Making progress.

BunsenBwog had been stowed away in the metaphorical chemistry stock room over winter break, but science doesn’t take a holiday. Instead, Columbia’s tireless teams of professors and (let’s be honest) mostly graduate students have been toiling away during the winter months, presumably synthesizing the most chemically pure hot chocolate you’ve ever tasted. In reality though they were up to some cool stuff, and you can look forward to left brain correspondent Zach Kagan’s roundup every Saturday:

  • Dr. Kleiman’s group at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health found a connection between epilepsy medication and the development of cataracts.  Antiepileptic drugs alterthe way glutamate receptor proteins operate in the brain, but it turns out that the eye’s lens has similar glutamate receptors that are also affected. Not to be outdone, the Medical Center also had a pioneering discovery which challenges accepted knowledge about esophageal cancer. Barrett’s esophagus- which is a pretty gross disease despite sounding like a west coast sandwich shop- is strongly connected to esophageal cancer. It was believed that Barrett’s esophagus was caused by the lower esophagus, but new research using very unlucky genetically altered mice reveals it’s actually caused by stem cells frenzied up by all sorts of acidic fluids. Medicine is icky.
  • Still trying to lose that holiday season gut? Can’t resist a little extra dessert at John Jay? Well, instead of blaming yourself- and why should you, you lovely Bwog-reader you – blame your parents. After all they gave you that rotten CD36 gene that makes you predisposed to craving fat rich foods according to a new study led by Columbia professor Kathleen Keller. Her goal is to use this data to make healthy food that fools the brain into thinking it’s full of delicious fat, and while it’s a noble goal, Kathleen, we’ve just been hurt too many times.
  • There’s no doubt that NYC uses a lot of energy, but a team of Columbia engineers set out to find just how much. Professor Vijay Modi created an energy map of the city that graphically displays how big our energy bill is, and it’s a doozy: “Midtown Manhattan has more energy use than the whole country of Kenya, and New York state uses more energy than all of sub-Saharan Africa,” said Modi. Take a look at the map yourself here.
  • Every now and then Bunsenbwog salutes efforts made in the softer sciences, and this is an idea worth some sort of vigorous hand gesture.  Columbia econ professor Brenden O’Flaherty has proposed that Calgary solve its homelessness problem by paying people not to be homeless. The idea is that a stipend to everyone who rents or owns a home will reward people for keeping roofs over their heads. The money has to come from taxpayers somewhere, so it remains to be seen how much O’Flaherty  can motivate people with their own money.

Tenured Columbia faculty member via Wikimedia Commons.