Saturday, 22 December 2012

6 Tips for Successful Macro Photography

Macro photography is often casually referred to as “close-up” photography. While it’s probably a safe bet that no one is going to be shunned by their fellow photographers for tossing around such a loose definition, the classical definition of macro photography is a photograph in which the subject is magnified to life size or greater. Typically, subjects of macro photography are very small, such as insects or flowers; larger objects may also prove useful as macro photography subjects if, for instance, you want to focus on some very specific, smaller detail of the large object in question. Macro photography can be incredibly fun and rewarding, but it can also be a challenge. While I don’t profess to be any sort of macro wizard, I have acquired a certain level of proficiency and am inspired to share my knowledge with those who may be looking to take the plunge into macro photography.
Equipment matters — sort of
Whether you’re using a decent point-and-shoot or the latest full-frame flagship camera of your preferred maker, just about anyone can get a cool close-up shot of a blade of grass sporting beads of morning dew. In order to realize the full potential in such a shot (and make it a “true” macro), however, some specialized equipment is certain to be of great benefit. Assuming you are using a DSLR, your best bet is to obtain a dedicated macro lens. If your budget won’t allow for a new lens, you can try a set of extension tubes to use in conjunction with a lens you already own.
Get familiar with your subject
This is true no matter what kind of photography you are doing. If you were doing a photo shoot with a human subject, you’d want to have a good rapport with him or her, right? It makes for a better photo. The same principle applies to macro photography, especially when shooting insects. It helps to know their behavior; how do they respond to being approached by humans? Obviously if you are shooting flowers or sea shells, then you aren’t concerned with them scurrying away if you get too close. But it is still important to know as much as possible about the traits of whatever you’re shooting.
Patience, patience, patience
As in patience with your subject and patience with yourself. If you intend to photograph an insect, stalking said insect will more than likely prove unsuccessful. Instead of hunting down that elusive dragonfly, simply position yourself in an area that dragonflies frequent…and wait. If you remain vigilant, an opportunity will present itself eventually. But what if that perfect opportunity finally occurs and you blow it? Well, it happens. And this is where patience with yourself comes into play. Trust me when I say you’re going to take a lot of bad shots; a lot of poorly lit, out of focus, out of frame shots. Just keep trying. When you do nail that perfect shot you will be giddy with delight.
Let there be light
Excellent lighting is key for successful macro photography. We would all love to use natural light, but sometimes even the sun won’t get the job done. There are a few variables to account for in determining whether natural light will be enough: your subject, the time of day/intensity of the sunlight, the lens you are using. If you are outdoors shooting leaves in low morning light, for example, you might be okay, as the translucence of the leaves will allow you to backlight them. Backlighting could also work for flowers and butterflies. The lens itself could possibly make getting good light more difficult; simply, the closer you are to your subject, the more difficult it is to light it.
If it is a case of you and/or your lens blocking out the sun, this can be solved by using flash. Your camera’s built-in flash is not likely to be up to the task of providing adequate light for macro photography, so an external flash is in order. Getting that flash off the camera will provide even better results. If you think macro photography will become something you invest a lot of time in, you may even want to consider a ring flash. Given that a ring flash sits at the very end of your lens, you should be sure to diffuse the light.
Perfect focus
Nailing focus is perhaps the trickiest aspect of macro work. The best advice I can give here is to get comfortable with manual focus. Attempting to autofocus will do nothing but frustrate you. Before you try your hand at moving subjects, get in some good manual focusing practice on anything that won’t run or fly away from you. Once you’ve mustered the courage to test out your newly acquired skill on more animated lifeforms, you can further aid yourself by pre-focusing. This involves placing an object of similar size as your subject in an area within the camera’s field of view where you expect your subject to make an appearance. When the real thing finally shows up, you’ll be ready to shoot. Yes, there is some guess work involved with this method and, depending on what your subject is, may never find yourself needing to use it. But if you practice it, it’ll be there just in case.
Learning to see
Macro photography subjects are by no means limited to insects and flowers. In everyday life, we’re accustomed to seeing the “whole” of things. Start paying attention to the parts that make the whole and you will expand your vision for macro photography exponentially.

liquid fire by paul bica, on Flickr
Practice, patience, and creativity will be the strongest weapons in your arsenal. So grab whatever gear you have and go have some fun!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Another Earth Just 12 Light-Years Away?

