"Our World" theme
week on "Our World" ... An update on a Hubble Space Telescope repair
... we'll tell you about a computer link that helps a paralyzed primate ... plus how dairy farmers make
sure the milk we buy is safe to drink.
SCHUKKEN: "And it really doesn't matter if you milk
by hand or you milk with a machine, or you have a thousand cows or you have two
cows, there is always a very high risk."
stories, consumer complaints — and sometimes results — on our Website of the Week, and more. I'm Art
Chimes. Welcome to VOA's science and technology magazine, "Our
Engineers this week took steps to bring the Hubble Space Telescope back to life
after a component on the orbiting observatory failed last month.
science data formatter, as it's called, has a number of housekeeping functions,
including preparing data collected by Hubble's instruments for transmission
down to Earth. It's been working nonstop since Hubble was launched in 1990.
manager Art Whipple this week said they're not sure why the device failed.
WHIPPLE: "The truthful answer is, we cannot be
certain. We can almost never be certain when things are on orbit. And once we
get the hardware back here, we'll be able to open up and get a much better
idea. I would remind everyone that this unit operated flawlessly for 18 and a
half years, which is a pretty good service time on any electronics that are
device was built with two sets of circuits, to provide a backup in case of
failure. So NASA engineers decided to switch to the backup circuit, which had
not been used or tested since the telescope went into orbit 18 years ago.
failure of the science data formatter prompted a delay in a space shuttle
flight to repair Hubble. That flight has been postponed until February at the
earliest. Astronauts will replace the science data formatter with a spare
that's been in storage as well as doing some previously planned upgrades.
presumably has many more years of useful astronomy ahead of it, but this might
be a good time to look back on what the space telescope has accomplished.
LIVIO: "I'm not sure it's even
Livio is an astrophysicist at the Space Telescope Science Institute, which
operates the Hubble telescope.
LIVIO: "Hubble contributed to all areas of
astronomy and astrophysics, and in that it is really quite unique. In many
cases, Hubble only took hints and suspicions we had about various phenomena and
turned them into facts, and in some cases, it of course brought about very big
says Hubble has given astronomers a window on the universe that they can not
get from earth-based telescopes. Of all of the discoveries made by astronomers
using Hubble, he said one is particularly notable — the discovery a decade ago of the force that drives the
acceleration of the expanding universe
LIVIO: "There is no question, I think, that
Hubble's contribution to the discovery of dark energy has been very unique, and
since the nature of dark energy, you know, is arguably the biggest question
that physics is facing today, then this contribution stands out."
ground-based telescopes are getting better all the time, Livio says there are
still advantages to putting a telescope in space, out beyond the distorting and
filtering effects of Earth's atmosphere. Certain wavelengths, like ultraviolet
light, just don't make it through the atmosphere.
LIVIO: "But more importantly is that in
visible light, which is the light we see with our own eyes, the resolution or
the sharpness of vision that Hubble has is really incomparable to anything you
can do from the ground."
reached astrophysicist Mario Livio at his office at the Space Telescope Science
Institute in Baltimore.
first of its kind study, U.S. researchers have been able to get animals to move
paralyzed muscles using an experimental device stimulated by brain cells. As VOA's Jessica Berman reports,
investigators say the research offers hope to people who are paralyzed as a
result of spinal cord injuries.
BERMAN: Using a computer device hooked up to cells
in the brains of monkeys, researchers at the University of Washington found the
primates, whose arms were temporarily paralyzed, were able to move their
immobilized muscles well enough to play a computer game.
nerves were located in the motor cortex, the area of the brain responsible for
movement. But the scientists tested other nerve cells in the brain.
Moritz is lead author of the study appearing this week in the journal Nature.
teleconference with reporters describing the work, Moritz says investigators
found that neurons that had nothing to do with movement, including those
responsible for the senses, worked just as well.
MORITZ: "We found remarkably that nearly every
neuron that we tested in the brain could be used to control this type of
stimulation. We also found that monkeys
could learn very rapidly to control newly isolated neurons in order to
stimulate their muscles.
BERMAN: Researchers say two-thirds of the neurons
they tested produced movement.
say previous research into paralysis has focused on using a computer interface
to record brain activity and to feed it into a prosthetic arm.
