Archive for the ‘Illinois’ Category

The nickname “Lightning Rod” seems like a fair one for Rod Wolfe. He’s now survived two lightning strikes.

Wolfe was outside his Chebanse home on Saturday when everything suddenly went black. It turns out lightning hit a nearby tree then traveled into Wolfe’s body.

He ended up in the hospital with broken ribs and cardiac problems, but his doctor says it could have been far worse.

“Everybody says I am a lucky person and I say how can I be a lucky person? But they say yeah, but you survived twice,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe said this strike was far worse than when he got hit while working at a cemetery 18 years ago.

http://abc7chicago.com/weather/chebanse-man-survives-being-struck-by-lightning—twice/806066/

sn-autism

 

A drug used for decades to treat high blood pressure and other conditions has shown promise in a small clinical trial for autism. The drug, bumetanide, reduced the overall severity of behavioral symptoms after 3 months of daily treatment. The researchers say that many parents of children who received the drug reported that their children were more “present” and engaged in social interactions after taking it. The new findings are among several recent signs that treatments to address the social deficits at the core of autism may be on the horizon.

Several lines of evidence suggest that autism interferes with the neurotransmitter GABA, which typically puts a damper on neural activity. Bumetanide may enhance the inhibitory effects of GABA, and the drug has been used safely as a diuretic to treat a wide range of heart, lung, and kidney conditions. In the new study, researchers led by Yehezkel Ben-Ari at the Mediterranean Institute of Neurobiology in Marseille, France, recruited 60 autistic children between the ages of 3 and 11 and randomly assigned them to receive either a daily pill of bumetanide or a placebo. (Neither the children’s parents nor the researchers who assessed the children knew who received the actual drug.)

As a group, those who got bumetanide improved by 5.6 points on a 60-point scale that’s often used to assess behaviors related to autism, the researchers report today in Translational Psychiatry. That was enough to nudge the group average just under the cutoff for severe autism and into the mild to medium category. The study did not look directly at whether the drug improved all symptoms equally or some more than others. “We have some indications that the symptoms particularly ameliorated with bumetanide are the genuine core symptoms of autism, namely communication and social interactions,” Ben-Ari says. More work will be needed to verify that impression. Ben-Ari says his team is now preparing for a larger, multicenter trial in Europe.

The current study already looks interesting to some. “It’s enough to make me think about trying it in a few of my autism patients who haven’t responded to other interventions,” says Randi Hagerman, a pediatrician who studies neurodevelopmental disorders at the University of California, Davis. Social interactions tend to be reinforcing, Hagerman adds, so getting an autistic child to start interacting more can have a positive effect on subsequent brain development.

Other drugs have recently shown promise for autism. In September, Hagerman and colleagues reported that arbaclofen, a drug that stimulates a type of GABA receptor, reduced social avoidance in people with fragile X syndrome, a genetic disorder that shares many features with autism. Many researchers are also hopeful about clinical trials under way with drugs that block certain receptors for glutamate, the main neurotransmitter in the brain that excites neural activity. Results from those trials should come out next year.

All of this work, including the new study, suggests that drugs that reduce neural excitation by blocking glutamate or enhance inhibition by boosting GABA may be helpful for treating autism, says Elizabeth Berry-Kravis, a pediatric neurologist at Rush University in Chicago, Illinois, and a collaborator on the recent arbaclofen study. “There seems to be this imbalance between excitation and inhibition in people with autism.”

That’s a potentially game-changing insight. Now doctors can only prescribe drugs that treat individual symptoms of autism rather than the underlying cause of the disorder, Berry-Kravis says. Doctors often prescribe antipsychotic drugs to reduce irritability, for example, but those drugs don’t address the social and communication problems at the heart of the disorder. “It’s exciting that now we’re thinking about the underlying mechanisms and treating those.”

http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2012/12/diuretic-drug-offers-latest-hope.html

As a young theorist in Moscow in 1982, Mikhail Shifman became enthralled with an elegant new theory called supersymmetry that attempted to incorporate the known elementary particles into a more complete inventory of the universe.

“My papers from that time really radiate enthusiasm,” said Shifman, now a 63-year-old professor at the University of Minnesota. Over the decades, he and thousands of other physicists developed the supersymmetry hypothesis, confident that experiments would confirm it. “But nature apparently doesn’t want it,” he said. “At least not in its original simple form.”

With the world’s largest supercollider unable to find any of the particles the theory says must exist, Shifman is joining a growing chorus of researchers urging their peers to change course.