Astronomers have discovered what may be five planets orbiting Tau Ceti, the closest single star beyond our solar system whose temperature and luminosity nearly match the sun's. If the planets are there, one of them is about the right distance from the star to sport mild temperatures, oceans of liquid water, and even life. Don't pack your bags just yet, though: The discovery still needs to be confirmed.
Tau Ceti is only 12 light-years from Earth, just three times as far as our sun's nearest stellar neighbor, Alpha Centauri. Tau Ceti resembles the sun so much that astronomer Frank Drake, who has long sought radio signals from possible extraterrestrial civilizations, made it his first target back in 1960. Unlike most stars, which are faint, cool, and small, Tau Ceti is a bright G-type yellow main-sequence star like the sun, a trait that only one in 25 stars boasts. Moreover, unlike Alpha Centauri, which also harbors a G-type star and even a planet, Tau Ceti is single, so there's no second star in the system whose gravity could yank planets away.
Astronomer Mikko Tuomi of the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom and his colleagues analyzed more than 6000 observations of Tau Ceti from telescopes in Chile, Australia, and Hawaii. As the researchers will report in Astronomy & Astrophysics, slight changes in Tau Ceti's motion through space suggest that the star may be responding to gravitational tugs from five planets that are only about two to seven times as massive as Earth.
If that's right, all five planets lie closer to their star than Mars does to ours; however, Tau Ceti emits only 45% as much light as the sun, so each planet receives less warmth than a planet would at the same distance from our sun. Tau Ceti's three innermost planets—designated b, c, and d—are probably too hot to support life, being so close to the star that they require only 14, 35, and 94 days to complete an orbit. The farthest of the three, d, is about as close to Tau Ceti as Mercury is to the sun.
It's the fourth planet—planet e—that the scientists suggest might be another life-bearing world, even though it's about four times as massive as Earth. If you lived there, you'd see a yellow sun in the sky, but your year would last just 168 days. That's because Tau Ceti lies somewhat closer to its star than Venus does to the sun and thus revolves faster than Earth. The fifth and outermost planet, designated Tau Ceti f, completes an orbit every 640 days and is slightly closer to its star than Mars is to the sun.
However, Tuomi's team warns that disturbances on the star itself, rather than orbiting planets, may be producing the small velocity changes in Tau Ceti. "They're really digging deep into the noise here," says Sara Seager, an astronomer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge who was not part of the team. "The [astronomical] community is going to find it hard to accept planet discoveries from signals so deeply embedded in noise."
"They're pushing the envelope," says Gregory Laughlin, an astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz. "Some or even many of these planets could go away. But I think that they've done absolutely the best job that you can do, given the data." Laughlin says it's frustrating that the most interesting planets—small ones like Earth—are so challenging to detect: "You have to get tons and tons and tons of velocity measurements over many years, and then you really, really have to take extreme care—as this Tuomi et al. paper does—to get rid of all the systematic noise."
Team member Chris Tinney, an astronomer at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, acknowledges the problem. "It's certainly very tantalizing evidence for potentially a very exciting planetary system," Tinney says, but he adds that verifying the discovery may take 10 years, and the scientists didn't want to wait that long. "We felt that the best thing to do was to put the result out there and see if somebody can either independently confirm it or shoot it down."
If the planets exist, they orbit a star that's about twice as old as our own, so a suitable planet has had plenty of time to develop life much more advanced than Homo sapiens. That may just explain why no one from Tau Ceti has ever contacted beings as primitive as us.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Healthiest States in America Named

For the fourth year in a row, Vermont takes the top spot as healthiest state. Applauding the state's high rate of high school graduation and low rate of uninsured population, the report also finds that Vermont is not without its problems. Vermonters have a relatively high rate of cancer deaths and participate in binge drinking more than most states (Wisconsiners binge drink the most, Tennesseans the least). Vermont is in good company in the northeast with seven states from the region making it into the top 10.
Second place goes to Hawaii, a regular contender for first place. Since the ranking started in 1990, Hawaii has consistently ranked in the top six states. Hawaiians enjoy low rates of obesity and smoking, but have high rates of binge drinking and low birth weight babies.
Louisiana and Mississippi are tied for the least healthy state and have consistently been at the bottom of the list for the past 23 years. Both states have low rates of binge drinking, but suffer from high rates of occupational fatalities and children in poverty. These two states are in the bottom five in about half of the 24 components that make up the overall ranking, including high rates of chronic conditions like sedentary lifestyle, obesity and diabetes.
These chronic conditions are also putting the entire nation's health most at risk. Obesity alone is the leading cause of preventable death and costs our nation about $200 billion each year. More than 66 million adults are obese - that's more than one in four Americans. Colorado is the least obese and least sedentary state, in contrast to Mississippi which is the most obese and most sedentary.
"It is important to note that we are living longer, but not necessarily better," says Jane Pennington, spokesperson from the United Health Foundation, the group responsible for the report. "Despite improvements, we still have unhealthy behavior that threatens our health status. It continues to be disappointing that we are seeing a rise in chronic illness. It doesn't have to be that way. That is the alarm that we want to sound."
Although smoking in the U.S. has been decreasing recently, more than 45 million Americans still smoke, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Utah has the lowest percent of its population smoking and Kentucky has the highest.
"People should care about this report," says Dr. Anthony Shih, executive vice president for Programs at the Commonwealth Fund. "It is clear that where you live matters in terms of overall health and it should motivate action to improve."
States should be looking at their healthier neighbors for ways to improve.
"The relatively high performance of [fourth-ranked] Massachusetts - where a law similar to the Affordable Care Act was enacted in 2006 - may hopefully motivate other states to participate in Medicaid expansion and more aggressively implement the ACA within their own state. Successful implementation will likely raise the performance of most states," according to Shih.
By having programs and policies that support better health, states can expect better rankings. If a state increases the tax on cigarettes or bans smoking in public places, for example, the number of smokers in that state should decrease, cutting deaths from cardiovascular disease and cancer deaths.
The statistics show that states can improve their ranking. Vermont was ranked 20 th in 1990, but steadily made improvements over the years to get where it is now.