Ebhard Fetz, a professor of physiology and biophysics at the University of
Washington, says the new experiments are different.
FETZ: "The big strategy here is to work with
the muscles in the intact arms instead of artificial robotic arms or other
devices other people have shown can be controlled, but may not be so
BERMAN: The researchers envision paralyzed
individuals acquiring the ability to pick up a coffee mug.
say their next step is to come up with an implantable computer device without
wires, which could take years if not decades to develop before the technology
is available for human trials. Jessica Berman, VOA News, Washington.
of the great fears associated with aging is losing one's mental acuity. Scientists have been telling seniors to do
activities such as crossword puzzles to keep their brains sharp. Now some new research shows that surfing the
Internet might also keep aging synapses firing. Health reporter Rose Hoban has
HOBAN: Psychiatrist Gary Small from the University
of California at Los Angeles has been studying the brains of aging adults for
several decades. And he wanted to see what happens when seniors used the
Internet to search for information. So he looked for people who had little or
no experience with the on-line world.
SMALL: "We went out looking for what we called
'Internet-naïve people.' We knew they were out there. We knew they were older,
because that's what the studies tell us. Eventually we did find about a dozen
of them, and the next task was to just match them up with people who had had
experience, who are in the same age group and had the same level of
HOBAN: Small put the seniors into a brain scanner.
The machine reveals how blood flows throughout the brain as the person inside
it does a task.
SMALL: "It tells us how well the brain cells
are communicating, whether they're functioning or not, whether they're active
or not, we could see that throughout the brain regionally."
HOBAN: Small had subjects do searches on the
Internet. He also had them read pages from a book. He performed the scans as
they did each task.
"We found that reading a book
activated parts of the brain that you would expect, the visual cortex in the
back of the brain and areas that control language. But the Internet task had a
much greater activation throughout the brain, but only in people who had prior
Internet experience. So we saw, particularly in the frontal lobe, an area of
the brain that controls complex reasoning and decision-making, we saw a great
increase in activation in the Internet-savvy experimental subjects versus those
who are naïve."
other words, the more experience seniors had using the Internet, the more
exercise their brains got.
says seniors shouldn't be afraid of going online, and in fact, surfing the net
might be a good way for them to stay sharp.
research is published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry,
and in his new book, iBrain. I'm Rose Hoban.
If you want to keep your brain active, you might want to check out our Website of the Week; that's when we showcase interesting and innovative
week, a site that is an outgrowth of the consumer culture, which is so much a
part of the American economy, where we buy a lot of goods and services, and
where we sometimes think we're not getting the value we deserve for our
POPKEN: "Consumerist.com is a daily blog that is
dedicated to empowering, informing and entertaining the everyday consumer as he
navigates the murky and bloody waters of the marketplace."
Popken is editor of Consumerist.com, where buyers of products and services
bring their complaints and post them online.
are a wide variety of topics that consumers want to talk about online, but
Popken described the typical issue this way:
POPKEN: "The basic formula for a lot of the
complaints is: I bought something from the company, the good or service wasn't
up to the standard that I expected, and when I contacted them, they didn't
care. (laughs) And that happens over and over again."
if that's the typical complaint, the classic example was the user who tried to
cancel his account with AOL, at one time America's largest Internet service
provider. The company was notorious for making it difficult for subscribers to
cancel, so one persistent customer recorded a frustrating 20-minute
conversation with AOL. Consumerist.com posted it online, prompting the company
to change its policies.
POPKEN: "So after we posted that, it very
quickly went viral, and it ended up fast-tracking AOL's [response] — basically
disintegrating the subscription-based service they had been known for and
making them a lot more responsive to peoples' requests to cancel their
also includes a variety of consumer news, including notable bargains every day
and, more often in this economy, news of retail chain businesses reducing
operations or shutting down entirely.
out a different side of American consumer culture at Consumerist.com, or get
the link to this and more than 200 other Websites of the Week from our site,
Stephane Hirondelle — "Bio Technology "
consuming passion is VOA's science and technology magazine, Our World. I'm Art
Chimes in Washington.
was World Food Day, an annual observance of the UN's Food and Agriculture
Organization. The group says rising food prices have plunged an additional 75
million people below the hunger threshold, bringing the estimated number of
undernourished people worldwide to more than 900 million.
