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The california aggie

Science &Technology

wednesday, may 16, 2012 3

Putting Mad Cow Disease in perspective Related health risks in the US are extremely small, experts say By BRIAN RILEY Aggie Science Writer

A cow in central California was recently discovered to have a rare degenerative neurological disease. Tests showed that the cow had a “sporadic” form of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). The discovery caused concern after the initial, unconfirmed tests were reported because there is a “classical” form of BSE, which has killed over 200 people worldwide since 1996. No human deaths have ever been linked to the sporadic form of BSE. Both forms of BSE are also called “Mad Cow Disease” by the general public, since cows that contract the disease lose normal neural functioning. Sporadic BSE occurs seemingly at random, possibly by genetic mutation, but does not transmit between animals. “It’s a single animal and they [the sporadic cases] happen in different places around the world in random events,” said James Cullor, who is a professor in the department of pop-

Brain with severe vCJD


ulation health and reproduction in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Classical BSE is unique in that it is not transmitted by viruses or bacteria, but rather by proteins called

“prions.” “The normal form of the protein in the brain loses its structural integrity and begins to take on a different

See COW, page X

Simple flash-heating method accessible in sub-Saharan Africa Aggie Science Writer

A simple but effective method of flash-heating breast milk can inactivate the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), according to a new study led by UC Davis researchers. The study looks at the feasibility of reducing the transmission of the AIDS-causing virus from HIV-infected mothers to their infants in sub-Saharan Africa, a limited-resource area. Though the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that these mothers flash-heat their breast milk, they do not outline any specific processes for a mother in a developing country to do so; this study is the first to examine feasible methods for mothers in low-resource areas.

“Flash-heat is a simple process for a mother to do in her home when she doesn’t have any equipment or a thermometer,” said Kiersten IsraelBallard, a former doctoral student at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health and part of the study’s research team. Flash-heating, a type of pasteurization method, can be done using very little resources. It involves a mother manually expressing her milk into a glass jar, which is then placed into a pan filled with water. The mother, using whatever means available to her, then heats the water in the pan to a boil. Once it boils, she removes the jar to cool. “What that has done is brought the milk usually to around 70 degrees, which is enough to inactivate

Mother, Rukia, breastfeeding her son Hussein in Tanzania.

HIV,” Israel-Ballard said. The study showed that women in resource-poor and urban Dar es Salaam, Tanzania could follow this treatment protocol an average of 10 weeks. According to the statistician on the study, Janet Peerson of the UC Davis Program in International


and Community Nutrition, 100 women made up the sample size, with an estimated one-third willing to participate in flash-heating. “[In the study] 51.4 percent of HIV-infected mothers whose infants tested

See HIV, page X

Turn up the volume Start-up company from UC Davis ventures into the world of headphones By ERIC C. LIPSKY Aggie Science Writer

A new start-up company has emerged from UC Davis and is looking to make a name for itself in the world of consumer technology. The company’s name is Dysonics, and it is the result of work done by a UC Davis professor and an alumnus of the College of Engineering. The product the company is aiming to sell is one that most college students use daily: headphones. “Everybody is now using headphones with mobile devices; their usage is exploding,” said Ralph Algazi, professor emeritus in the department of electrical and computer engineering and founder of Dysonics. The company was founded in 2011 with the help of the Engineering Technology Transfer Center (ETTC) at UC Davis and is looking to provide a better experience for headphone users by providing a dynamic rather than static sound. “Commonly, when wearing headphones the sound follows your head movements,” Algazi said. “This is not what happens without headphones, where the sound that was in front

Comics & physics


Reducing active HIV in breast milk feasible, according to new study By RACHEL KUBICA