The HIV Virus: A Possible Cure for Leukemia?

In April 2012, 7-year-old Emily “Emma” Whitehead was in the fight of her life following her second relapse of acute lymphoblastic—or lymphocytic—leukemia (ALL). The then 6-year-old’s parents and doctors turned to an unlikely source to save the young girl's life—the HIV virus.
Emma, diagnosed with ALL in 2010, underwent an experimental procedure involving a disabled form of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, after two unsuccessful courses of chemotherapy failed to achieve sustained remission. The treatment, pioneered at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, is similar to therapies being developed at other cancer centers around the U.S.

"Training" Cells to Kill Cancer

Emma is one of a handful of patients with advanced leukemia to receive the CT019 therapy (formerly called CART 19 therapy), an experimental treatment that involves doctors reprogramming a person’s T-cells—a type of white blood cell that plays a key role in the immune system—to search out and kill cancer cells.
The experimental technique relies on help from a disabled form of HIV because the virus is adept at carrying genetic material into T-cells so they’re able to kill off cancer cells. Those genetically altered T-cells go to work attacking cells in the body that play a role in the development of leukemia.
It's important to note that the T-cells are removed from the patient before being bioengineered with the HIV virus. The patient is not injected with the virus. This treatment differs from chemotherapy, a drug that is one of the most common treatments of leukemia, which kills off all fast-growing cells in the body.

Emma's Remission

Three weeks after receiving the treatment at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, a bone marrow test revealed Emma had achieved remission. Today, she’s still in remission and thriving, but her doctors caution the remission needs to be sustained for a few years before using words like “cured.”
Regardless, the pharmaceutical industry is hopeful. In a statement, Hervé Hoppenot, the president of Novartis Oncology, called the research “fantastic” and said it had the potential—if the early results held up—to revolutionize the treatment of leukemia and related blood cancers. Researchers hope similar therapies that involve the reprogramming of a patient’s immune system, may also eventually be used to fight cancerous breast and prostate tumors.

Feeling Bad to Get Better

Ironically, a sign the experimental treatment is working is the patient feeling worse. Raging fever and chills are a sign the T-cells are doing their job and frightening drops in blood pressure can also be a side effect.
Emma experienced extreme symptoms to the treatment; she spiked a fever of 105 and wound up on a ventilator. Doctors deployed another unlikely remedy to treat her—a drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis that stabilizes the impact the T-cells have on the immune system.
Within hours, Emma showed signs of improving, and a week after the treatment she awoke in the intensive care unit to celebrate her 7th birthday.
In patients with lasting post-treatment remissions, the altered T-cells live on in the bloodstream, though in smaller numbers than when they were fighting the disease. Researchers report some patients having a small number of the cells for years.

 ALL By The Numbers
The bone marrow in healthy kids makes immature blood cells (called stem cells) that become mature blood cells over time. The National Cancer Institute says childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia is a type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes too many immature white blood cells. When a child has ALL, all those immature white blood cells don’t function like healthy cells, making it tough for the body to fight infection.
This type of cancer usually gets worse quickly if untreated and is the most common type of cancer in children.
In the United States, about 3,000 children each year are diagnosed with ALL. The disease can develop in children of all ages, as well as adults, but typically it occurs in patients 3 to 5 years old.

The Symptoms of ALL

The National Cancer Institute says these are the most common symptoms of childhood ALL:
  • Fever.
  • Easy bruising or bleeding.
  • Petechiae (flat, pinpoint, dark-red spots under the skin caused by bleeding).
  • Bone or joint pain.
  • Painless lumps in the neck, underarm, stomach, or groin.
  • Pain or feeling of fullness below the ribs.
  • Weakness, feeling tired, or looking pale.
  • Loss of appetite.
Other conditions may cause the same symptoms so it’s best to check with your child’s doctor if your child has any of the above symptoms, or other worrisome health issues.

