Cassie Rodenberg: Electron-ic Bonds


Published Work

More current writings can be found here, on Scientific American.

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How oil breaks down in water

Popular Mechanics – May 7, 2010

Initiatives to scrub the Gulf of oil are moving forward. One method includes spraying chemicals to break up and sink globs of oil before the slick spreads to the shorelines—but using chemicals to clean up the ocean is controversial because the environmental consequences are unknown. The sea has its own way of handling the problem, but researchers worry that the water’s processes won’t act fast enough to save coastal shores from damage. Of course, science informs the debate. Here’s what happens on a molecular level when oil hits ocean water.

As soon as oil hits water, the ocean begins its deconstruction. In fact, the marine environment handles oil much like a human body handles alcohol: destroying, metabolizing and depositing the excessive compounds —in oil’s case, hydrocarbons—then transforming the compounds into safer substances, says Stanislav Patin, chairman of the Aquatic Toxicology Committee under the Russian Academy of Sciences and international expert on marine pollution. Read more –

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How to reclaim land damaged by coal mines

Popular Mechanics – May 6, 2010

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced that it will put more stringent restrictions on mountaintop-removal coal mining, capping the allowed salinity levels and metal and mineral content of waterways near mines. While the main environmental concern of mountaintop mining has been the aftereffects on the watershed and downstream runoff, there is a consequence that is often ignored: restoring mined lands left vulnerable to landslides, floods and growth dead zones. To bring back stable forests and traditional ecosystems that are safe for surrounding land and homes, scientists, environmental groups and coal companies are using software tools and simple gardening techniques that best fit a geographic region’s troubled landscape. Read more –

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How to make telescope lenses to spot for black holes (for cheap)

Popular Mechanics – May 4, 2010

NASA has a proven track record of space imaging prowess—the success of the Hubble and Kepler telescopes in capturing the farthest reaches of space proves this. The problem? Hubble alone has cost about $9.6 billion to taxpayers since its launch in 1990. In short, telescopes are expensive. So how can NASA deliver the same high-quality galactic images and information for less?

Chuck Hailey, a professor of physics at Columbia University, has one answer—cheaper lenses. Hailey has developed a method of glass assembly that allows scopes to focus more intensely at a tenth of the cost. The method is cheap and proven for ground-based telescopes, but the real test remains: surviving the intense cold, heat and tumult of a space mission launch. Read more –

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Where is our high-tech deep-sea oil cleaner?

Popular Mechanics – Apr. 30, 2010

The Air Force is racing to break down the thousands of gallons of oil released from the oil rig explosion off the coast of Louisiana with sprays of chemicals—but is there another best way? In its May 1991 issue, Popular Mechanics covered SeaClean, a revolutionary vessel built for cleaning deep-sea oil spills. The problem? It was never built because of its $100 million pricetag.

Louisiana-based Schellstede and Associates designed the 4000-ton crude-oil carrier that could pump oil at 38,000 gallons per minute, one with submerged pontoons to make it unfazed by 23-foot-tall waves. Exxon Valdez turned down the pricey vessel after its oil spill off Alaska in 1989, but could this tech have been worth the investment? Read more –

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Seeking clues to Alzheimer’s

The Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer — Apr. 26, 2010

Goldie Byrd is a people person. After beginning her career studying the genetics of E. coli and microplasma, the biologist from Magnolia, N.C., shifted gears to study human genetics, specifically in Alzheimer’s, because it runs in her family.

