Ideas and Innovations

Hope (It) Floats

canoe

UAB engineering students put theory into practice when they brought their eight-foot, custom-built concrete canoe to the Rec Center in January for a maiden voyage. As their formulas predicted, the special concrete mixture floated perfectly. The next task for the team from the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering: building the 20-foot version they would need to compete in the American Society of Civil Engineers Concrete Canoe Contest in Tallahassee, Florida, in March. The students brought home two third-place prizes (in plan reading and oral presentation) at the event.

Spec Sheet (20-foot canoe)

  • Final weight: 400 pounds (capable of carrying a crew weighing 650 pounds total)
  • Time to build: 1,000 person-hours
  • Cost of materials: $1,800
  • Ingredients include: Portland cement, fly ash, and pelletized plastic

 


recycle_binReduce, Reuse, Recycle

The problem of “waste data” is a major concern for UAB computer scientist Ragib Hasan, Ph.D., who says that up to 90 percent of the files on a typical hard drive are never used. Even though storage is cheap, memory-hogging files will be a headache as the world shifts to cloud computing centers with thousands of disk drives, Hasan says. He is working with UAB students to refine new techniques to reduce the bloat. His inspiration is the “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra adopted by real-life waste operators. Learn more about Hasan's research in this UAB Magazine feature.


Power Plant

plant_05A small plant in the mustard family could hold the key to creating sustainable food resources for a global population that could jump to 10 billion people by 2050. Karolina Mukhtar, Ph.D., assistant professor in the UAB Department of Biology, conducts genetic research on the Arabidopsis thaliana plant to see how modifications could yield plants that are better equipped to fight stressors and diseases. “Once you know what gene causes a certain trait in Arabidopsis, you can go to any other plant you want and find an equivalent gene in that plant,” she says. “Instead of looking for a needle in a haystack, you already know where to look.” And adding a gene could make a crop plant resistant to bacterial diseases in the field. “Engineering plants to create a better product under stress conditions is the way to feed the world and ease the burden on poor, undeveloped nations,” Mukhtar says.


Sweating Out the Sadness

Many patients dealing with chronic illnesses also feel depressed, which can affect their quality of life, disability level, and adherence to treatments. Now a UAB study suggests that a good workout can help pump up their spirits. In reviews of research comparing patients who exercised with those who didn’t, the patients engaging in aerobic exercise—like jogging, cycling, and resistance training—reduced depressive symptoms by 22 percent overall. Patients doing moderate- or vigorous-intensity exercise saw even better results, and the biggest benefits went to those who experienced improved function through exercise. Better function may be a reason that physical activity is so effective at elevating the mood of patients with chronic illness, say UAB researchers, adding that exercise training is an attractive ancillary treatment option.


Rhythm Section

danceHigh heels generally aren’t welcome in gym class, but they work just fine in UAB’s PE 116—Ballroom and Latin Dance. Under the watchful gaze of Tamilane Blaudeau, Ph.D., an assistant research professor of human studies in the School of Education and a national ballroom dance champion, students learn the fundamental moves of the waltz, rumba, and salsa. Some 60 students and a number of faculty members and alumni, many perhaps inspired by the hit TV show Dancing with the Stars, enrolled last fall. More than a dozen students, hoping to push their skills even further, founded the Competitive Ballroom Dance Society of UAB. The group meets on Fridays at 7:00 p.m.




Lower Carbs, Lower Risks?

A low-carbohydrate diet may help overweight girls avoid diabetes, heart disease, and other risks associated with obesity. A UAB study of 9- to 14-year-old girls shows that even without weight loss, a low-carb diet helped reduce lipids, such as triglycerides and cholesterol, and improved glucose control, insulin response, and reproductive hormones. “Understanding the role carbohydrates play in children’s development is important,” says Krista Casazza, Ph.D., R.D., an assistant professor in the UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences and first author on the study. “If we can decrease exposure to the risk factors for disease at an early age, perhaps we can reduce the cumulative risk associated with these diseases over time.” Casazza is beginning a new study of prepubescent girls to take a closer look at the impact of carbs on metabolic development, weight loss, and the development of bone mass.


