UAB Magazine Online Features
UAB Scientist Offers New Views of Space
By Jennifer Ghandhi
More than 800 million miles from Earth, the space orbiter Cassini is busy shooting pictures of the planet Saturn and its moons. Thousands of these in-flight images are available online on Cassini’s home page—but the spacecraft’s oeuvre includes many recordings that cannot be appreciated with human eyes alone. They’re snapshots of data gathered by an onboard instrument called the Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph (UVIS), which records measurements of reflected UV light that is invisible to humans. On Earth, UV rays can be harmful, but in space, UV data is immensely useful to astronomers measuring the composition of distant planets.
Right now, NASA scientists don’t have a way to effectively interpret the UVIS data Cassini is relaying, so they’ve tapped UAB physicist Perry Gerakines, Ph.D., to help. He was awarded a three-year, $408,000 grant to create thin, icy films of materials thought to be on Saturn’s moons and then analyze them with a custom-built UVIS of his own. “We’re going to measure these spectra—the way different compounds absorb and reflect light—in the hopes that we can use them to interpret the spectra we see from the icy moons on the rings of Saturn,” Gerakines says.
Training Dentists to See the Whole Patient
By Doug Gillett
Mark LaGory and Michael McCracken
Cavities, fillings, plaque buildup, gum disease—dentists in training have a lot to learn about potential problems in the mouth. But at the UAB School of Dentistry, lessons no longer end at the lips. Students now evaluate a host of issues not normally considered part of routine dental care: What other health problems do patients have that might be associated with their dental problems? What aspects of their lifestyles might be contributing factors? And, depending on their socioeconomic status, will they have access to the follow-up care they’ll need down the road?
This new holistic approach can be summed up in three words that are heard frequently around the dental school these days: “the whole patient.” The idea is that patients aren’t just mouths to be worked on but rather whole bodies that are unique members of a diverse society. This is the focus of an innovative new course, “Dentistry and Dental Health: Socio-cultural Factors,” that examines the links between dentistry and daily life.
UAB Forges Healthy Bonds
By Charles Buchanan
It’s known worldwide as the home of the samba, but in recent years Brazil has been showing off some bold new moves. South America’s biggest country now has one of the world’s largest economies and it is stepping further into the spotlight with increased exports and investments.
The nation’s ascent to the economic stratosphere is being helped by puffs of smoke. As the global tobacco industry has shifted to developing countries, Brazil has become the world’s second largest producer of tobacco. In the south of the country, where most tobacco farms are located, small growers are often “totally dependent” on tobacco companies that co-sign their loans, says UAB preventive medicine expert Isabel Scarinci, Ph.D. In this atmosphere, tobacco use is prevalent, she explains, and girls are taking up the habit in particularly high numbers.Scarinci, a native of Brazil, says it can be hard to convince women there of the dangers of smoking and other risky health behaviors; it doesn’t help that tobacco-company advertisements portray smoking as a form of empowerment. But Scarinci’s work in Birmingham and in Alabama’s Black Belt has taught her effective methods for reaching out to at-risk populations. Now she is leading two major UAB research initiatives in her home state of Parana, and amid the farmland of that southern region she is finding fertile ground for more partnerships in research and education.
UAB Team Tracks a Forgotten People
By Claire L. Burgess
After years of isolation and poverty, Alabama’s MOWA Choctaw tribe is reclaiming its roots—with the help of UAB alumna Jacqueline Matte and UAB anthropologist Loretta Cormier.
Thirty years ago, UAB alumna Jacqueline Matte went out to the Choctaw reservation in southwest Alabama in search of a story. What she found has haunted her ever since, fueling decades of interviews, investigations, and heartache. Nine years ago, UAB anthropologist Loretta Cormier, Ph.D., joined the struggle. Separately and together, Matte and Cormier have fought through swamps both literal and legal, seeking clues to one of the great vanishing acts in Alabama history. It is no easy task; after all, they are looking for a people who haven’t wanted to be found for more than 150 years.
The Alabama Choctaw lived in poverty and isolation until the 1940s, when they began sending some of their children to Indian schools in other states because their own were not accredited. When those educated children came home, they led the tribe out of isolation and into the public eye, launching a campaign for state recognition. In 1979, they officially became the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians, the first recognized tribe in Alabama. (The name MOWA comes from the tribe's location on the Mobile County-Washington County line.) The following year, the tribe began to seek federal recognition, a lengthy and involved process requiring extensive genealogical research. That is where Jacqueline Matte comes in.