many people who live in cities, food has little connection with the farms. So
it might be something of a shock to see a farm not just in the shadow of New
York's skyscrapers, but floating on a barge in the Hudson River. But there it
is! The science barge is about sustainable agriculture and teaching kids how
food is grown. VOA's Adam Phillips has more in a story we originally broadcast
PHILLIPS: Ted Caplow stands on the deck of a barge
that's like no other on the New York waterfront. Part high-tech farm, part
laboratory, and part floating classroom, the New York Sun Works' Science Barge
sports solar panels, wind turbines, a couple of greenhouses and other gear
aimed at demonstrating sustainable agriculture in one of the world's most
Science Barge project, which is set to launch next month, aims to show how
urban areas like New York can support agriculture using recycled water and
CAPLOW: "And the purpose of this project is to
demonstrate that growing food in the city is good for the environment in a
number of ways. When we grow food out in the country, we use a tremendous
amount of water and land and fertilizers. And all these things have a large
impact on the environment in the countryside. By moving food production into
the city, we save a lot of land and, at the same time, we bring the food closer
to the consumer. So we avoid the environmental and monetary costs of trucking
food often thousands of miles from the field to the dinner plate."
PHILLIPS: There's not a lot of vacant land in
Manhattan that would be suitable for farming. But Caplow says that farms don't have
to be on ground level.
CAPLOW: "There is a lot of space up on the
roof. In New York City for example, we have approximately 5,000 hectares of
available space just on existing rooftops. That is space that is open to the
sky, so there's plenty of sunlight where we can grow vegetables. But we can't
grow vegetables in the city the same way we'd grow them out in the
PHILLIPS: On a traditional farm, there is one
horizontal surface where plants are grown. It's the surface of the earth
itself. But the Science Barge folks say many crops can be grown in containers
stacked one atop the other, somewhat like a high-rise apartment building. Sun
Works greenhouse director Jenn Nelkin says this is a good way to grow certain
NELKIN: "So instead of having just a horizontal
row of plants, here I have 40 plants instead of one that might take up that
same square foot space if we were growing everything horizontally. So we'll be
growing our basil and parsley and edible flowers. This is [also] a great system
for strawberry production. So that's to get some vertical space out of short
PHILLIPS: An abundance of other crops, including
tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, and other vegetables are flourishing in the New
York Sun Works greenhouses. They're grown using hydroponic technology where the
roots are immersed in trays of nutrient rich water, not soil.
water itself comes either from rainwater stored in an onboard tank, or from the
Hudson River itself. Sun Works staff member Viraj Puri explains that the river
water is purified and desalinated by a reverse osmosis machine.
: "You pump water up, a lot of
pressure builds up and it is passed through a membrane. It separates the salt
from the water and the brine goes back into the water."
PHILLIPS: This machinery and sophisticated
environmental control devices and computers, are powered by wind turbines,
solar power, and bio-diesel fuel made from used cooking oil from city
restaurants. But high productivity and new technology are only part of the
project's mission. New York Sun Works director Ted Caplow says the barge is
also a floating classroom that will educate Big Apple youngsters about how food
is actually produced.
CAPLOW: "The joke about New York City kids is
that they think that tomatoes grow in the supermarket and all the food just
comes from the shelf somewhere. It's a joke but a lot of times it's pretty
close to the truth! So this is a wonderful way for kids to understand where
food comes from and what a plant needs to grow and how that works."
PHILLIPS: I'm Adam Phillips reporting from New
from New York City we move about 300 kilometers to the northwest, for a story
about the healthfulness of the food we consume.
about the safety of milk and other dairy products spiked recently after we
learned that Chinese milk producers were adulterating milk, and exporting much
of the tainted product.
of infants were sickened and several died after getting formula made with the
health officials say the problem has been corrected, but the incident
underscores the importance of milk safety systems.
Cornell University's veterinary college, researchers are working with local
dairy farmers to keep bacteria and other contaminants out of the U.S. milk
supply. Reporter Véronique LaCapra has the story.
LaCAPRA: New York State is home to more than 6,000
dairy farms, with cow herds ranging in size from just twenty to several
thousand. In a state that produces almost 5.5 billion liters of milk each year,
milk safety is a top priority.
