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03/21/2000

Red Tide, Quark Soup and Nitric Oxide

We''re still on Marco Island where, supposedly, the red tide was
receding. However, everyone agrees that we''ve been coughing
on reaching certain areas along the shore. Then, yesterday, I saw
another spectacle to add to the vultures and conches mentioned
earlier (2/29/00 column). This time there were thousands of little
scallops washed up on the beach, many of them clapping their
shells like little PAC-men. The creatures were so dense that it
looked like masses of seaweed covering the beach from 10-20
yards away. Those "harmful algae" we discussed (3/14/00
column) are still around.

Following up on Viagra and nitric oxide, NO, the subjects of my
very first column (5/12/99), I couldn''t help notice the full page
color ad by Pfizer for Valentine''s Day. The ad promoted Viagra
as "an official sponsor" of Valentine''s Day! I presume that, since
the quotation marks were also in the ad, it was a tongue-in-cheek
proclamation of said sponsorship.

It turns out that the search for more effective aids to intimacy is
not the only active research area in the sexual arena. The March
2000 issue of Discover magazine had a very brief item about a
study performed by Weijmar Schultz, a gynecologist at the
University Hospital of Groningen in The Netherlands. Now, my
wife and I have spent a good deal of time in Holland, especially
in Amsterdam, and the quite open sexual ambience is obvious, an
example being the famous red light districts. In fact, the first
time we happened through one, my wife insisted on going around
again, she was so fascinated by the artistic presentations of the
ladies of the evening in the windows of their places of business.
I, of course, had little interest in such matters.

But back to science. Should I have been surprised that Weijmar
Schultz had persuaded 8 couples to engage in sexual intercourse
for his study? Perhaps not, except for the venue chosen for the
acts, namely, an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) machine. I
have had an MRI and personally find it difficult to imagine a
more uninspiring setting for a romantic tryst! Having gone this
far, I suppose I should tell you the results of this "basic science"
(Schultz''s quotes). He found that, for the conventional
"missionary" approach the male organ assumed the shape of a
boomerang, certainly a surprise to me! And, contradicting an
earlier study by Masters and Johnson, the size of the woman''s
uterus does not double in size but remains essentially constant
during the lovemaking. To tell the truth, I had not read M&J''s
work and the size of a woman''s uterus during sex was not one of
my major concerns. Weijmar assures us that this new knowledge
will help solve certain marital problems in the future.

After reading this item I thought to myself that I''d soon be
reading about studies of sex in space. It seems obvious that with
the proposed extended missions to Mars and mixed gender crews
the subject could arise. Would you believe that, only 10 pages
later in the same Discover issue, I came across an article titled
"No Space Sex?" This article did indeed indicate that NASA is
indeed concerned about "group living", not only on trips to Mars
but on extended stays in the space station.

Back to Viagra, my first column dealt with the effects of the
resulting nitric oxide, NO, in the body. The NO promotes
dilation of the blood vessels and the resulting erectile event. In
some men, a side effect of taking Viagra is a headache. Of
course, turning the pages of my same Discover magazine, I
found an article on migraine, cluster and other severe headaches.
The article quoted the opinion that elucidation of the role of NO
is the most promising area of research for understanding these
headaches.

In my earlier column, I had noted that nitroglycerin relieves the
pain of angina through the release of NO and the dilation of the
blood vessels. The Discover article states that neurologists have
known for a long time that a common side effect in certain
patients is that, within 6 hours of taking the nitroglycerin, they
develop a migraine headache. Not only does the NO dilate the
blood vessels, but also it seems to be linked to the breakdown of
the compound serotonin in the brain. "So what?" you might say.
Well, it turns out that injections of other compounds that are
known to promote breakdown of serotonin have produced
migraines in subjects who had never had migraines before. Stay
tuned - NO obviously has many more tricks up its sleeve!

One more follow-up on an earlier topic (1/18/00). By the time
you read this, I''m sure most of you will have seen or heard about
the quark-gluon "soup" generated by a nuclear research group in
Switzerland. We have discussed how the fundamental particles
the proton and neutron really aren''t as fundamental as they used
to be, but are actually made up primarily of even smaller
particles, quarks and gluons. The gluons act sort of like rubber
bands to keep the quarks from flying out of the proton or
neutron. To illustrate the effect crudely, consider two oranges
(I''m in Florida). Now place a sturdy rubber band around them,
the rubber band being just big enough to slip around them
without stretching it. In this position, the band is not exerting
any force to keep the oranges together. Now try to pull the
oranges apart. The farther apart you pull the oranges, the
stronger the force of the rubber band trying to keep them
together. As I understand it, the gluons act in much the same
way, their force getting stronger as the quarks try to fly off from
each other in the proton or neutron. Without the gluons, my
guess is we never would hang together or even have been created
in the first place! You''ll never see a free quark; the force is so
strong.