US students far from first in math, science

American fourth-graders are performing better than they were four years ago in math and reading, but students four years older show no such progress, a global study released Tuesday revealed.
Although the U.S. remains in the top dozen or so countries in all subjects tested, the gap between the U.S. and the top-performing nations is much wider at the eighth-grade level, especially in math.
"When you start looking at our older students, we see less improvement over time," said Jack Buckley, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which coordinated the U.S. portion of the international exam.
Even where U.S. student scores have improved, many other nations have improved much faster, leaving American students far behind many of their peers — especially in Asia and Europe.
With an eye toward global competitiveness, U.S. education officials are sounding the alarm over what they describe as a recurring theme when American students are put to the test. Lamenting what he described as "sober cautionary notes," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said it was unacceptable that eighth-grade achievement in math and science are stagnant, with U.S. students far less likely than many Asian counterparts to reach advanced levels in science.
"If we as a nation don't turn that around, those nations will soon be out-competing us in a knowledge-based, global economy," Duncan said.
American students still perform better than the global average in all subject areas, the study found, although students from the poorest U.S. schools fall short.
But the U.S. is far from leading the pack, a distinction now enjoyed by kids in countries like Finland and Singapore who outperformed American fourth-graders in science and reading. By eighth grade, American students have fallen behind their Russian, Japanese and Taiwanese counterparts in math, and trail students from Hong Kong, Slovenia and South Korea in science.
The results of the study, conducted every four years in nations around the world, show mixed prospects for delivering on that promise. A nation that once took pride in being at the top of its game can no longer credibly call itself the global leader in student performance. Wringing their hands about what that reality portends for broader U.S. influence, policymakers worry it could have ripple effects on the economy down the line, with Americans increasingly at a competitive disadvantage in the international marketplace.
Elevating the skills needed to compete with emerging countries has been a priority for President Barack Obama, who has pledged to train 100,000 new math and science teachers over the next decade. "Think about the America within our reach: a country that leads the world in educating its people. An America that attracts a new generation of high-tech manufacturing and high-paying jobs," he said this year in his State of the Union address.
Asia continues to dominate the top echelon of scores across subject fields. The tiny city-state of Singapore takes first place in eighth-grade science and fourth-grade math, with South Korea scoring nearly as high. Singapore takes second place to South Korea in eighth-grade math, with Taiwan in third.
The results also lean toward Asian nations when it comes to advanced levels of learning. In Singapore, 4 in 10 eighth-graders achieved the "advanced benchmark" in science, which requires an understanding of complex and abstract concepts in physics, chemistry, biology and other sciences. About 2 in 10 make the grade in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. In the U.S., it's about 1 in 10.
Reading skills are a major strength for American students. Only a few points separate American students from the top-scoring students in the world. In Florida, which took part in the study separately, reading scores are second only to Hong Kong.
"We cannot rest until every child has gained the power that comes through reading," said former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a prominent education advocate. "If Florida can do it, every state can and must."
The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and its sister test, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, are used to measure knowledge, skills and mastery of curricula by elementary and middle school students around the world. Students in rich, industrialized nations and poor, developing countries alike are tested. In 2011, 56 educational systems — mostly countries, but some states and subnational entities like Hong Kong — took part in math and science exams. Fifty-three systems participated in the reading exam, which included almost 13,000 American fourth-graders.
"These kinds of tests are very good at telling us who's ahead in the race. They don't have a lot to say about causes or why countries are where they are," said Brookings Institution senior fellow Tom Loveless, who in previous years represented the U.S. in the international group that administers the test.
Other findings released Tuesday:
— Some U.S. states that were measured separately were clear standouts, performing on par with or better than some top-performing Asian countries. Eighth-graders in Massachusetts and Minnesota score far better in math and science than the U.S. average. But in California and Alabama, eighth-graders fell short of the national average.
— Racial and class disparities are all too real. In eighth grade, Americans in the schools with the highest poverty — those with 75 percent or more of students on free or reduced-price lunch — performed below both the U.S. average and the lower international average. Students at schools with fewer poor kids performed better. In fourth-grade reading, all ethnic groups outperformed the international average, but white and Asian students did better than their black and Hispanic classmates.
— Boys in the U.S. do better than girls in fourth-grade science and eighth-grade math. But girls rule when it comes to reading.
— On a global level, the gender gap appears to be closing. About half of the countries showed no statistically meaningful gap between boys and girls in math and science.
The tests are carried out by the International Association for Evaluation of Educational Achievement, a coalition of research institutions. The U.S. portion of the exams is coordinated by the Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics.

H2O: Dangerous Chemical!