In an essay posted last month on the physics website arXiv.org, Shifman called on his colleagues to abandon the path of “developing contrived baroque-like aesthetically unappealing modifications” of supersymmetry to get around the fact that more straightforward versions of the theory have failed experimental tests. The time has come, he wrote, to “start thinking and developing new ideas.”

But there is little to build on. So far, no hints of “new physics” beyond the Standard Model — the accepted set of equations describing the known elementary particles — have shown up in experiments at the Large Hadron Collider, operated by the European research laboratory CERN outside Geneva, or anywhere else. (The recently discovered Higgs boson was predicted by the Standard Model.) The latest round of proton-smashing experiments, presented earlier this month at the Hadron Collider Physics conference in Kyoto, Japan, ruled out another broad class of supersymmetry models, as well as other theories of “new physics,” by finding nothing unexpected in the rates of several particle decays.

“Of course, it is disappointing,” Shifman said. “We’re not gods. We’re not prophets. In the absence of some guidance from experimental data, how do you guess something about nature?”

Younger particle physicists now face a tough choice: follow the decades-long trail their mentors blazed, adopting ever more contrived versions of supersymmetry, or strike out on their own, without guidance from any intriguing new data.

“It’s a difficult question that most of us are trying not to answer yet,” said Adam Falkowski, a theoretical particle physicist from the University of Paris-South in Orsay, France, who is currently working at CERN. In a blog post about the recent experimental results, Falkowski joked that it was time to start applying for jobs in neuroscience.

“There’s no way you can really call it encouraging,” said Stephen Martin, a high-energy particle physicist at Northern Illinois University who works on supersymmetry, or SUSY for short. “I’m certainly not someone who believes SUSY has to be right; I just can’t think of anything better.”

Supersymmetry has dominated the particle physics landscape for decades, to the exclusion of all but a few alternative theories of physics beyond the Standard Model.

“It’s hard to overstate just how much particle physicists of the past 20 to 30 years have invested in SUSY as a hypothesis, so the failure of the idea is going to have major implications for the field,” said Peter Woit, a particle theorist and mathematician at Columbia University.

The theory is alluring for three primary reasons: It predicts the existence of particles that could constitute “dark matter,” an invisible substance that permeates the outskirts of galaxies. It unifies three of the fundamental forces at high energies. And — by far the biggest motivation for studying supersymmetry — it solves a conundrum in physics known as the hierarchy problem.

The problem arises from the disparity between gravity and the weak nuclear force, which is about 100 million trillion trillion (10^32) times stronger and acts at much smaller scales to mediate interactions inside atomic nuclei. The particles that carry the weak force, called W and Z bosons, derive their masses from the Higgs field, a field of energy saturating all space. But it is unclear why the energy of the Higgs field, and therefore the masses of the W and Z bosons, isn’t far greater. Because other particles are intertwined with the Higgs field, their energies should spill into it during events known as quantum fluctuations. This should quickly drive up the energy of the Higgs field, making the W and Z bosons much more massive and rendering the weak nuclear force about as weak as gravity.

Supersymmetry solves the hierarchy problem by theorizing the existence of a “superpartner” twin for every elementary particle. According to the theory, fermions, which constitute matter, have superpartners that are bosons, which convey forces, and existing bosons have fermion superpartners. Because particles and their superpartners are of opposite types, their energy contributions to the Higgs field have opposite signs: One dials its energy up, the other dials it down. The pair’s contributions cancel out, resulting in no catastrophic effect on the Higgs field. As a bonus, one of the undiscovered superpartners could make up dark matter.

“Supersymmetry is such a beautiful structure, and in physics, we allow that kind of beauty and aesthetic quality to guide where we think the truth may be,” said Brian Greene, a theoretical physicist at Columbia University.

Over time, as the superpartners failed to materialize, supersymmetry has grown less beautiful. According to mainstream models, to evade detection, superpartner particles would have to be much heavier than their twins, replacing an exact symmetry with something like a carnival mirror. Physicists have put forward a vast range of ideas for how the symmetry might have broken, spawning myriad versions of supersymmetry.

But the breaking of supersymmetry can pose a new problem. “The heavier you have to make some of the superpartners compared to the existing particles, the more that cancellation of their effects doesn’t quite work,” Martin explained.

Most particle physicists in the 1980s thought they would detect superpartners that are only slightly heavier than the known particles. But the Tevatron, the now-retired particle accelerator at Fermilab in Batavia, Ill., found no such evidence. As the Large Hadron Collider probes increasingly higher energies without any sign of supersymmetry particles, some physicists are saying the theory is dead. “I think the LHC was a last gasp,” Woit said.

