her risk of developing breast cancer after menopause.

The study involves more than 1,100 post-menopausal women, 556 of whom had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996-1997 in Montreal, when they were between the ages 50-75. More than 600 women acted as a control group.

A team of chemists and industrial hygienists investigated the women’s exposure to some 300 different workplace substances.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal, finds women exposed at work to acrylic fibers had a seven-fold risk of breast cancer, while those exposed to nylon fibers had double the risk.

The researchers say their findings could be due to chance, but the findings are consistent with the theory that breast tissue is more sensitive to harmful chemicals before a woman reaches her 40s.

NASA and NOAA: 50 years of weather studies

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., April 1 (UPI) — NASA scientists say it was 50 years ago Thursday the United States launched the world’s first weather satellite, revolutionizing weather forecasting.

Meteorologists said the Television Infrared Observation Satellite, known as TIROS-1, opened a new dimension in meteorology for both the space agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which operates the National Weather Service.

“TIROS-1 started the satellite observations and interagency collaborations that produced vast improvements in weather forecasts, which have strengthened the nation,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “It also laid the foundation for our current global view of Earth that underlies all of climate research and the field of Earth system science.”

NASA said the first image from TIROS-1 was a fuzzy picture of thick bands and clusters of clouds over the United States. An image captured a few days later revealed a typhoon approximately 1,000 miles east of Australia.

“This satellite forever changed weather forecasting,” said Jane Lubchenco, NOAA’s administrator. “Since TIROS-1, meteorologists have far greater information about severe weather and can issue more accurate forecasts and warnings that save lives and protect property.”

NOAA and NASA scientists say they now are planning the next generation of weather satellites. Beginning in 2015, those spacecraft will have twice the clarity of today’s satellites and will provide more than 20 times the information.

Schizophrenia memory deficits cause found

NEW YORK, April 1 (UPI) — A U.S. study in mice suggests the biggest known recurrent genetic cause of schizophrenia disrupts linkage between the brain’s decision-making and memory hubs.

Columbia University researchers said that disruption in brain communications results in working-memory deficits.

“Our findings pinpoint a specific circuit and mechanism by which a mutation produces a core feature of the disorder,” said Dr. Joshua Gordon, who led the study that was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and the Simons Foundation.

The researchers said it’s been long suspected a brain connectivity problem was involved in schizophrenia, although the disorder is thought to be 70 percent heritable.

Prior to the new study, neuroimaging of schizophrenia patients had found abnormal connections between the brain’s prefrontal cortex, the executive hub, and the hippocampus, the memory hub. It was also known a mutation in the suspect site on chromosome 22 boosts schizophrenia risk 30-fold and the investigators said that tiny missing section of genetic material, called a microdeletion, has often turned up in genetic studies of schizophrenia. But the mutation’s link to the disturbed connectivity and working-memory deficit was not known, the scientists said.

In the new study, the investigators discovered mice with the chromosome 22 mutation demonstrated inferior synchrony, learning and performance levels as compared to control mice.

The research that included Drs. Joseph Gogos and Maria Karayiorgou is reported in the journal Nature.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Chemicals, Earthquakes, Occupational Health, Other0 Comments

Work Chemicals May Up Breast Cancer Risk

MONTREAL, April 1 (UPI) — A Canadian study found occupational exposure to synthetic fibers and petroleum products may increase a woman’s breast cancer risk, researchers say.

France Labreche of the Occupational Health Research Institute in Montreal suggests exposure to workplace chemicals and pollutants — synthetic fibers and petroleum products may increase breast cancer risk the most — before a woman reaches her mid-30s could triple her risk of developing breast cancer after menopause.

The study involves more than 1,100 post-menopausal women, 556 of whom had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996-1997 in Montreal, when they were between the ages 50-75. More than 600 women acted as a control group.

A team of chemists and industrial hygienists investigated the women’s exposure to some 300 different workplace substances.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal, finds women exposed at work to acrylic fibers had a seven-fold risk of breast cancer, while those exposed to nylon fibers had double the risk.

The researchers say their findings could be due to chance, but the findings are consistent with the theory that breast tissue is more sensitive to harmful chemicals before a woman reaches her 40s.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

Posted in Chemicals, Occupational Health, Other0 Comments

Joint Fluid May Have Regenerative Effect

GOETTINGEN, Germany, March 31 (UPI) — German scientists say concentrations of the hormones testosterone in men and estrogen in women might have a positive effect on cartilage tissue regeneration.

The study, led by Dr. Nicolai Miosge from August University in Goettingen, Germany, suggests hormone replacement in the joint fluid of men and women might be beneficial in treating late stages of human osteoarthritis by regenerating damaged tissue.

The scientists said free moving joints, such as the knee and hip, produce smooth and painless limb movement when there is adequate transmission of forces between the bones and joint cartilage. But disturbances in joint architecture due to trauma, abnormal loads, endocrine diseases or inflammatory conditions may result in osteoarthritis.

Miosge and his team said they examined the regenerative potential of chondrogenic progenitor cells present during the late stages of osteoarthritis. The scientists hypothesized the progenitor cells might be influenced by sex steroids, and therefore hormone replacement therapy directed to the joint fluid could be beneficial in restoring damaged tissue. They discovered their hypothesis was correct.

The study, which included researcher Sebastian Koelling, appears in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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