Since the start of her Alzheimer’s work in 2003, Byrd, now chair of the department of biological sciences at N.C. A&T State University, has focused on the African-American population. In the beginning, she studied the science; now she also looks at the social factors and perceptions about health studies in the African-American community. Read more –

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Top 3 soccer bots at FIRST nationals

Popular Mechanics — Apr. 20, 2010

The FIRST Robotics national championships in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome on Saturday proved the World Cup of robot soccer. High school teams from around the world faced off in front of a stadium full of onlookers, maneuvering their bots over bumps and under tunnels while kicking to score goals and winching themselves up to hang from towers for a couple of extra points. Of the 344 bots duking it out, only one three-team alliance could make it to the top, and PM was thick in the action, sorting out the best bots this build season: Would eight wheels manage better than four? Did hanging trump kicking ability in the final matches? Here are our top three picks whose design, ball-driving ability and feisty field-play show what FIRST engineering is all about. Read more –

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The best in armchair astronomy

Popular Mechanics — Mar. 23, 2010

Online astronomy platforms have revolutionized a traditional hobby, one in which trekking to a dark spot in the country with a star map used to be the ultimate stargazer experience. Some online sites post images from powerful telescopes around the world; others let viewers take control of the scopes. They all offer novice celestial viewers a look at the galaxy that even the best home telescope will miss. Space has never looked so good. Here’s a guide for a trip around the cosmos. Read more -

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Soccer bots battle it out at FIRST regional championship

Popular Mechanics — Mar. 14, 2010

On March 14 in New York City, 64 teams of high school students went head to head in the metro-area showdown of the national FIRST Robotics Competition. For many, it was the high-energy culmination—complete with mascots and a drum corps—of a six-week build period, in which students had to create robots capable of competing in what was essentially a game of soccer.

Some robots performed exactly as the teams hoped they would, kicking balls into goals for commanding leads; others met unexpected challenges while trying to cross steep bumps in the middle of the field or raise themselves up on a tower for extra bonus points. Throughout the day, the teams competed in alliances of three that were randomly assigned. But for the finals, the top-seeded teams got to choose their alliance-mates, and so many assigned team scouts to assess the competition. Read more –

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When icebergs melt, life changes

The Charlotte Observer and The Raleigh News & Observer — Feb. 22, 2010

Thousands of miles from his Southern university, Tim Shaw works to discover how glaciers’ melting affects the pace of global warming. Shaw, professor of chemistry at the University of South Carolina, analyzes the composition of icebergs that have calved from the main ice mass of Antarctica.

On expeditions in 2005, 2008 and 2009 aboard the Nathaniel B. Palmer icebreaker ship, and in future trips, Shaw seeks icebergs’ footprints — their unique trail left behind as they float through the ocean, melting as they drift. It turns out those icebergs carry a lot more than ice, and their trail includes significant amounts of iron. Read more –

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Top 12 Gadgets from the International Toy Fair (Gallery)

Popular Mechanics – Feb. 16, 2010

The Toy Industry Association’s International Toy Fair is the place where toy store buyers go annually to take their pick of the latest entertainment innovations. We got a chance to walk around the showroom floor this weekend and check out what the kids will be clamoring for in 2010. Here are 12 high-tech toys that we want right now. Read more –

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How Transformers Can Explode

Popular Mechanics — Feb. 12, 2010

A transformer from Consolidated Edison (Con Ed), New York City’s sole electricity supplier, exploded from beneath the sidewalk in an underground vault yesterday, creating a fiery blast that shattered windows multiple stories high. Though no injuries were reported, offices and stores at the corner of 20th Street were left smoldering.

Investigators are still trying to answer the question: Just what lead this transformer to explode?

Electrical transformers transfer energy between circuits, switching energy from one voltage to another. But when flooded with too much electricity, the sudden surge can cause a transformer explosion. As transformers detect an energy spike, they’re programmed to turn off, but it can take up to 60 milliseconds for the shutdown. However fast those milliseconds may seem, they still may be too slow to stop the electrical overload. Read more –

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Natural cures run in her family

The Charlotte Observer and The Raleigh News & Observer — Feb. 8, 2010

Before the clatter of capsules against childproof caps came the whispering fields of medicinal plants – fields Nadja Cech knows very well.

