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Lab & Field Notes

September 16, 2009

Office workers are especially persnickety about their work environments when it comes to airflow. Hui Zhang and colleagues from the Center for the Built Environment, who studied data from more than 200 office buildings, found the most common complaint was too little air movement, followed by an inaccessible thermostat, and a thermostat controlled by other people.

Urban slums, where disease is quickly spread and there is next to no healthcare, are breeding grounds for global pandemics. Lee Riley from the School of Public Health and colleagues studied a slum community of 58,000 in Salvador, Brazil, and found that healthcare providers were unaware of chronic illnesses suffered by slum-dwellers until they had complications requiring a hospital stay, or died. Riley et al. say a new approach to assessing health in urban slums is urgently needed.

The human eye is better able to discern a figure’s movements from a distance if the movements are coordinated with another figure—for example, two people having a fistfight—found a team of scientists led by the dean of optometry, Dennis Levi. Their research has implications for how we interpret eyewitness accounts of crimes, because it shows the human eye is more reliable at perceiving distant, hard-to-see action than previously thought.

Berkeley materials science professor Miquel Salmeron is measuring friction on the nanoscale using a scanning tunneling microsope (which has a sharp probe instead of a lens) with a tip just one atom across. Eventually, scientists will be able to use these specialized microscopes to gauge friction’s impact on nanomachines—invisible to the naked eye—that might be used inside the body to destroy blood clots and cancer cells.

Could over-the-counter drugs like Tylenol and Lamasil (a nail fungus treatment) be responsible for false-positive steroids tests in athletes? Berkeley alum Bryan Sanders, a graduate of the College of Letters and Science, says they could affect levels of testosterone in the blood, used to detect steroid abuse. He warns anti-doping labs to be more cautious when interpreting positive results and exposing top athletes to public scrutiny.

Associate professor of chemistry Dean Toste has discovered in experiments using gold as a catalyst that it can act as both an acceptor and donor of electrons, meaning it will be useful in producing chemicals with left or right "handedness." Many drugs come in both right- and left-handed forms, but only one form works in the body. Gold catalysts could make synthesis more efficient, producing only the effective form of a drug and not its mirror image.

Doctors who acknowledge their emotions when dealing with difficult patients are better able to treat them, found Jodi Halpern, associate professor of bioethics at the School of Public Health. Doctors often maintain a professional distance, but Halpern concluded that more effective doctors take a moment to acknowledge their anger—then listen to negative feedback and empathize with patients during "emotionally charged" interactions.

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