This column will be a potpourri of stuff, partly due to the fact
that I spent way too much time following the wondrous ups and
downs at the US Open at Torrey Pines. The Open was of special
interest because Rocco Mediate is from my wife’s hometown of
Greensburg, PA and some of her family or friends had contacts
with Rocco or his father. Aside from the golf in San Diego,
California made the headlines with gay men and women showing
up to be married. Appropriately, Ivanka Savic and coworkers in
Sweden also made news this past week with the publication of a
paper reporting their finding that gay men’s brains are similar to
the brains of straight women. In addition, as promised last week,
I’ll pick up on reporting the news from Mars, where Phoenix,
after a bit of difficulty dumping samples of Martian soil into an
oven, is back on track.
As reported on the JPL Web site, the Phoenix Mars Lander has
dug deeper into two trenches, labeled “Dodo” and “Goldilocks”.
Whitish material has been exposed in these trenches and the
cameras on Phoenix will monitor them closely, looking for signs
of frost or sublimation of the material, which may be the ice they
expected to find just below the surface. Phoenix has now dug
down about three inches below the surface. One of the eight tiny
ovens on Phoenix was busily baking its first soil sample over the
weekend. It will take some time to analyze the compounds
present in the vapors from the heated samples.
Is it because I’m old and a caregiver with other worries that I
can’t figure out why some people get so upset about gays
marrying? To me, it seems that the real problem today is that so
many straight men and women, especially those with children,
are not getting married or, if married, divorce at an alarming rate.
I can’t remember whether I’ve written earlier about my answer to
the gay marriage problem – it’s a simple case of semantics. Let’s
create the term “garriage” for gay marriages. A garriage would
have all the legal aspects of a marriage and, to distinguish gay
spouses from their straight counterparts, let’s call them “gouses”.
(I’m happy to find my spellchecker doesn’t accept either gouse
or garriage as words with other meanings.) I’m not familiar with
the views of gays concerning distinguishing their roles in a
committed relationship. However, if it seems necessary and/or
desirable to distinguish one from another, I suggest the terms
“gife” and “gusband”. While all this might seem a flippant
approach, it does preserve marriage as involving a man and a
woman and allows gays the benefits of marriage with the simple
substitution of a g for an m.
Scientifically, of course, the big question has always been
whether or not homosexuality is a result of some biological
feature or features or is a result of nurture. A study in the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences from the
Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden seems to favor the
former. Based on articles on the work of Savic and colleagues
by Denise Gellene in the Star-Ledger, Saylynn Boyles on
WebMD.com and James Owen on the National Geographic Web
site I gather the following.
The Swedish workers performed MRI and PET scans on the
brains of some 90 men and women comprising a mixture of gays
and heterosexuals of both sexes. It seems that, in general,
women have rather symmetrical brains when the right and left
hemispheres are compared. We men, at least we straight men, on
the other hand, have right cerebral hemispheres that are larger
than our left cerebral hemispheres. The study found that gay
men had more symmetrical brains, resembling those of straight
women. Comparing gay women with straight men, I gather that
the difference is not as profound but the gay women’s brains
were slightly asymmetrical, but not so much as the straight men’s
The scans also measured activity in certain areas of the brain,
notably the amygdala, an area that is related to emotions. Again,
the gay men’s brains showed activity similar to that in straight
women’s brains. The National Geographic Web site had pictures
of these scans and there was a striking similarity. Another
similarity, gay men and straight women have higher rates of
depressive disorders compared to straight men. The Star-Ledger
article notes that straight women generally outperform straight
men in verbal skills tests; that’s something I find absolutely true!
Apparently, gay men also outperform straight men in such tests.
Well, enough about this societal problem. Let’s turn to carbon,
an element we’ve discussed frequently. (I said this would be a
potpourri.) What caught my attention this time was an article
titled “Diamonds on Demand” by Ulrich Boser in the June issue
of Smithsonian. I’ve written before about the growth of
diamonds in the lab and about my own unsuccessful attempts at
diamond growth while at Bell Labs. Boser’s article features the
company Apollo Diamond, founded by a former Bell Labs
colleague, Robert Linares. I’ve mentioned Linares before and
Boser describes taking one of the diamonds from Apollo to a
jeweler for evaluation. The jeweler remarked on its fine quality
and said there was no way he could tell it was grown in a lab.
While seeing a picture of my old colleague and reading about his
success was interesting, what really caught my attention was
something that may be relevant to Phoenix’s search for
compounds that might indicate either present or past life on
Mars. Boser visited Russell Hemley at the Carnegie Institution’s
Geophysical Lab. I seem to recall mentioning Hemley in a
previous column; he’s also making diamonds. According to the
article he also has made a diamond, the hardest substance, even
harder, so hard it broke his hardness gauge, itself made of
diamond! Hemley is using his super-hard diamond to made
diamond anvils that can put materials under super-high pressures
4 to 5 million times ordinary atmospheric pressure.
Using this approach he’s “pressurized” various elements to an
extent that they transform into forms hitherto unachievable. For
example, under super-high pressure, hydrogen “merges” with
iron. Hemley thinks the earth’s core, thought to be mainly iron
and nickel, may actually contain an appreciable amount of
hydrogen under the high pressures in the core. What about life
on Mars or elsewhere in our solar system? Hemley also put
bacteria in water and placed the water under very high pressure.
The water transformed into a very dense form of ice. Two forms
of bacteria survived, including the familiar E. coli found in
abundance in our intestines. The article said some bacteria were
even “skittering around”. It wasn’t clear to me whether they
skittered while under pressure or after the experiment was over.
Either way, it’s quite impressive.
The point is that bacteria can survive extreme conditions and if
we don’t find any signs of life on Mars we perhaps should really
try to look into the deep oceans of moons like Europa. And,
speaking of skittering, it appears that Tiger won’t be skittering
around golf courses for some time with more knee surgery in the
cards. As Brian Trumbore and I watched the Open on Father’s
Day, we both expressed concern for Tiger’s knee and his future
and thought he should have withdrawn. Of course, had he
withdrawn, we would not have witnessed one of the greatest
David and Goliath sports battles in history. The defeated Rocco,
whose down-to-earth attitude is typical of the genuineness of
people in western Pennsylvania, can certainly hold his head high.
Of course, Tiger’s performance was nothing short of miraculous,
especially those eagle putts on Saturday to put him ahead after 54
holes, an apparent requirement for him to win a major. But hey,
I’m not chopped liver - I had four pars Tuesday in our weekly
Old Guard outing on our local 9-hole par 3 course!
Allen F. Bortrum