special about hitting pavement that will kill a person more than anything else that will take your speed from 100 mph to 0 mph. Compare that to a scene Amy in the recent Avengers Stewart movie. Toward the end of the movie, the Incredible Hulk is hanging off the windows near the top of a building and must catch [name redacted], who is in a freefall toward the ground. The Hulk reaches up, grabs the person, then continues going down, but ast Saturday, I was one more slowly. Why? Well, going from of the about 10 million 100 mph to 0 mph in less people who saw The than a second may be Avengers in theater in its second weekend. I won’t go deadly, but decelerating that same amount in into a review of the movie 10 seconds would impart here, though I will say that I thought it was a lot of fun a lower force (slower deceleration means smalland if you have the time er force). The Hulk and and money, go see it. [name redacted] still hit The thing about superthe ground fairly hard, but hero movies is that there much softer than if [name has to be a suspension of disbelief when it comes to redacted] had hit the ground without help. Thus, certain premises behind this impact the movwas actually ie — no, That’s fine, too. Everyone survivable. gamma This rays would has a different threshold for seems like not turn believability a lot of nita guy into picking for a huge a movie feagreen monster. We all know that; turing a genius in a flying metal suit and a World War let’s move on. II super soldier being froOnce those premises zen for decades, but it’s acare set up and once the tually important to decide directors have a universe to work with, they need to which plot points have to have a suspension of disbestay with the reality and lief and at which points we physics of that universe. have to say, “That’s just riThe new Avengers movdiculous.” ie does this surprisingThe fact is that we can’t ly well, better than most other comic book movies suspend our disbelief for all of it. Maybe most peoI’ve seen. ple don’t think through That wasn’t always the the physics to the extent case. In the old Superman that I’ve written here, but movies, it was a relativethere’s still a subconscious ly common occurrence for love interest Lois Lane to go doubt in our mind. These doubts can distract from tumbling out the window the story, which can make of a high-rise building and Superman to swoop up and it less effective. There were a few small catch her. things in The Avengers I From a physics standcould nitpick. For exampoint, there’s a very big ple, Scarlett Johansson’s problem with doing that. Technically, it’s not the fall character (Black Widow) is tied to a chair and managthat kills you — it’s when es to break it apart by getyou hit the ground. That’s ting to her feet and bodybecause the force you feel slamming the chair into on your body is due to your speed changing from the ground. The only way for that to work is if either 120 miles per hour from Johansson actually weighed the fall to zero miles per the same as a wrestler or if hour in less than a second the chair was made of bal(deceleration). sa wood. Now let’s go back to Then again, sometimes Superman and Lois Lane. the audience just wants to Lois Lane is hurtling toward the ground faster than watch an awesome fight a person today would drive scene and/or explosion. That’s fine, too. Everyone their car on the freeway. has a different threshold for Superman flies up to her, believability. reaches out his arms and However, directors catches her just before she should keep in mind that splats into the pavement breaking the laws of physbelow. ics too much can distract The problem? Lois Lane not only from the story, is still decelerating from about 100 miles per hour to but even the best choreo0 miles per hour in about a graphed fight scene. Good second. Since he is the Man job on The Avengers for keeping this at least someof Steel and presumably doesn’t have huge mounds what in mind. of cushiony fat in his arms, this force would still proba- AMY STEWART can be reached at bly kill her. There’s nothing

Typical earbuds college students might wear

of you will be behind you if you turn around.” One of the problems that some headphones have is that they try to adapt sounds from loudspeakers over to headphones, leading to a product that is not creating a truly tailored experience. Algazi’s technology seeks to change that. “The technology is not aimed at the reproduction of sound and music over loudspeakers and then adapted to headphones,” Algazi said. “It is designed specifically for presentation over headphones.” According to Algazi, part of the reason why the headphones are good is due to new miniature sensors that have been made


available by technological advancements. What you experience with our technology is much closer to the sound you would hear when not wearing headphones,” Algazi said. Algazi said the company has reached the point where it can operate on its own and is no longer dependent on the help of the ETTC. Dushyant Pathak, associate vice chancellor in the office of research, said that the ETTC is a crucial resource to companies in the early years. “Dysonics is an interesting company incubated in the ETTC,” Pathak said. “A company is in its most vulnerable state in its forma-

tive years, where capital is of concern.” According to Pathak, one of the main goals of the ETTC is to help take highquality research and bridge the gap between academics and commercialization through the University. According to the government website for the Small Business Administration (SBA), small businesses in California totaled 3.4 million in 2009. “They represent 99.2 percent of all employers and employ 51 percent of the private-sector workforce,” according to the SBA website. According to the SBA, small businesses – like Dysonics – are crucial to California’s “health and well-being.” “It [Dysonics] is a very good example of how you can shepherd and nurture a company in a fledgling state, when it hasn’t been established yet,” said Pathak. “I have every expectation based on the early founding team that it [Dysonics] will continue to grow and be successful.” Dysonics is seeking to have the product prepared by September and is targeting portable devices. ERIC C. LIPSKY can be reached at

Tech Tips

Free, easy-to-use website creator

By RACHEL KUBICA Aggie Science Writer

In need of an easyto-use, but professional-looking website? Look no further than Weebly, a free, online website creator. Weebly is perfect for student and business users who wish to create a streamlined website without being required to know HTML or other coding. How does Weebly work? When first visiting Weebly, a user must sign up using an e-mail address. From there, users can immediately begin creating their website, registering either a free subdomain ( or a purchasable domain name (example. com). Weebly works using a “widget-based” creator, meaning users can easily drag and drop features onto their website.

Features include image slideshows, video players, polls and forums. This makes Weebly a great choice for student projects, small businesses and others inexperienced with creating a website. What else can Weebly do? Weebly has three versions of website creation: standard website creation, a designer platform and education. The designer platform is a tool for designers to create websites for clients that the clients can then easily use. Weebly for Education is a mode for teachers to easily create websites for their classes that allow students to build their own sites, submit assignments online and keep their parents up-to-date. RACHEL KUBICA can be reached at

May 16, 2012