A student at Eagle Rock Junior High won first prize at the Greater Idaho Falls Science Fair, April 26. He was attempting to show how conditioned we have become to alarmists practicing junk science and spreading fear of everything in our environment. In his project he urged people to sign a petition demanding strict control or total elimination of the chemical "dihydrogen monoxide."
And for plenty of good reasons, since:

  1. it can cause excessive sweating and vomiting
  2. it is a major component in acid rain
  3. it can cause severe burns in its gaseous state
  4. accidental inhalation can kill you
  5. it contributes to erosion
  6. it decreases effectiveness of automobile brakes
  7. it has been found in tumors of terminal cancer patients
He asked 50 people if they supported a ban of the chemical.
  • Forty-three (43) said yes,
  • six (6) were undecided,
  • and only one (1) knew that the chemical was water.
The title of his prize winning project was, "How Gullible Are We?"

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

The coolest high tech watches you can buy

The saturation of mobile phones has created a trifecta of consumers. One group feels they no longer need to wear a watch since their phones keep perfect time and are always at hand. Others believe a classic wristwatch is the appropriate accessory in a world filled with tech gadgets.
Then there are the folks who just want the coolest high tech watches they can find. If you match that description, this article is for you.
"Cool" may be a subjective thing, but you know it when you see it. We've covered as many bases as possible in our search for the coolest wrist wear. Some of these are inexpensive and some will set you back. All of them, however, are unique.
What's cooler than that?

1. HD3 Slyde

You would be hard pressed to count the seemingly infinite number of components and movements packed precisely into the black PVD steel and rose gold case of the HD3 Slyde. Watch Journal Magazine ( writes "it's a concept that is made possible by the use of cutting-edge electronics and touchscreen technology combined with an haute horlogerie objective." That's fancy talk for fine watchmaking, and this Swiss beauty sure is fine. The domed sapphire screen is shot-peened, a cold working process that is similar to sandblasting but on a refined, precise scale. It also features an LED screen with a sapphire crystal cover that conforms to the curves of your wrist. If Bruce Wayne were real, he'd probably wear this watch.
2. Kisai Uzumaki

Uzumaki may sound like a sushi roll, but it's actually the Japanese word for whirlpool. Once you get a look at this watch you'll notice the lens' descending concentric circles, and you'll get the idea. The hands descend into the center of the watch with the hour hand on the outside edge, the minute's on the inside. It is back-lit and can be submerged, which is typical, but it is the Uzumaki's style that truly stands out — especially when you consider it was built from a user-submitted design.
3. Seiko Astron

This stainless steel, solar-powered watch comes from one of the world's most reputable brands. Its classic styling means it will go well with any fashion or occasion, and it has some cool tech under its classy hood. The Astron features GPS controlled time and time zone adjustment, world time functions that recognize 39 time zones via satellite, and a perpetual calendar.
4. de Grisogono Occhio
This watch is not only for (wealthy) fans of the latest tech and style, but for fans of watch craftsmanship as well. The Occhio is three repeaters in one. A repeating watch has a chime alarm to mark specific intervals of time — such as a Grandfather Clock that chimes on the hour. The fact that this watch is a three repeater means it was incredibly difficult to make, a badge of pride for true watch fans.
To marvel at this mechanism, one only has to open the face of the watch while the chimes are going off. At this price point few of us will ever be able to see that in person, but you can find videos of the watch in action on Youtube.
5. Remix Watches
$44.95 to $54.95

The most inexpensive watch on our list is also the most customizable. The stylishly bold Remix Watch comes with bright flexible silicone bands in 11 different colors. They are unisex (although some women may find them rather large), water-resistant and can be interchanged to create over 120 different color combinations. A hidden button on the side of the watch triggers an LED illuminating lights display behind the face of the watch creating a vibrant light show right on your wrist. These are simple timepieces with a lot of style and a reasonable price.

6. Gentleman's Faceless Watch

This watch looks like just a fancy, stainless steel bracelet until you take a closer look. Press a button on the side and the previously hidden red LEDs light up to show you the time. The top row displays the hour and the lower row displays the minutes. What else does it do? It tells you the date. That's it. This watch's appeal is in its spy-like appearance and illusion. The stainless steel band has a durable electroplated finish and comes with two additional links.
7. iPod Nano Watchstrap
From $24.95

A list about cool tech is bound to have at least one item that's designed to go with an Apple product. As Apple accessories go, this one stands out.
If you have a sixth-generation Nano this strap lets you turn it into a pretty cool watch. It is lightweight and well built, so you don't have to worry about the Nano sliding out by accident (although the company warns against using it while working out). The strap offers easy access to all the Nano's buttons and connections, and it will fit wrist sizes from 5.5 inches to 8 inches.
8. Caller ID Watch

If you're a special kind of lazy — meaning you can't be bothered to reach into your pocket when your phone rings to see who's calling — this is the watch for you. It's a Bluetooth watch that vibrates when you receive a call. It will show you the caller ID on a small screen located at the bottom of the watch face and it also allows you to 86 the call with the press of a button.
9. Sony SmartWatch

