Research roundup

Introducing ‘Insights & Outcomes’

This inaugural science briefing column, titled “Insights & Outcomes,” takes us from the inner workings of water to the rivers of methane found on Saturn’s moon.
Science collage

(Illustration by Eri Griffin)

This inaugural science briefing column, titled “Insights & Outcomes,” takes us from the inner workings of water to the rivers of methane found on Saturn’s moon, Titan — with a stop along the way to learn about a video game that teaches kids the dangers of vaping. Feel free to pop the hood, click the links, and ponder the ingenuity of Yale scientists. (And when you’re done, be sure to road test the spiffy Science & Technology and Health & Medicine pages on YaleNews for still more research gems.)

Ever wonder how stretchy a water molecule can be?

It’s a marvel of basic science, and it’s one of the many properties of water that Mark Johnson, the Arthur T. Kemp Professor of Chemistry, has spent years exploring and explaining. In a new study, Johnson and colleagues presented first-of-their-kind results revealing how quickly bonded oxygen and hydrogen (OH) atoms lose their energy when embedded in a water network. “It’s important because many researchers in a number of fields are trying to simulate the fundamental mechanics and chemical properties of water,” said Johnson. The first author of the paper is Nan Yang; co-authors are Chinh Duong and Patrick Kelleher, all of Yale. The study appears in Nature Chemistry.

A new moon river

Geology & geophysics assistant professor Juan Lora is co-lead author of a study that simulates the climate on Titan, Saturn’s icy moon. The key climate mechanism his team found is a river of flowing methane on and beneath Titan’s surface. “Our simulations provide evidence that there is a massive methane reservoir under the surface of Titan, which could be helping replenish methane in the atmosphere that is being split apart by sunlight,” Lora said. He said Titan’s similarity to Earth — it is the only other known celestial body that has stable pools of surface liquid — may give us a better understanding of how Earth’s atmosphere formed. The study appears in Nature Astronomy.

Matters of the heart

A team of cardiology researchers at Yale Medical School looked at the impact of respiratory failure on patients undergoing the implantation of left ventricular assist devices (LVADs) to help the heart pump blood properly. “We assessed the impact of both pre-implant and early post-implant respiratory failure in patients receiving LVADs,” said Elliott Miller, M.D., a clinical fellow at Yale and lead author of the study. “We found that respiratory failure both before and after LVAD implant was associated with a significantly increased risk of death at one year after implantation.” Miller said the data may help doctors counsel their patients about expectations for living with an LVAD. The study appears in Circulation: Heart Failure.

The highest form of research’

It’s game-on in the effort to educate kids about vaping. New Yale research suggests that if you want to help your child learn about the dangers of smoking and vaping, you might consider putting them in front of a video game. Five hundred-sixty adolescents ages 10 to 16 took surveys before and after playing an educational game called Smokescreen. They scored significantly better on questions such as “Are e-cigarettes dangerous?” after playing the game, according to the new research. “Some had thought that e-cigarettes were just air and harmless,” said senior author Lynn Fiellin, associate professor of medicine and in the Child Study Center. “As Einstein said, ‘Play is the highest form of research.’” The research and game aimed at educating teens about the dangers of tobacco use was funded in part by the CVS Health Foundation. It is primarily geared for teachers but is available for students as well. The study appears in the journal Substance Abuse.

A bit about biomes

Biomes can bounce back from climate and land use changes — if mankind doesn’t keep mucking things up, a new Yale study suggests. A new modeling study shows that the healthy dispersal of seeds can help restore balance between savannahs and forests, preserving biodiversity and ecosystems. The finding provided a more optimistic outlook for biomes than previous studies suggesting that, once seriously threatened, forests or savannahs might not be able to recover from climate change and human encroachment. “But humans cannot continue on a business-as-usual path,” cautioned lead author Nikunj Goel, a former Yale student who conducted the research in the lab of Carla Staver, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, and senior author of the paper. The study appears in the American Naturalist.

A word about second strokes

People with Medicare insurance are more likely to suffer recurrence of hemorrhagic stroke than those with private insurance, Yale researchers report in a new study. Blacks and Asians have the highest risk of a second hemorrhagic stroke — which accounts for 10% to 15% of all strokes and is marked by brain bleeding and high rates of mortality and disability. These groups also have the highest risk of suffering a first stroke. But the higher recurrence rate among those covered by Medicare surprised researchers. Subjects with private insurance were 40% less likely than those with Medicare to suffer a recurrent stroke, a finding that held across racial and ethnic groups. Researchers said that older age, which carries a higher risk of health problems, did not seem to account for this difference. Instead, third-year medical student and co-first author Audrey Leasure and colleagues speculated that the health disparities seen in this study are likely mediated by socioeconomic factors, including access to follow-up care and control of risk factors such as high blood pressure. The study appears in the journal Neurology.

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