However, physicists believe that there once was a time when
there were free quarks, if only for a mere fraction of a second.
This was less than a second after the Big Bang that started
everything, when for this briefest instant there was a "soup" of
quarks and gluons, with the quarks flitting around freely.
Quickly, the gluons kicked in and protons and neutrons were
formed. For years, some physicists have thought that if ever the
super high temperatures and densities of the Big Bang could be
achieved, this primordial quark-gluon soup could result. Now, a
group of researchers at CERN in Geneva claim to have done just
that.

If you were going to try to accomplish this amazing feat what
would you do? You probably would know that in the
accelerators around the world physicists shoot things at each
other or at targets at very high speeds and energies. If the
energies are high the temperatures at the point of collision are
also high so, to get super high temperatures, you want to get the
particles really revved up. Our friend Einstein told us we can''t
shoot them any faster than the speed of light so we should just try
to get as close as possible. Having solved that problem, what do
use as our particles? Remember we want to get a high density,
so we certainly wouldn''t want to use a hydrogen nucleus, with its
single proton. Instead we would want to use something with a
lot of protons and neutrons, that is something heavy. What''s a
heavy element? Lead is certainly the heaviest material that most
of us encounter.

Of course, you''ve guessed it. The CERN group fired beams of
lead nuclei chock full of quarks and gluons at speeds close to the
speed of light. What was their target? What else, a thin foil of
lead, also brimming with quarks and gluons. On slamming the
lead nuclei into the lead foil, a temperature reportedly 100,000
times that in the center of the sun was achieved, together with a
density 20 times that of ordinary nuclear matter. To carry out
this experiment they used their 4-mile around Super Proton
Synchrotron, an impressive machine. Did they actually see the
quark-gluon soup? No, they had to rely on the painstaking
analysis of the hosts of collisions and their byproducts from
several different experiments. From their analyses, and the
presence of certain types of particles not present in your typical
experiments, they concluded that they had indeed created the
soup, if only for a fleeting moment.

Likening the CERN experiments to obtaining a whiff of the soup,
sort of like a puff of steam, workers at Brookhaven National Lab
are gearing up to make a more tangible amount of quark-gluon
soup later this year. You can see they''re going first class.
Instead of lead, they''re going to shoot gold at gold at what they
expect to be ten times the energies of the CERN work. Again,
stay tuned. There''s more excitement on the way. To have even
thought about creating conditions approaching the Big Bang is
mind boggling enough to me.

Oh, by the way, speaking of my mind, my MRI was to see if my
brain was in good order. You might be surprised, after reading
some of these columns, that I was assured it was quite normal.

Allen F. Bortrum



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-03/21/2000-      
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Dr. Bortrum

03/21/2000

Red Tide, Quark Soup and Nitric Oxide

We''re still on Marco Island where, supposedly, the red tide was
receding. However, everyone agrees that we''ve been coughing
on reaching certain areas along the shore. Then, yesterday, I saw
another spectacle to add to the vultures and conches mentioned
earlier (2/29/00 column). This time there were thousands of little
scallops washed up on the beach, many of them clapping their
shells like little PAC-men. The creatures were so dense that it
looked like masses of seaweed covering the beach from 10-20
yards away. Those "harmful algae" we discussed (3/14/00
column) are still around.

Following up on Viagra and nitric oxide, NO, the subjects of my
very first column (5/12/99), I couldn''t help notice the full page
color ad by Pfizer for Valentine''s Day. The ad promoted Viagra
as "an official sponsor" of Valentine''s Day! I presume that, since
the quotation marks were also in the ad, it was a tongue-in-cheek
proclamation of said sponsorship.

It turns out that the search for more effective aids to intimacy is
not the only active research area in the sexual arena. The March
2000 issue of Discover magazine had a very brief item about a
study performed by Weijmar Schultz, a gynecologist at the
University Hospital of Groningen in The Netherlands. Now, my
wife and I have spent a good deal of time in Holland, especially
in Amsterdam, and the quite open sexual ambience is obvious, an
example being the famous red light districts. In fact, the first
time we happened through one, my wife insisted on going around
again, she was so fascinated by the artistic presentations of the
ladies of the evening in the windows of their places of business.
I, of course, had little interest in such matters.

But back to science. Should I have been surprised that Weijmar
Schultz had persuaded 8 couples to engage in sexual intercourse
for his study? Perhaps not, except for the venue chosen for the
acts, namely, an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) machine. I
have had an MRI and personally find it difficult to imagine a
more uninspiring setting for a romantic tryst! Having gone this
far, I suppose I should tell you the results of this "basic science"
(Schultz''s quotes). He found that, for the conventional
"missionary" approach the male organ assumed the shape of a
boomerang, certainly a surprise to me! And, contradicting an
earlier study by Masters and Johnson, the size of the woman''s
uterus does not double in size but remains essentially constant
during the lovemaking. To tell the truth, I had not read M&J''s
work and the size of a woman''s uterus during sex was not one of
my major concerns. Weijmar assures us that this new knowledge
will help solve certain marital problems in the future.

