UAB Magazine Online Features
A New Way of Looking at Disease
By Jo Lynn Orr
The next time you reach into the medicine cabinet for some instant relief, you might want to take a moment to reconsider the long-term consequences. “When we get sick, our first inclination is to take a pill to make the symptoms go away, but that might not be the healthiest thing to do,” says UAB biologist David Kraus, Ph.D. Taking acetaminophen to reduce a fever, for example, tampers with “a highly coordinated set of physiological responses that allows our body temperature to rise in order to fight infection from foreign invaders like bacteria,” says Kraus. “If we reduce the fever, we are inhibiting finely tuned, evolved mechanisms that are useful for our health.”
These mechanisms are not restricted to fever—or disease, for that matter. The complex relationship between human health and evolutionary processes—generally studied under the name “evolutionary medicine”—has become a hot topic among scientists in a host of disciplines. Students are catching on, too. Kraus and fellow UAB biologist Jeannette Doeller, Ph.D., who are husband and wife, developed a popular course on evolutionary medicine in the Schools of Public Health and Natural Sciences and Mathematics that has seen enrollment soar from 25 students in 2003 to 150 last year.
Designing a Bridge That Lasts
By Grant Martin
America’s infrastructure is decaying. That fact was made painfully clear in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina overwhelmed the levees in New Orleans, and again in 2007, when a major Interstate bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota, collapsed into the Mississippi River, killing 13 people and injuring 145 others. Unlike the levee breaches in New Orleans, there were no extraordinary conditions on that August day—just normal, everyday traffic flow.
The cause of the I-35 tragedy was eventually traced to under-designed gusset plates. These plates, which connect truss members, were only half as thick as they should have been, based on the codes and specifications in use when the bridge was built in the 1960s. But if a 40-year-old bridge in a large metropolitan area could suddenly fail, what does that say about the hundreds of thousands of other bridges in the United States that are the same age and older?
Exploring the Limits of the Brain
By Caperton Gillett
Descartes's concept of how sensations travel from the extremities to the brain
At least, that’s what most of us probably think. And many of the world’s most illustrious thinkers have agreed. The exact relationship between the human brain and the human mind has been debated by philosophers throughout the ages. Plato and Aristotle fought for dualism—the idea that the mind or spirit is independent of the physical brain. Their contemporary, Parmenides, argued the case for monism: that body and spirit are one and the same.
Over the years, Plato, Aristotle, and their dualistic successor, Descartes, have undoubtedly had the upper hand. But ever since the 1920s, when science began to take a keen interest in the subject, the tables have turned. Sort of.
Forensic Program Trains Scientific Sleuths
By Claire L. Burgess
Lawyers, police officers, and doctors used to nab all the professional glory on prime-time television. That is, until 2000, when CSI: Crime Scene Investigation debuted with an addictive blend of thrilling plotlines and scientific wizardry and quickly became a runaway hit. Now you can find forensic scientists all over the cable box, including dramas such as Bones and Dexter and reality shows such as Forensic Files.
Science geeks have become crime-fighting superheroes—only in lab coats and protective eyewear instead of spandex and capes. And by generating massive exposure for a previously little-known profession, these shows are actually performing a public service. Forensic science is one of the fastest-growing jobs in the country; the need for trained investigators is projected to grow 31 percent by 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
A few seasons’ worth of CSI won’t prepare anyone for the reality of criminal forensics, however. For that, interested parties can turn to the innovative new bachelor’s degree in forensic chemistry offered by the UAB Department of Chemistry, one of only a handful of programs in the country offering similarly in-depth training.