Today, most of the remaining viable versions of supersymmetry predict superpartners so heavy that they would overpower the effects of their much lighter twins if not for fine-tuned cancellations between the various superpartners. But introducing fine-tuning in order to scale back the damage and solve the hierarchy problem makes some physicists uncomfortable. “This, perhaps, shows that we should take a step back and start thinking anew on the problems for which SUSY-based phenomenology was introduced,” Shifman said.

But some theorists are forging ahead, arguing that, in contrast to the beauty of the original theory, nature could just be an ugly combination of superpartner particles with a soupçon of fine-tuning. “I think it is a mistake to focus on popular versions of supersymmetry,” said Matt Strassler, a particle physicist at Rutgers University. “Popularity contests are not reliable measures of truth.”

In some of the less popular supersymmetry models, the lightest superpartners are not the ones the Large Hadron Collider experiments have looked for. In others, the superpartners are not heavier than existing particles but merely less stable, making them more difficult to detect. These theories will continue to be tested at the Large Hadron Collider after it is upgraded to full operational power in about two years.

If nothing new turns up — an outcome casually referred to as the “nightmare scenario” — physicists will be left with the same holes that riddled their picture of the universe three decades ago, before supersymmetry neatly plugged them. And, without an even higher-energy collider to test alternative ideas, Falkowski says, the field will undergo a slow decay: “The number of jobs in particle physics will steadily decrease, and particle physicists will die out naturally.”

Greene offers a brighter outlook. “Science is this wonderfully self-correcting enterprise,” he said. “Ideas that are wrong get weeded out in time because they are not fruitful or because they are leading us to dead ends. That happens in a wonderfully internal way. People continue to work on what they find fascinating, and science meanders toward truth.”

From Simons Science News (find the original story here)

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=supersymmetry-fails-test-forcing-physics-seek-new-idea

 

Ancient microbes have been discovered in bitter-cold brine beneath 60 feet of Antarctic ice, in permanent darkness and subzero temperatures of Antarctica’s Lake Vida, located in the northernmost of the McMurdo Dry Valleys of East Antarctica.

In the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Nathaniel Ostrom, Michigan State University zoologist, has co-authored “Microbial Life at -13ºC in the Brine of an Ice-Sealed Antarctic Lake.” Ostrom was part of a team that discovered an ancient thriving colony, which is estimated to have been isolated for more than 2,800 years living in a brine of more than 20 percent salinity that has high concentrations of ammonia, nitrogen, sulfur and supersaturated nitrous oxide—the highest ever measured in a natural aquatic environment.”It’s an extreme environment – the thickest lake ice on the planet, and the coldest, most stable cryo-environment on Earth,” Ostrom said. “The discovery of this ecosystem gives us insight into other isolated, frozen environments on Earth, but it also gives us a potential model for life on other icy planets that harbor saline deposits and subsurface oceans, such as Jupiter’s moon Europa.”Members of the 2010 Lake Vida expedition team, Dr. Peter Doran (professor, University of Illinois, Chicago), Dr. Chris Fritsen (research professor, Desert Research Institute, Reno, Nev.) and Jay Kyne (an ice driller) use a sidewinder drill inside a secure, sterile tent on the lake’s surface to collect an ice core and brine existing in a voluminous network of channels 16 meters and more below the lake surface. 

On the Earth’s surface, water fuels life. Plants use photosynthesis to derive energy. In contrast, at thermal vents at the ocean bottom, out of reach of the sun’s rays, chemical energy released by hydrothermal processes supports life. Life in Lake Vida lacks sunlight and oxygen. Its high concentrations of hydrogen gas, nitrate, nitrite and nitrous oxide likely provide the chemical energy used to support this novel and isolated microbial ecosystem. The high concentrations of hydrogen and nitrous oxide gases are likely derived from chemical reactions with the surrounding iron-rich rocks.

Consequently, it is likely that the chemical reactions between the anoxic brine and rock provide a source of energy to fuel microbial metabolism. These processes provide new insights into how life may have developed on Earth and function on other planetary bodies, Ostrom said. The research team comprised scientists from the Desert Research Institute (Reno, Nev.), the University of Illinois-Chicago, NASA, the University of Colorado, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Montana State University, the University of Georgia, the University of Tasmania and Indiana University.