Not an Apple fan? Then you might enjoy this Android-powered, Bluetooth-enabled Sony SmartWatch. It sure looks a lot like an iPod Nano, but it's not. You can read text messages, e-mail, status updates and screen incoming calls on this sharp little watch.
You can also download additional apps via Google Play. Sony says this watch is "smarter than your average smart watch." We're not sure about that, but it sure is cool.
10. Nooka Zizm

It might be hard to tell from the photo, but this is a stunningly beautiful watch. It has a nice weight and a unique faceted crystal lens that produces a refracted view of time on the ZenH display. This faceted surface creates a pattern that continues throughout the entire design of the timepiece, which includes Nooka's first silicone strap. The Zizm is sized by cutting the silicone strap to create the perfect fit for each wearer (you do it yourself).
That's all well and good, but how do you read this thing? The top line shows the hour, the middle shows the minute and the bottom the seconds.

The world’s least corrupt nations

Study Finds Digested Formula, But Not Breast Milk, is Toxic to Cells

Free fatty acids created during the digestion of infant formula cause cellular death that may contribute to necrotizing enterocolitis, a severe intestinal condition that is often fatal and occurs most commonly in premature infants, according to a study by University of California, San Diego bioengineers.
Their report, which was based on in vitro tests comparing the digestion of fresh human breast milk and nine different infant formulas, was published online in the journal Pediatric Research.
Scientists have long known that premature infants fed formula are more likely to develop necrotizing enterocolitis than those fed breast milk. The condition is the leading cause of death from gastrointestinal diseases in premature infants, but the underlying mechanism has not been understood. Alexander Penn, a research scientist working in the Microcirculation Laboratory of bioengineering Professor Geert Schmid-Schönbein from the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering, believes they have come closer to an answer.
This microscopic image of cells shows the effects of breast milk vs. infant formula digestion. Cells are alive and healthy after the digestion of breast milk (top row) with only one cell having any deformation. In contrast, the cells in the bottom row all ruptured after being exposed to the digestion of infant formula.  Image: Alexander Penn, Department of Bioengineering, UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. Blue tint added for visual clarity.
This microscopic image of cells shows the effects of breast milk vs. infant formula digestion. Cells are alive and healthy after the digestion of breast milk (top row) with only one cell having any deformation. In contrast, the cells in the bottom row all ruptured after being exposed to the digestion of infant formula. Image: Alexander Penn, Department of Bioengineering, UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. Blue tint added for visual clarity.

Penn and others had previously determined that the partially digested food in a mature, adult intestine is capable of killing cells, due to the presence of free fatty acids which have a "detergent" capacity that damages cell membranes. The intestines of healthy adults and older children have a mature mucosal barrier that may prevent damage due to free fatty acids. However, the intestine is leakier at birth, particularly for preterm infants, which could be why they are more susceptible to necrotizing enterocolitis.
Therefore, the researchers wanted to know what happens to breast milk as compared to infant formula when they are exposed to digestive enzymes. They "digested," in vitro, infant formulas marketed for full term and preterm infants as well as fresh human breast milk using pancreatic enzymes or fluid from an intestine. They then tested the formula and milk for levels of free fatty acids. They also tested whether these fatty acids killed off three types of cells involved in necrotizing enterocolitis: epithelial cells that line the intestine, endothelial cells that line blood vessels, and neutrophils, a type of white blood cell that is a kind of "first responder" to inflammation caused by trauma in the body.
Overwhelmingly, the digestion of formula led to cellular death, or cytotoxicity – in less than 5 minutes in some cases – while breast milk did not. For example, digestion of formula caused death in 47 percent to 99 percent of neutrophils while only 6 percent of them died as a result of milk digestion. The study found that breast milk appears to have a built-in mechanism to prevent cytotoxicity. The research team believes most food, like formula, releases high levels of free fatty acids during digestion, but that breast milk is digested in a slower, more controlled, process.
Currently, many neonatal intensive care units are moving towards formula-free environments, but breastfeeding a premature infant can be challenging or physically impossible and supplies of donor breast milk are limited. To meet the demand if insufficient breast milk is available, less cytotoxic milk replacements will need to be designed in the future that pose less risk for cell damage and for necrotizing enterocolitis, the researchers concluded.
This may be of benefit not only to premature infants, but also to full-term infants at higher risk for disorders that are associated with gastrointestinal problems and more leaky intestines, such as autism spectrum disorder. Dr. Sharon Taylor, a professor of pediatric medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine and a pediatric gastroenterologist at Rady Children's Hospital, San Diego, said the study offers more support to an already ongoing push by hospitals, including neonatal intensive care units, to encourage breastfeeding even in more challenging circumstances in the NICU. For patients who are too premature or frail to nurse, Dr. Taylor said hospital staff should provide consultation and resources to help mothers pump breast milk that can be fed to the baby through a tube.
The research was carried out in collaboration with Dr. Taylor, Karen Dobkins of the Department of Psychology, and Angelina Altshuler and James Small of the Department of Bioengineering at UC San Diego and was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NS071580 and GM85072). The researchers conclude that breast milk has a significant ability to reduce cytotoxicity that formula does not have. One next step is to determine whether these results are replicated in animal studies and whether intervention can prevent free fatty acids from causing intestinal damage or death from necrotizing enterocolitis.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

