THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT


WEEK IN SCIENCE: THE POWER IS YOURS!

by by Simone Landon

illustration by by Jake Schorr

This week, a lot went down in the world. At times, it seemed our planet was in peril. Gaia, the spirit of the Earth, got fed up with all the destruction, celebrity gossip and electoral politics. But when Gaia's feeling low, she can find out what's going on in science from her trusty friends the Planeteers. Kwame (Earth), Wheeler (Fire), Linka (Wind), Gi (Water) and Ma-Ti (Heart) each have the info on their respective elements. Gaia can rest easy knowing the Planeteers are her eyes and ears, and that when their powers combine, she has a nice, blue man to keep her company.

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Here come the EARTH intruders
Kwame has a reputation for his green thumb, as well as his power to shift the rocks and soil of the earth. Though paleontologists share his interest in what lies below the earth's surface, a more delicate touch than Kwame's is required on excavation sites. So they've gotten along without him and come up with some very old bones to pick over. As described in the latest issue of Nature, fossils found in sediment in the caves of northern Spain may link Western European human life to the rest of the world a million years prior to that whole mess of colonialism.
Eudald Carbonell, of the Catalan Institute of Paleontology and Social Evolution, and his team of Spanish and American scientists uncovered the 1.1 million-year-old fossils of a humanoid alongside animal bones and stone tools. Across Europe, similarly ancient tools and artifacts have been found, but never any human remains. The teeth likely belong to a Homo antecessor, a sort of proto-Neanderthal and therefore proto-human. Scientists had previously found remains of a Homo antecessor in the same Atapuerca Mountains, but they were only 800,000 years old. The scientists don't have a 100 percent positive ID on the jawbone as that of a Homo antecessor, but it is nevertheless evidence of the earliest humanoid presence in Western Europe. Sweet flat-top haircuts like Kwame's, however, are only dated to the late 1980s.

Come on baby light my FIRE

Wheeler is the Planeteer from North America (Brooklyn, specifically), and his element, fire, appropriately represents that continent's relationship to fossil fuels. While North Americans can't seem to get enough of fire, be it from the internal combustion of gasoline or coal-fired electricity, the rest of the planet wants to reduce dependency on fire--or at least make a statement about climate change.
On Saturday, March 29, the World Wildlife Fund's second annual Earth Hour took place, and cities and citizens across the world dimmed their lights for 60 minutes. The hour began at 8:00 PM local time in 27 cities from Bangkok to Chicago. The cities agreed to dim or turn off the lights on public buildings and monuments to show their capacity for limiting coal-fired electricity use. Where their hometowns weren't officially on board, people across the globe independently followed the initiative. Greg Bourne, the chief organizer of Earth Hour estimated up to 50 million people in 40 countries took part. Sydney, the spearhead city of the movement last year, was the first to dim its lights. The Opera House went dark and nearly two million residents followed suit.
While Earth Hour may not have been a statistical success--Sydney only reduced energy use by 8.4 percent for the hour, down from nearly 25 percent last year--organizers and proponents say the message is more important. Earth Hour's official website claims 20,571 businesses and almost 300,000 individuals have already officially registered to take part next year. 2009's Earth Hour will occur prior to the United Nations Copenhagen talks, where a new climate change treaty bent on reducing carbon emissions is expected.

It seems to me you lived your life like a candle in the WIND

Wind power belongs to Linka, who knows wind can ruffle a few feathers. With Linka, we visit the British Isles, where a seemingly immortal Lady occupies Britons' hearts and minds. An elderly Scottish osprey may produce her 50th egg in contribution to the perpetuation of her species. The bird--scientist observers have refrained from naming her, but let's call her Diana--returned to the Loch of the Lowes reserve last week and began nesting, sending birders (the animal kingdom's paparazzi) into a tizzy.
Ospreys, which reached near extinction in Great Britain in 1916, have steadily made a comeback thanks to intense conservation efforts. The ospreys themselves have done their share of the work. There were only five known osprey couples in 1969, but Diana and her committed partner, the reserve's resident male, have flown to mate in the reserve each year since 1991. In her 17 years at the reserve, Diana has mothered 47 chicks, the most recent three last spring. If Diana does conceive and lay eggs this year, staff at the reserve and volunteers will monitor their progress around the clock. Visitors can currently watch a live feed video of Diana and her nest.
But since her most recent return to Loch of the Lowes on Sunday, Diana has mated with an unidentified male osprey who is not her usual partner. It seems the old bird is behaving more like a spring chicken. Or perhaps there is some infidelity on her partner's side? A royally classic British he-said-she-said may ensue in the osprey community. Surely the media will speculate wildly.

Like a bridge over troubled WATER

Gi brings us troubling news from her home continent of Asia. In Indonesia, over half of the 230 million citizens do not have access to clean water, and as a result, risks for water-borne illnesses like cholera, dengue fever and malaria are the highest in Southeast Asia. The World Bank reports 1.7 million deaths around the world each year caused by lack of water sanitation. For Indonesians, getting clean water is a luxury, and, as ABC News reports, poor families can spend 25 percent of their income buying potable water.
Water also has the potential for luxury branding on the developed side of the globe. In only-in-America news, the water treatment system manufacturer Kinetico Incorporated has announced a product that will both customize and expand the ways in which Americans spend their money on and worry about the quality of their water. Where nearly every citizen has direct access to almost unlimited drinking water, the new K5 Drinking Water Station seeks to introduce levels of purity and enhancement hereforeto unknown. Shamus Hurley, Kinetico's President and CEO, told Fox Business News that the K5 is meant to "take care of the consumers' evolving water quality needs." Where the Pur or Brita filters fail, the K5 steps in to remove contaminants, add minerals, and increase water flow with its nine changeable filters. Unlike other systems, which are supposedly too slow in the filtering process, the K5 can produce 40 gallons of biopure water per day. The product is meant for private consumers to use in addition to their local government-run water filtration systems.
It is unclear whether the K5 could be of service to those exposed to unsanitary water in Jakarta's slums, but for wealthy American consumers, the K5 will ease their minds.

Young HEARTs be free tonight

Ma-Ti, the Planeteer full of Latin love and compassion for animals, brings us the latest medical news. The last communist leader of Poland, General Wojciech Jaruzelski may have recently undergone surgery to stabilize his irregular heartbeat, but doctors have yet to confirm whether or not his heart is still two sizes too small (Jaruzelski was responsible for the government repression of opposition trade union movement Solidarity in the early '80s). Though the 84-year-old's heart beats regularly now, the thought of the divisive figure causes palpitations in Poles.
Cardiac arrhythmia sufferers like Jaruzelski may have options other than surgery, however. An arrhythmia is an electrical malfunction that interrupts the rhythm of the heartbeat. Most arrhythmias occur in adults who have survived heart attacks and those with angina, due to scar tissue and lack of blood flow upsetting the heart's electrical system. However, young people with healthy hearts can be at risk for arrhythmia if they have a condition called Long QT Syndrome (LQTS). LQTS affects the intervals in between heartbeats and can be fatal if the normal functioning of the heart is disturbed. Almost 1,000 cardiac deaths a year in the US are the result of untreated LQTS.
But pharmaceutical researchers claim a solution. While developing ranolazine, a drug to treat angina, researchers noted it could also reduce the symptoms of LQTS. They also say the drug has no adverse side effects--if true, a nicer option than messy surgery. So while time is still on Jarzuelski's side, Young Poles may be able to run free, be free, live free with more options for treating heart rhythm disorders.
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Simone Landon B'10,with apologies to Björk, The Doors, Elton John, Simon &