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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Dengue Fever, Glass Ceilings, and Starting Over "Up on the Roof"

     I was heading toward a fun, frolicky look at this cool Christmas tree "pushing through the roof" in Boise, Idaho, for the last PEOTS post of the year (both similar to and different from the banana plant pushing through the Lyman conservatory roof at Smith College):

         But, then my incredible daughter and I got together yesterday. She shared some of the important research going on in Dengue Fever, a mosquito-borne illness.

      Zoë's semester in Costa Rica is pointing her to a career in immunology. Here's her list of classes this upcoming senior semester: 1) Infectious Diseases, 2) Virology, 3) Biological Anthropology, 4) Psychological Anthropology, and 5) her Capstone course on her experience learning about Dengue Fever.

      This December, 2014, research describes the promise of a new Dengue Fever vaccine based on a certain antibody found in the blood of some people with Dengue: 

       "The researchers spotted the new group of antibodies while they were studying blood drawn from patients who picked up dengue infections in south-east Asia. They found that about a third of the immune reaction launched by each patient came from a new class of antibodies. Instead of latching on to a single protein on the virus surface – as usually happens – the new group of antibodies latches on to a molecular bridge that joins two virus proteins together. When antibodies bind to viruses, they make them targets for attack from the wider immune system.

       In tests described in the journal Nature Immunology, the researchers found that the newly identified antibodies were highly effective at fighting the dengue virus in mosquitoes and in patients. But more surprising, and useful for a vaccine, they also neutralised all of the different forms of the germ."

      Dengue symptoms are illustrated here in the febrile, critical and recovery phases:

          Dengue Fever kills upwards of 22,000 people a year so developing a vaccine is critical.


         One of the most important parts of preventing the spread of Dengue is to spray potential mosquito breeding grounds. 

          This brand new mosquito reporting ap (December 28, 2014) allows Costa Ricans to report areas of potential mosquito-breeding grounds. Prevention of mosquito growth is a huge part of containing the disease and reducing epidemics. 

          Dengue Fever outbreak areas, as we've discussed here before, are expanding from equatorial areas, including some cases in the south and midwest United States.   

         To bring things full circle, sometimes you break through the glass ceiling. . .

and sometimes you just start again on the top of the ceiling/roof. Zoë will figure out a way. Watch out, Dengue Fever

        Happy New Year, Zoë, and PEOTSians All!  

All the best for 2015!


        My friends know me well; this arrived  Saturday (with a mazarine pashmina):

      Truly TEAR-able; take one for the road:

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

From Deep Outer Space to Deepest Ocean Trenches AND in Between: "Carp in the Bathtub"

     This December has brought discoveries and images from Deep Space and the International Space Station:

to the New Snailfish in the Deepest Sea of the Marianas Trench

          And in between these depths is the discovery and revelation that carp spend time swimming in the bathtubs of families in Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland, Austria, Germany and other central European countries. They swim in the bathtubs as a precursor to being served as Christmas dinner, according to NPR.

       My son's girlfriend is from the Czech Republic. She confirms that her grandmother had various carp swimming in her bathtub over the years to "clean them out." Linda says that she loves the taste of fried carp, after soaking it in milk and salt, and served with a special potato salad. She did say it was harder to eat some of the fish than others (due to the "pet factor").

      Oh, I may as well say it now: "Carpe Diem!" and "Merry Christmas Eve Eve." Do you have special holiday traditions that involve anything swimming in your bathtub?

        Here's to deep discoveries and long traditions of whatever holiday you celebrate. 

And no deep carping! ;-)

Beautiful Christmas Eve Morning here:

          The dogs, Maizie and Stella, are here but they're not raining (more like reigning;-)). 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Clam to Clam: "Don't Make Me Put My Foot Down!" or "Bivalve, Will Travel"

          Part of today's True North map looked like an open clamshell:

          [Maizie and I have been putting in extra semi-circular walks gearing up for watching a friend's energetic dog over Solstice-Christmas.]

          And then, just like that, the tide and other things nautical, such as puns, came in: "Don't make me put my foot down!" 

           These molluscs were likely quite similar to the clams which first appeared 510 million years ago during the Cambrian period.