UV lamps at nail salons don't increase cancer risk

While the risk of developing skin cancer is known to be linked with exposure to ultraviolet light, it's been less clear whether the UV lamps used in nail salons might raise the risk of skin cancer. Now, a new study suggests these lamps don't increase skin cancer risk.
In the study, researchers looked at three commonly used UV nail lamps. They measured the light, in terms of its likely carcinogenic effects, and calculated the "UV dose" that a user would receive during a 10-minute nail-drying session.

Not all ultraviolet lamps are the same — for example, people with the skin condition psoriasis may be treated with lamps, and studies have shown these "narrowband UVB" treatments raise the risk of skin cancer only minimally, compared with the more damaging rays of tanning salon lamps.
The new study showed that between 13,000 and 40,000 nail-drying sessions would be needed before a person would receive the same UV dose as a person with psoriasis who received light treatments for their condition, according to researchers Dr. Alina Markova, of the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and Dr. Martin Weinstock, of Brown University.
That's about 250 years of weekly manicures.
The findings mean that using these UV lamps "does not produce a clinically signi?cant increased risk of developing skin cancer," the researchers wrote.
Two previous studies have looked at this question, the researchers said. In a 2009 report, researchers concluded that UV nail lamps were a risk factor in the cases of two women who developed skin cancer known as squamous cell carcinomas on the backs of their hands. In the other study, a laboratory hired by the nail salon industry tested many UV nail lamps and concluded UV light levels emitted were low and safe.
However, researchers of the new study noted that report about the two women was anecdotal, and did not include measurements of the UV light from the lamps. They also said the methods used in the industry-funded study were inappropriate.
"Dermatologists and primary-care physicians may reassure patients regarding the safety of these devices," the researchers wrote in their article, published Thursday (Dec. 6) in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

Fix the 9 worst signs of aging

A little line here, a sag or bag there—your body may be giving away your age, or even making you look older than you really are. But here we've got the best ways to tackle these trouble spots, with at-home fixes or with the latest medical technology.