Cech, 31, grew up on an organic farm in Oregon where her family tended medicinal herbs. Now she’s an associate professor of chemistry at UNC Greensboro, studying how and why plants, such as echinacea, work as medicine in the body. She gathers plants across North Carolina, and sometimes from her family farm out West, to analyze back in her lab at UNCG. Read more –

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Solar-Powered Circuits Charge By Sunlight in Real-Time

Popular Mechanics – Feb. 5, 2010

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania unveiled the world’s first solar-powered circuit in a January edition of ACS Nano. The technology shows particular promise for touchscreen devices, which could use the circuits as a direct source for sun-power. Not to be confused with solar cells, which convert sunlight energy to electricity and store it for later, this breakthrough involves circuits—electrical devices that provide paths for electricity to flow. This means that sunlight absorbed by the device can immediately use the energy to power the device.

Here’s how the circuit works: Electrons, here known as surface plasmons, oscillate on tiny molecules called nanoparticles. These plasmons act as a ‘super lenses,’ which gather all solar light hitting the circuit. Once the light’s collected, the particles pose as electrodes to ferry away the electricity for a device to use. Read more –

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Top 5 Most Damaging Invasive Species in the U.S.

Popular Mechanics – Feb. 3, 2010

Animal invaders have bridged oceanic gaps for centuries—some stowed away in ship-ballast water while others were intentionally lugged over by the overzealous, either to solve a pre-existing problem or just for aesthetic pleasure. However, sometimes a seemingly benign introduction creates environmental travesty and ecosystem despair.

“Invasive species have been a problem as long as America has existed as a nation,” says Thom Cmar of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). However, Cmar says that as transportation into the country has become more advanced, more invasive species have come in on boats and planes, thus worsening the problems posed to ecosystems. Read more –

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Richard Branson Dives Into Personal Submarines With Hawkes

Popular Mechanics – Jan. 29, 2010

Dreams of off-the-shelf high-speed personal submarines came closer to a reality today when Hawkes Ocean Technologies, the creator of the Super Falcon personal submersible, announced it would team up with Virgin Galactic entrepreneur Richard Branson to build the next-gen winged exploration vessel. Read more –

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Next-Gen Transplant Techniques Can Stop Organ Rejection

Popular Mechanics — Jan. 28, 2010

Though it’s been 60 years since the boom of organ transplantation began, researchers still haven’t found a way to prevent the body’s immune system from aggressively attacking donor organs. But they haven’t stopped trying. With advances in technology and new techniques for transplantation, the medical community hopes the body’s misguided defense system—which perceives a donor organ as foreign and, therefore, dangerous—will soon concede defeat to science.

About 77 organ transplants are performed each day in the U.S., and more than 101,000 people are on a wait list for body parts such as hearts, skin and veins, according to the Mayo Clinic. But even for those lucky 77, complications are worrisomely common. Forty percent of lungs, for example, are rejected within the first year of surgery. Read more –

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7 Gadgets That Gather Energy While They Work

Popular Mechanics – Jan. 26, 2010

Renewable energy is no longer limited to large-scale wind turbines and solar panels; countless gadgets are now on the market to make life just a little more sustainable without the pain and inconvenience of constructing a hydroelectric dam in your backyard. Here are seven products—some prototypes, some actually for sale—that gather energy as they serve their purpose. Read more –

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Searching for the unseen

The Charlotte Observer and The Raleigh News & Observer — Jan. 25, 2010

Amy Ringwood shucks oysters for a living. But instead of prying open an oyster shell and popping the juicy morsel into her mouth, she takes out its guts.

Ringwood, an environmental toxicologist at UNC Charlotte, studies how trace levels of chemicals in seawater affect the health of oysters and other filter-feeding organisms at a cellular level. She collects oysters and strips them of their gill tissues and functional liver, or hepatopancreas, to search their insides for pollutants such as heavy metals, organic compounds, and more recently, the nonliving microscopic pieces known as nanoparticles. Read more –

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The full story of Newton’s falling apple revelation

Popular Mechanics – Jan. 21, 2010

For the first time, Britain’s Royal Society recently opened online access to an 18th-century handwritten manuscript detailing Sir Isaac Newton’s life, including his inspiration for the theory of gravity, to mark the institution’s 350th anniversary.