Schukken is the director of Cornell University's milk quality program. His
staff goes out to dairy farms, checks milking equipment, and takes milk
samples. Laboratories then analyze the milk for bacteria and other pathogens.
SCHUKKEN: "And then once we have the results of
both equipment and milk, our veterinarians help the farmers improve the
situation: prevent new cases and solve the current problems."
LaCAPRA: One particular problem for dairy cattle is a
bacterial infection called mastitis.
SCHUKKEN: "Mastitis is a worldwide issue. Every
place I have worked and that's Asia, Africa, Europe, America, South America,
mastitis is typically the number-one problem of dairy farmers. And it really
doesn't matter if you milk by hand or you milk with a machine or you have a
thousand cows or you have two cows, there is always a very high risk."
LaCAPRA: Mastitis causes an inflammation of the
mammary glands in a cow's udder. The milk from an untreated cow is still
relatively safe to drink, but it's full of white blood cells that form
unappetizing clots and flakes, and that make the milk go sour more quickly. The
more cells in the milk, the lower the price that farmers can get for it — too many
cells, and they can't legally sell it at all.
SCHUKKEN: "The biggest cost is loss of milk, loss
of production, and the loss of the cow. Approximately ten percent of cases are
so severe that the cow will either die or won't come back into good production
LaCAPRA: In most cases, though, mastitis can be
treated with antibiotics. Since U.S. law prohibits antibiotic residues in milk
for human consumption, dairy farmers have to throw away the milk a cow produces
during treatment — yet another cost of the infection.
SCHUKKEN: "Well, we prefer to prevent it."
LaCAPRA: And the best way to prevent mastitis is
surprisingly simple: keep the cows clean.
SCHUKKEN: "So the hygiene of the stalls, the
hygiene of the pasture that the cows go to, the cleaner the better,
LaCAPRA: Since most U.S. farmers now milk their cows
by machine instead of by hand, the hygiene of the milking machine — and the
cow's udder — is also critical.
SCHUKKEN: "In the U.S. we require that before
milking, the teats get disinfected with some sort of a chemical disinfectant
like iodine and then they're cleaned before the unit - the milking unit is put
onto the cow."
SCHUKKEN: "You can actually hear the
LaCAPRA: With a hose attached to each of the cow's
teats, the milking machines mimic the motions of hand milking:
SCHUKKEN: "Left-right, left-right, left-right so
this is the continuous dance of the unit, of suction to get milk out, and
massaging to release fluids and all that from the teat-end if you have this
nice rhythmic noise, it means things are working well."
LaCAPRA: At the Sunnyside dairy in Genoa, New York,
2,800 cows are milked three times a day, producing more than 100,000 liters of
the milking parlor, the cows — about a hundred at a time — file into stalls on
two, long, elevated platforms, which are separated by a wide center aisle.
Workers move quickly down the stalls, cleaning the cows' teats and attaching
the milking hoses.
SCHUKKEN: "It's five people having to do about
fifty-two stalls. We like to milk one side of the parlor in about fifteen
minutes, so it's all a game of time. One side, four times an hour, so that
means they're milking 400 cows an hour, eight hours a day, so it's a continuous
rotation here, to be able to milk the cows all the time you need to have a very
LaCAPRA: From the milking parlor, the milk is
collected and stored in large refrigerated tanks, called bulk tanks. Each tank
holds about forty-five thousand liters of milk.
SCHUKKEN: "It's stirred continuously, so if you
take a milk sample from the top — there is a little ladder here, and there is
an opening in the top — if you take a milk sample from the top and it's quite a
good representation of the total milk in the farm."
LaCAPRA: By collecting less than 100 milliliters from
the bulk tank, dairies can reliably test their milk for bacteria, viral
diseases, and food safety pathogens. The system is efficient, inexpensive — and
SCHUKKEN: "We're developing it in collaboration
with the Department of Homeland Security because the same infrastructure can be
used to monitor for any nasty disease that comes into the country."
LaCAPRA: As a means of ensuring milk safety, Ynte
Schukken sees a lot of promise in the bulk tank monitoring system — for
individual dairies, and for milk-producing countries worldwide. For Our World,
I'm Véronique LaCapra.
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