1. Dull, thinning hair
Childbirth, certain medications, and stress all can cause temporary hair loss, but hormonal shifts that happen around menopause may lead to permanent thinning.
At home: Beginning from the scalp, gently pull a small hank of hair all the way to the tips of the hair. If more than six hairs come out, you have a thinning problem. Dexter Phillip, owner of New York City's DEX salon, recommends Esuchen Hair Care products to add body and shine. Another option: Rogaine, which is available over the counter.
At the doc's: Ask for blood tests to rule out lupus, thyroid disease, or anemia. Hair loss is often a sign that something else is wrong, so take it seriously.
2. Turkey neck
Nora Ephron wasn't the only woman in America to feel bad about her neck. Crepey skin leads to the dreaded "turkey neck."
At home: Pamper delicate neck skin with a moisturizer that contains peptides for collagen production. To draw attention away from your neck, look for tops with ruffles or prints or wear a long necklace, says Alison Deyette, wardrobe expert for TLC's 10 Years Younger.
At the doc's: Fraxel laser treatments can improve the skin's texture, while Botox can soften vertical lines. Some doctors use Thermage or ReFirme, radiofrequency and light devices, to stimulate production of collagen in the neck.
3. Less-than-perky breasts
Loss of tissue and fat makes breasts lose their fullness. Gravity, breast-feeding, lack of proper support, and lower levels of estrogen make the girls head south.
At home: Stand sideways in front of a mirror with your elbows bent to 90 degrees. The fullest part of your breasts should hit halfway between your elbows and shoulders, says Patti Ficorilli, a bra fitter for Maidenform. If they're low, tighten the straps. If they're still dragging or if your bra hikes up in back, it's time to get a new bra.
At the store: Ask for a professional fitting. Once you know your size, try on several different styles. Seamed cups offer the most support. If you're full-busted, consider minimizer styles, which can make you look up to an inch smaller.
4. Spotted hands
A loss of collagen leads to less volume, making veins stand out more. Brown spots and other signs of sun damage begin to make their debut, too.
At home: Apply a sunscreen daily on the backs of your hands to prevent further sun damage. Keep hands well-hydrated, says New York City cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Lisa Airan. And ditch the dark polish—pale shades look more modern and take the focus off your hands, says Rodrica Constantin, national trainer for nails at the Red Door Spas.
At the doc's: Laser treatments can repair sun damage, and fillers can plump up hands that have seen better days. There's also photodynamic therapy (a light-based treatment typically used to fade age spots), which may stimulate collagen production.
5. Sore feet
Years of punishing your feet in ill-fitting shoes can cause painful bunions, cracked heels, and calluses.
At home: Moisturize cracked heels at bedtime. Shop for comfortable shoe brands like Aerosoles, Söfft, or Cole Haan, which builds Nike Air cushioning into dress shoes and boots.
At the doc's: Cortisone injections or surgery are options for painful bunions.
6. Wimpy brows and lashes
Changing hormones can make eyebrows and lashes sparse. Years of over-tweezing damage the eyebrow follicles, making it harder for hairs to grow back.
At home: Jeannie Mai, makeup expert for TLC's 10 Years Younger, suggests this trick for covering thin spots: Use a small-angled brush to fill in with soft strokes of pressed eye shadow in a shade that matches your hair color. False lashes are another option. "I put them on when I'm having a tired day, and it makes a huge difference," says Amanda Sanders of New York Image Consultants.
At the doc's: Ask your doctor about Latisse (bimatoprost), an Rx solution used to treat glaucoma that's also approved by the FDA to stimulate eyelash growth.
7. Wrinkled knees and elbows
Who wants elephant elbows or knees? Lax skin creates wrinkles, and dry, flaky patches tend to appear.
At home: Soothe dry skin with moisturizer containing ammonium lactate or urea—both help moisture get through the skin barrier. Take the focus off wrinkly knees by giving your legs an allover glow with tinted body moisturizer. And exfoliate elbows with your favorite cream or brush.
At the doc's: You could consider a knee lift like Demi Moore famously had done. But here's a better idea: Sign up for a yoga class. Poses that strengthen the quadriceps (e.g., Chair, Warrior I, and Warrior II) support and strengthen the knee joints, and also tighten the surrounding skin and muscle. If dry, droopy elbows bug you, ask about skin-tightening injections.
8. Fine lines and wrinkles
A loss of collagen and elasticity reduces skin volume, causing fine lines and wrinkles. Repeated muscle motions—laughing, squinting at the computer screen, sipping lattes through a straw—etch crow's-feet around the eyes and marionette lines near the mouth.
At home: Prevention is the best treatment, says Dr. Tina B. West, a cosmetic dermatologist in Atlanta. She suggests adding these basics to your skin-care routine: antioxidants (which help fight free radicals), sunscreen (look for an SPF of at least 30), and retinoids.
At the doc's: See a doctor for treatments like Botox, fillers, and lasers. In general, think Botox for the upper part of the face (forehead lines, that crinkle between your eyes) and fillers for the lower half (laugh lines, thin lips).
9. Fading smile
Tooth enamel wears away over time, exposing yellow beneath and making your smile gummy and more prone to stains.
At home: Brush-on whitening gels in trays tend to work better than strips, says cosmetic dentist Debra Glassman.
At the doc's: Debra Gray King, a cosmetic dentist in Atlanta and an expert on ABC's Extreme Makeover, says Zoom! Professional Teeth Whitening gives the best results: "In less than an hour, your teeth can get five shades whiter."

Sunday, 2 December 2012

iPrune: The solar powered bonsai tree that can charge your mobile phone

Its leaves might not be green, but its potential for energy efficiency most certainly is.
This little mock bonsai tree might look like the kind of thing that just sits prettily on top of a coffee table - but it is actually a rather ornate phone charger.
The Electree+ doubles as both an ornament and a charger for everyday electrical devices - without the need for any delicate pruning.

Ornate: This mock Bonsai tree is in fact a solar-powered charger for everyday electrical devices called the Electree+
Ornate: This mock Bonsai tree is in fact a solar-powered charger for everyday electrical devices called the Electree+
The device has 27 miniature silicon solar panels - or 'leaves', as they are called - that can be arranged in any way the owner wants to create their own bespoke tree.
The base of the gadget conceals a battery that stores the solar energy.
At full capacity it can hold enough power to charge an iPad twice and can charge a phone in just four hours.
With energy costs soaring, the gadget has been designed to help technology-geeks charge their phone in a green-friendly manner.
Energy efficient: A battery is concealed in the base of the device that holds enough energy to charge and iPad twice and can charge a phone in four hours
Energy efficient: A battery is concealed in the base of the device that holds enough energy to charge two iPads and can charge a phone in four hours
Created by French designer Vivien Muller, the Electree+ conceals a USB connection underneath its wood-topped base unit.
The designer said he was inspired to make the product after observing real trees, noticing that their leaves acted as natural solar panels.
The designer is waiting to receive 400 presale orders for the product before commencing production.
But while the gadget may cut down on your energy bills, it might take you a while to recoup the savings, as it will costs £283.
Bonsai is a traditional Japanese art form in which trees are grown in miniature pots.