            Some clams were opalized (or replaced with hydrated silica), as in these particularly magnificent Australian specimens:

                 The gemmy clams and other molluscs are full of fire, 

though, lately, I've been thinking of having a few of these ON the fire:

          Hmmmm, an ocean trip with some clammy companions?! That's my idea of steamy ;-). Would enjoy your clam tales of any sort. I am putting my foot down about putting my feet up. . .

Clamming up now (it's almost Wednesday here),


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Sparkling Sphalerite or "Ruby Jack" or "Black-Jack:" What do you Zinc?

     I've been zincing a lot since last week's PEOTS about Smithsonite or zinc spar. Sphalerite (Zn, Fe)S or zinc sulphide follows next in the zinc mineral series, alphabetically, chemically, and in "sparkliness" or fire. In fact, the red-orange gemmy quality Sphalerite, known to miners as "Ruby Jack," has a dispersion index three times that of diamond:

          Faceted Sphalerite surely rivals Diamond. However, the hardness of only 3.5 to 4.0 (vs. Diamond's 10) makes it too delicate for rings or bracelets. But, wow! What fire!

      Sphalerite comes from a Greek word meaning deceptive or treacherous. When the iron content of Sphalerite is high, it is quite black in color (referred to as "Black-Jack" by miners) causing confusion with Galena or lead ore. Both minerals have similar crystal form; the crystal structure of Sphalerite is akin to Diamond.

          And, in thin section:

       Have you see sphalerite? There are some cool specimens in Franklin, New Jersey, and in the tri-state district of Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

         Another name for Sphalerite is Blende or Zinc Blende. Etymologically, it refers to "to blind or to deceive," again, from the confusion with lead ore.

    Blend(e)ing right in,

        Dispersion of most common gems showing sphalerite (red) significantly higher than diamond (blue). Anatase has the highest dispersion:


          Sunrise (not sunset) over Denver. Note the Broncos Stadium, Pepsi Center, and Coors Field all line up on a northeast /southwest line. Colfax Ave heads east-west for miles and miles. Anyone find City Park east of downtown?

       Here is a promo image for the current Denver Art Museum's "Brilliant" exhibit. That lovely yellow gem is likely citrine, a variety of quartz, with a hardness of 7, rather than sphalerite. In the interest of PEOTS research, I may need a trip to the DAM before March, 2015, to confirm.



Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Bridgmanite and Smithsonite: One Shocks, the Other Doesn't

          Bridgmanite is the most abundant mineral on earth, comprising 38 percent of earth's volume, primarily in the lower mantle at depths below 400 miles (670 km), but was just recently given a name this year.

          Bridgmanite is a magnesium iron silicate (Mg,Fe)SiO3 which shows the effect of being shocked by impact as part of a meteorite hitting the earth, as seen in this hand specimen from Australia:


          and more pronounced in thin section:


        It was named for Percy Bridgman, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist. Before being identified in a meteorite, the mineral was loosely referred to as a silicate perovskite:

          By geologic naming convention, a mineral cannot be named until actually examined in hand specimen (hard to do 400 miles deep). So, American researchers looked at a meteorite sample that had fallen in Australia in 1879 as a likely candidate for sampling material similar to this deep mantle mineral. They used a test that involved the use of a micro-focused X-ray beam in conjunction with electron microscopy. And, thus, a mineral was named in the:

      In contrast to the shocked appearance of bridgmanite, the strikingly smooth, pearly luster of smithsonite, a zinc carbonate, shows the effect of slow, undisturbed crystal growth:

           The crystals often form in grape-like clusters referred to as botryoidal:

          Zinc carbonate or zinc spar (ZnCO3) or smithsonite, was named after James Smithson, the same chemist and geologist who donated money for the Smithsonian Institution. Smithsonite has a hardness of 4.5 and a specific gravity of 4.4 - 4.5. In addition to the green, and blue-green colors, it also occurs in lustrous, pearly pink crystals:

       Though you may have guessed my favorite, the blue botryoidal, smithsonite clusters:

     How about you? Were you shocked to learn bridgmanite was only recently named? That smithsonite occurs in so many pearly, lustrous, botryoidal forms and in so many colors?

Looking forward to your often shocked and shocking comments (as well as your pearly luster),