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Saturday, February 24, 2024

Science Scene

Is the universe getting larger and faster?

The universe might not operate under the rules scientists have given it. Ten years ago, astronomers and cosmologists discovered that galaxies other than our own are actually accelerating away from the center of the universe.

If the universe operates according to rules of Einstein’s theory of relativity and the Big Bang happened the way scientists think it did, the galaxies should be slowing down, not speeding up. Experts have taken to calling the currently unknown phenomenon that is causing this haphazard cosmological behavior “dark energy.”

After a decade of designing different scientific theories to explain dark energy, NASA is planning to launch a satellite to investigate. Proposals are expected to be heard by NASA in the coming months, with the current budget of approximately $600 million – half of what astronomers say would be necessary for such an undertaking. NASA administrators have responded that a budget of $1.2 billion is unrealistic and would prevent the mission from ever taking place. (source: nytimes.com)


Brain surgeons re-ignite cell phone cancer debate

A recent series of interviews conducted by Larry King on CNN have sparked renewed interest in whether cell phones cause cancer.

Three neurosurgeons told King that they do not hold cell phones next to their ears in order to avoid having a microwave antenna near the brain.

The two sides of the debate are equally vociferous, with cell phone proponents citing several studies that fail to provide a conclusive link between cell phone use and cancer, and critics pointing out that most of those studies were conducted over a relatively short amount of time.

The concern is that studies that are only conducted over a period of three years or less do not reflect the effects of long-term cell phone use. There is currently no scientific explanation for how cell phones, which emit non-ionizing radiation, could cause cancer.

Those concerned about holding a cell phone next to their head can opt to use a headset or the speakerphone option available on many phones to circumvent the problem completely. (source: nytimes.com)


Epilepsy drug could aid recovering alcoholics

Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif. have begun trials to see if a drug normally used to treat epilepsy can aid in the treatment of alcoholism in humans.

Researchers have conducted studies showing that gabapentrin, which is used to treat epileptic seizures, eased alcohol cravings in lab rats, causing a reduction in the animals’ anxiety and alcohol intake.

Gabapentrin mimics the effects of a neurotransmitter which reduces the amount of communication between neurons and the brain. In this way, the drug is similar to alcohol’s sedative effect. The problem for alcoholics is that they develop a resistance to the neurotransmitter, causing them to be more anxious than usual when they lack a sufficient amount of alcohol.

When tested on lab rats, those that received the drug had lowered cravings and agitation, while rats who did not get gabatentrin behaved in normal alcoholic fashion.

While it is hoped that the drug can be adapted to aid recovering alcoholics, the scientists conducting the research note that it is not a complete cure by any means and should be used in conjunction with current practices. (source: nature.com)


RICHARD PROCTER compiles Science Scene and can be reached at editor@californiaaggie.com.



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