One of the most notable revelations to come from the manuscript, which was written by William Stukeley, a friend of Newton, and published in 1752, is the documentation of how Newton’s theory of gravity came to be. The story of Newton’s apple-tree revelation has become folklore in the past 250 years, complete with embellishments and twists of historical fact. Read more –

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A common pavement sealer may lead to unhealthy homes

Popular Mechanics — Jan. 20, 2010

Protecting your pavement from the harsh effects of winter ice and summer heat can be smart home maintenance—if you’re not coating your driveway with carcinogens. Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) found that coal-tar pavement sealant, typically used east of the Continental Divide, contains 1000 times more polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are by-products of fuel burning, than its asphalt-based counterpart used throughout the West. What’s more, these known cancer-causing compounds might be tracked indoors. Read more –

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Could Haiti’s earthquake tragedy have been prevented?

Popular Mechanics — Jan. 13, 2010

On January 12, around dinnertime, a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, decimating the island nation and leaving hundreds of thousands presumed dead. A rescue effort is underway, but as government officials and rescue agencies sort through the rubble, it is worth asking: Could this tragedy have been prevented? Read more –

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Sonar wars in the night skies

The Charlotte Observer and The Raleigh News & Observer — Jan. 11, 2010

William Conner never expected to ride around Winston-Salem in a cherry picker on the prowl for bats. Truth be told, he’s more of a moth kind of guy.

But after the Wake Forest University professor of biology spent 10 years unsuccessfully nudging his students to study how moths and bats acoustically communicate, he took matters into his own hands.

Now, he not only has a bat house under the eave of his two-story home, he’s launching a project to teach local children about acoustics and was the first to discover a new strategy some moths have evolved to fend off bat predators. Read more –

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The top new dinosaurs of 2009

Popular Mechanics – Nov. 16, 2009

In science, it’s exceedingly rare when the naked eye usurps modern technology—powerful telescopes offer humans unprecedented views of celestial phenomena, surgeons can send tiny cameras inside your intestinal tract and even iPhone apps can spot public restrooms before you can. However, for the paleontologists who routinely discover new dinosaurs, a good set of eyes, geological know-how and a little luck remain the best tools.

“[Finding dinosaurs] still comes down to people walking around the ground and looking,” says Don Henderson, researcher and Curator of Dinosaurs at Royal Tyrrell Museum in Alberta, Canada. “A lot of it is accidental.” Read more –

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Nanoparticles topically treat erectile dysfunction

Scienceline, New York University — Nov. 2, 2009

Erectile dysfunction treatments like Viagra may help desire to flare, but these oral medications are not without side effects. New research suggests that a nanoparticle-based topical therapy could bring all of the pleasure with none of the adverse repercussions.

By injecting the same erectile dysfunction drugs found in oral treatments into nanoparticles, researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx say they have found a way to bypass the side effects of oral medication for erectile dysfunction, or ED, according to a paper published last month in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. Read more –

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Biofuels: friend or foe?

Scienceline, New York University — Oct. 24, 2009

The general consensus goes, biofuels: good, dead zones: bad. But what if these two came to a murkier middle ground? They do in the Gulf of Mexico where dead zones, areas in the ocean that lack oxygen, pervade. Read more –

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Copenhagen: Be all and end all? A Nobel Winner Doesn’t Think So

Scienceline, New York University — Oct. 12, 2009

Elinor Ostrom knows how to manage money, resources and pretty much the whole globe. The first woman to win the Nobel prize in economics, along with fellow scholar Oliver Williamson, tackles everything from the global financial crisis to local resource management, and looks at it in terms of climate change. And for all of this, she isn’t even an economist. Read more –

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Taking mugshots of pollutants

Scienceline, New York University — Sept. 21, 2009

Catching environmental pollutants on your carpets, floors and windows is harder than emptying the vacuum or getting a streak-free shine. Read more –

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Top universities admit WU NIH-INBRE research grads

The Johnsonian, Winthrop University — Apr. 16, 2009

Eight Winthrop biology and chemistry seniors have been accepted into top Ph.D. programs, including Harvard, Duke and Notre Dame.

What do these students have in common?