Special Operations

Surgical teams strive to work as one in the operating theater, but a tight-knit group of physicians, nurses, and technicians at UAB takes the art to a new level. They are members of one of the U.S. Air Force’s Special Ops Surgical Teams, which are tasked with caring for special forces soldiers in mobile hospitals in inhospitable terrain. The teams were having trouble keeping their skills sharp at military hospitals, which mostly are primary care facilities. So the Air Force has moved the highly trained personnel to Level 1 trauma centers such as UAB, which sees 3,000 patients a year with injuries from car wrecks, violent crimes, and other incidents. Caring for these cases gives the team a much closer approximation of the wounds they would see in the aftermath of a battle. Team members remain on active duty in the Air Force and do not draw salaries from UAB. Each week, the unit heads for Birmingham’s Ruffner Mountain, where they practice transporting their mobile hospital over the steep, rocky trails and setting it up in the field.

 


Living Tribute

rosebowlAlabamian Daniel Brannon, who was killed in a car wreck in 2009, received a unique memorial during the 2012 Rose Parade in Pasadena, California. Brannon was one of 72 organ donors from across the country whose image was captured in flowers on the Donate Life float. Brannon’s portrait, re-created in petals, was sponsored by the Alabama Organ Center and UAB Hospital. The work was partly done in Pasadena and then completed at a decorating event at UAB Hospital on December 9, 2011. Daniel’s parents, sister, and brothers all made the trip to Pasadena to watch the parade.


All American

With a $66.8-million grantthe largest in UAB’s history—the School of Dentistry will lead a nationwide effort to improve America’s oral health. The seven-year grant from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research will create the National Dental Practice-Based Research Network, consolidating three regional networks, with UAB serving as its headquarters. The network will involve community dentists in research addressing the day-to-day issues they face with patients, enabling dentists to propose research studies and help conduct them in their offices. An expanded focus on oral care could also help dentists identify the initial signs of heart disease, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and osteoporosis, which could help patients with early prevention and treatment.

 


Sewing Circle

quiltersTraditions intertwined when quilters from Alabama’s Gee’s Bend and mud-cloth makers from the African nation of Mali served as joint artists-in-residence at UAB’s Alys Stephens Center in November. The artisans worked side by side for a week, demonstrating their crafts for visitors and offering tips and advice during hands-on quilt-making sessions. The event was part of the ASC’s World on Stage Festival.


Stormy Weather

A trio of time-traveling Victorian explorers earned top billing in UAB Theatre’s production of On the Verge in February, but the show’s on-stage snowball fight and other eye-popping effects also earned raves at the Alys Stephens Center. The physically strenuous show required actresses to wield machetes, carry heavy backpacks, and dance. The toughest challenge, however? Wearing a corset, the actresses agreed.


Nerve Centers

UAB will help chart the course of neuroscience research as an inaugural member of NeuroNEXT, a new NIH-sponsored consortium created to rapidly advance groundbreaking treatments for neurological disorders. Twenty-five institutions will join forces as “a conduit for translational research—taking new discoveries from the laboratory bench and translating them into patient therapies,” says L. Burt Nabors, M.D., professor of neurology and principal investigator for UAB. “The networks should speed the process and make it easier to launch clinical trials of promising new medications and more quickly gauge their effectiveness.”

 


 

Tornado Season

helmetPreparing for a tornado usually means grabbing a weather radio and heading for the safest part of the house. But researchers at the UAB Injury Control Research Center (ICRC) recommend adding another piece of equipment to the prep list: a helmet. Previous research has shown that most tornado-associated injuries and deaths result when people or solid objects become airborne, say ICRC researchers. At least 11 of the 21 fatalities in Birmingham’s Jefferson County from the tornadoes of April 27, 2011, resulted from head or neck injuries, according to the county medical examiner’s office. The ideal helmet would be a racing-style motorcycle helmet with a face shield, the researchers say, but any structurally sound helmet will do, including a bike helmet, hardhat, or football or baseball helmet.

 

 


eatrightLoss Leaders

Shoppers at Birmingham-area Piggly Wiggly supermarkets can now get expert advice on filling their carts. In a partnership with UAB’s EatRight weight management program, Piggly Wiggly has placed large green fork icons next to foods that get the seal of approval from UAB nutritionists. The EatRight by UAB Nutrition Guidance System currently flags some 400 “Eat More Often” foods; plans call for up to 5,000 fork-friendly signs per store within a year.

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