After reading this item I thought to myself that I''d soon be
reading about studies of sex in space. It seems obvious that with
the proposed extended missions to Mars and mixed gender crews
the subject could arise. Would you believe that, only 10 pages
later in the same Discover issue, I came across an article titled
"No Space Sex?" This article did indeed indicate that NASA is
indeed concerned about "group living", not only on trips to Mars
but on extended stays in the space station.

Back to Viagra, my first column dealt with the effects of the
resulting nitric oxide, NO, in the body. The NO promotes
dilation of the blood vessels and the resulting erectile event. In
some men, a side effect of taking Viagra is a headache. Of
course, turning the pages of my same Discover magazine, I
found an article on migraine, cluster and other severe headaches.
The article quoted the opinion that elucidation of the role of NO
is the most promising area of research for understanding these
headaches.

In my earlier column, I had noted that nitroglycerin relieves the
pain of angina through the release of NO and the dilation of the
blood vessels. The Discover article states that neurologists have
known for a long time that a common side effect in certain
patients is that, within 6 hours of taking the nitroglycerin, they
develop a migraine headache. Not only does the NO dilate the
blood vessels, but also it seems to be linked to the breakdown of
the compound serotonin in the brain. "So what?" you might say.
Well, it turns out that injections of other compounds that are
known to promote breakdown of serotonin have produced
migraines in subjects who had never had migraines before. Stay
tuned - NO obviously has many more tricks up its sleeve!

One more follow-up on an earlier topic (1/18/00). By the time
you read this, I''m sure most of you will have seen or heard about
the quark-gluon "soup" generated by a nuclear research group in
Switzerland. We have discussed how the fundamental particles
the proton and neutron really aren''t as fundamental as they used
to be, but are actually made up primarily of even smaller
particles, quarks and gluons. The gluons act sort of like rubber
bands to keep the quarks from flying out of the proton or
neutron. To illustrate the effect crudely, consider two oranges
(I''m in Florida). Now place a sturdy rubber band around them,
the rubber band being just big enough to slip around them
without stretching it. In this position, the band is not exerting
any force to keep the oranges together. Now try to pull the
oranges apart. The farther apart you pull the oranges, the
stronger the force of the rubber band trying to keep them
together. As I understand it, the gluons act in much the same
way, their force getting stronger as the quarks try to fly off from
each other in the proton or neutron. Without the gluons, my
guess is we never would hang together or even have been created
in the first place! You''ll never see a free quark; the force is so
strong.

However, physicists believe that there once was a time when
there were free quarks, if only for a mere fraction of a second.
This was less than a second after the Big Bang that started
everything, when for this briefest instant there was a "soup" of
quarks and gluons, with the quarks flitting around freely.
Quickly, the gluons kicked in and protons and neutrons were
formed. For years, some physicists have thought that if ever the
super high temperatures and densities of the Big Bang could be
achieved, this primordial quark-gluon soup could result. Now, a
group of researchers at CERN in Geneva claim to have done just
that.

If you were going to try to accomplish this amazing feat what
would you do? You probably would know that in the
accelerators around the world physicists shoot things at each
other or at targets at very high speeds and energies. If the
energies are high the temperatures at the point of collision are
also high so, to get super high temperatures, you want to get the
particles really revved up. Our friend Einstein told us we can''t
shoot them any faster than the speed of light so we should just try
to get as close as possible. Having solved that problem, what do
use as our particles? Remember we want to get a high density,
so we certainly wouldn''t want to use a hydrogen nucleus, with its
single proton. Instead we would want to use something with a
lot of protons and neutrons, that is something heavy. What''s a
heavy element? Lead is certainly the heaviest material that most
of us encounter.

Of course, you''ve guessed it. The CERN group fired beams of
lead nuclei chock full of quarks and gluons at speeds close to the
speed of light. What was their target? What else, a thin foil of
lead, also brimming with quarks and gluons. On slamming the
lead nuclei into the lead foil, a temperature reportedly 100,000
times that in the center of the sun was achieved, together with a
density 20 times that of ordinary nuclear matter. To carry out
this experiment they used their 4-mile around Super Proton
Synchrotron, an impressive machine. Did they actually see the
quark-gluon soup? No, they had to rely on the painstaking
analysis of the hosts of collisions and their byproducts from
several different experiments. From their analyses, and the
presence of certain types of particles not present in your typical
experiments, they concluded that they had indeed created the
soup, if only for a fleeting moment.

Likening the CERN experiments to obtaining a whiff of the soup,
sort of like a puff of steam, workers at Brookhaven National Lab
are gearing up to make a more tangible amount of quark-gluon
soup later this year. You can see they''re going first class.
Instead of lead, they''re going to shoot gold at gold at what they
expect to be ten times the energies of the CERN work. Again,
stay tuned. There''s more excitement on the way. To have even
thought about creating conditions approaching the Big Bang is
mind boggling enough to me.

Oh, by the way, speaking of my mind, my MRI was to see if my
brain was in good order. You might be surprised, after reading
some of these columns, that I was assured it was quite normal.

Allen F. Bortrum