For more information: “Microbial life at −13 °C in the brine of an ice-sealed Antarctic lake,” by Alison E. Murray et al. PNAS, 2012. http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/11/21/1208607109.abstract Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2012/11/ancient-microbial-life-found-thriving-in-permanent-darkness-60-feet-beneath-antarctica-ice.html

 

Police in Chicago became farmers for a day Wednesday as they began to chop down a  marijuana farm as big as two football fields found in the city.

The farm, which contains about 1,500 plants and could have netted $7-10 million, was spotted by a police officer and county sheriff’s deputy in a helicopter as they headed back to their hangar, MyFoxChicago.com reports.

No arrests had been made as of Wednesday, and police were still trying to determine who owns the property that housed the grow site on the city’s far South Side. But police said they were hopeful that because of the size of the operation, informants or others might provide tips about those involved, including a man seen running from the area as the helicopter swooped low.

James O’Grady, the commander of the department’s narcotics division, tells The Associated Press they’ve never seen anything like it before, in part because Chicago’s harsh winters mean growers have a lot less time to plant, grow and harvest marijuana than their counterparts in less inclement places such as California and Mexico. The bumper crop was likely planted in spring, O’Grady said.

Add to that the urban sprawl: there are few spots in Chicago where such an operation could go unnoticed because of all the buildings, roads and residents. The growers took pains to ensure their crop was largely hidden by a canopy of trees and surrounding vegetation.

“Somebody put a lot of thought into it,” O’Grady said. “But they probably didn’t anticipate the helicopter.”

Chicago Police Officer Stan Kuprianczyk, a pilot, said police helicopters flew “over it all the time,” to and from their hangar, without spying the grow site. Yet somehow, a number of factors came together to allow Cook County Sheriff’s Deputy Edward Graney to spot the plants.

“We had the right altitude, the right angle, the right sunlight, and I happened to be glancing down,” said Graney. He said he initially spotted five plants or so through the trees before he asked Kuprianczyk to circle around for a closer look.

“We just happened to be right over a small hole in the trees and we looked down,” Kuprianczyk said.

They also happened to have the right training, Graney said, explaining that just a few weeks earlier a much smaller operation in suburban Chicago prompted them to fly over and videotape the scene so they might be able to recognize marijuana if they ever saw it from the air again.

So, by the time Graney spotted the marijuana plants, which are a much brighter shade of green than the surrounding vegetation, he had a pretty good idea what he was looking at.

Superintendent Garry McCarthy, whose officers are more used to intercepting shipments of marijuana grown elsewhere or discovering hydroponic growing operations inside buildings, said the discovery of the marijuana is significant in a larger fight against street violence.

Those involved with narcotics, whether it is marijuana, heroin or cocaine, purchase firearms with their profits and have shown they’re willing to use them to protect their business, he said.

“That’s where the violence comes in, the competition for the markets,” he said.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2012/10/03/police-in-chicago-uncover-nearly-1000-pot-plants-in-city/?test=latestnews#ixzz28RCvlyQP

 

Anthony Hensley was a 37-year-old married father of two who worked for a company that uses dogs and swans to shoo pesky geese from properties in the area. Hensley had taken to a kayak Sunday morning to check on the swans in a Des Plaines-area pond when one of the larger birds turned on him, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Cook County sheriff’s investigators believe Hensley either got too close to the swan or the swan’s nesting area, the Sun-Times said. Hensley rolled off his kayak and landed in the water, and the swan kept up its relentless attack.

The Sun-Times reports that the swan continued to pursue Hensley as he tried to swim to shore. Hensley was submerged when emergency workers arrived, and an autopsy found that he died from drowning near the Bay Colony condominiums in unincorporated Des Plaines.

On Sunday, Hensley’s family members were grief-stricken, struggling to take it all in. Like many, they couldn’t understand how Hensley was unable to beat off the swan.

“Maybe he didn’t want to hurt the animal,” Hensley’s father-in-law, George Koutsogiannis, told the Sun-Times. “Maybe he didn’t fight back enough when the swan attacked him….I can’t understand how this was possible.”

There were no immediate details Monday about the swan that attacked Hensley, or its fate. Depending upon their size and breed, swans can be quite large with some standing 4 feet tall, weighing about 30 pounds and boasting a wing span of up to 8 feet wide.

Hensley reportedly did not have life insurance, and a memorial fund was set up to help his family.

http://amarillo.com/news/latest-news/2012-04-17/killer-swan-attacks-illinois-caretaker-until-he-drowns#comment-100109