They all have conducted biomedical research, funded by a competitive grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH). Read more –

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Momentum, velocity accelerate near graduation

The Johnsonian, Winthrop University — Apr. 16, 2009

In the experiment called life, it’s all about transitioning – about starting new research.

As a senior, my life has been catalyzed, propelled forward at a seemingly unstoppable velocity.

Graduating disturbs the equilibrium I’ve so carefully maintained throughout my undergraduate career. Read more –

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Earth Hour: Taking the planet’s vitals

The Johnsonian, Winthrop University — Apr. 2, 2009

Electricity keeps me sane.

Power outages and darkness, with the exception of nighttime slumber, cause me to panic and experience a fairly severe level of psychological distress. In fact, as a kid, nocturnal games like “Hide and Seek” and “Sardines” caused me to avoid sleepovers.

Despite this, I spent Saturday night in the dark. Read more –

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Invert lab science to yield 50 mL life lessons

The Johnsonian, Winthrop University — Mar. 5, 2009

Like lukewarm coffee or a leaky faucet, science labs can be frustrating. Three hours spent titrating, peering through a microscope and categorizing specimens combine to fulfill a lab science requirement – all for naught, or so it seems.

Why take a lab at all? Why not just cling to the sanctity of science lectures without application? Read more –

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Lemelson-MIT prize winner speaks at Winthrop

The Johnsonian, Winthrop University — Feb. 26, 2009

Though he didn’t receive a gold statuette Sunday night, Joseph DeSimone won the “Oscars for Inventors.” Like Eli Whitney and Thomas Jefferson, DeSimone, chancellor’s eminent professor of chemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and winner of the 2008 Lemelson-MIT prize, stands at the cusp of creative scientific innovation. The self-proclaimed engineer and inventor spoke to an auditorium full of students and faculty in Sims last Wednesday, sharing several of his 115 patents.

By combining organic chemistry, material science and ‘green’ chemistry, the inventor bridges disciplines, intertwining basic science with technology. Read more –

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Academically repressed: don’t file me

The Johnsonian, Winthrop University — Feb. 5, 2009

It happened again this semester; as a science communication major, I realized that I’m a misfit in the college world.

On my first day of class I hear my name called. I say my major and am graced with a concerned or confused look, careful to remain inoffensive.

Then the inevitable question follows: “Why are you here?”

The question is simple, meant to validate the professor’s preconceived notions as to the type of student usually found in the class.

But I don’t fit the mold. I’m not a graduate student in psychology, a budding art historian, a future database manager. Read more –

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Smith focuses on the most primitive of species

F.Y.I., Winthrop University — Jan. 28, 2009

Growing multiple heads is all in a day’s work for Julian Smith, associate professor of biology. Collecting samples from Winthrop Lake, Smith studies two species of fast-growing asexual flatworms, primitive invertebrates, to gain insight into their stem cells. In these seemingly immortal animals, stem cells divide and differentiate to form muscle, skin and other types of cells as the organism needs them. Read more –

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The economy under Obama: science

The Johnsonian, Winthrop University — Jan. 22, 2009

Could stem cell research and alternative energy save the economy?

Patrick Owens, chair of the department of chemistry, physics and geology, thinks so.

“It’s an awakening moment on the importance of science: [President Barack Obama] believes in science.” Owens said.

Obama recently nominated several giants to top science advisory positions under his administration, including Harvard physicist John Holdren, who spent much of his career in energy and environmental research. Holdren will fill the seat of White House science advisor. Read more –

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The economy under Obama: health

The Johnsonian, Winthrop University — Jan. 22, 2009

Death and birth keep the health care industry afloat in troubled economic times.

Though Circuit City and Linens n’ Things are among companies filing bankruptcy, the health care industry continues to grow, currently composing 17 percent of the gross domestic product in the United States and predicted to increase to 25 percent by 2025, according to Keith Benson, associate professor and program director of health care management.

“People will always be born and people will always die,” said Benson. Read more –

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Viruses of the future

The Johnsonian, Winthrop University — Dec. 4, 2008

Kristi Westover, associate professor of biology, has always loved disease. Though a plant biologist by training, she looks at “nasty human things,” in a dry lab.

“I don’t need a pipette or high-end equipment,” Westover said.

Though not a computer scientist by training, Westover uses computer programs to look at viruses, specifically studying virus mutation. Read more –

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Geneticist plays with food DNA

The Johnsonian, Winthrop University — Nov. 20, 2008

You might say Pravda Stoeva-Popova’s aptitude for genetics is in her genes.

Hailing from Bulgaria, Stoeva’s father studied science, specifically plants, and from a young age Stoeva knew she wanted to be immersed in scientific process.

“I always really wanted to do research,” Stoeva said.

Interested in the scientology of plants, Stoeva pursued a PhD from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences Institute of Genetics and began work in the genetics field, later to transition to genetic engineering.

Stoeva began working with tomatoes and tobacco, studying new techniques of tissue culture by growing cells separate from an organism, a brick foundation in the wall of cloning. Read more –

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Zoology professor seeks natural insecticide

The Johnsonian, Winthrop University — Nov. 6, 2008

Paula Mitchell, professor of biology, began her zoology career at the “back end of a lizard” but has descended down the food chain to study entomology, or bugs.

Mitchell’s lab, composed of three student researchers (and a pet Madagascar hissing cockroach) studies three main species of insects: the Southern Green Stink bug, Leaf-footed bug and Squash bug.

The lab studies the feeding habits of the bugs in hopes to uncover patterns. Once patterns of feeding are found, anti-feedants can be discovered to keep the bugs off prized plants and crops. Read More –

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Tasting fear: a bloody experience

The Johnsonian, Winthrop University — Oct. 30, 2008

I like the taste of blood, the metallic twang of ions that disseminate over the tongue.

Blood is my symptom of fear diagnosed by a tortured, bitten lip, worried by surprise and apprehension.

Fear reminds me that the clock is ticking, and yet I look upon it fondly. Read more –

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Bloodmobile draws blood from fearless

The Johnsonian, Winthrop University — Oct. 9, 2008

Cookies and stickers are part of a national system that saves lives.

The American Red Cross conducts blood drives across the country and this week sought Winthrop students willing to donate a pint or two of blood. Read more –

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Hurlbert’s research unveils protein structure

F.Y.I., Winthrop University — Oct. 1, 2008

Jason Hurlbert, assistant professor of chemistry, is working on a puzzle. This puzzle contains 3,600 pieces and is too small to be seen with the eye. Hurlbert’s puzzle pieces are atoms, used to build protein molecules.

If only determining protein structure was as simple as a jigsaw puzzle. Read more –

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Crises boost campus security

The Johnsonian, Winthrop University — Sept. 18, 2008

Melissa Reeves remembers her exact location eight years ago when she received a frantic page from her mother. It was around lunchtime, and Reeves was in the hallway of an elementary school in Columbine, Colo.

Reeves, of the psychology department at Winthrop, was among the first responders to the event now known as the Columbine High School Massacre, the fourth deadliest school killing in U.S. history.

What Columbine instilled for school districts in 1999, the Virginia Tech tragedy instilled for universities. Read more –

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Cancer fight takes off running

The Johnsonian, Winthrop University — Sept. 11, 2008

It all started with a promise.

When her 33-year-old sister Suzy was diagnosed with breast cancer, Nancy Brinker promised to do everything in her power to promote breast cancer research. In 1982, two years after her sister’s death, Nancy founded the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, in honor of Suzy. Read more –

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Science is life, so live, learn and love it

The Johnsonian, Winthrop University — Sept. 4, 2008

One morning while extracting trace amounts of caffeine from tea leaves in an organic chemistry lab, I decided I no longer wanted to be a scientist.

Writing lab reports, using stirring rods and maneuvering pipets no longer held the same glamour. Still, it was the action that turned my head. I continued to crave science.

A few months passed, and here I sit at my white MacBook attempting to explain why I care about science. My mind wanders to the tall, non-fat caramel macchiato perched near the edge of my desk. Read more–



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