Behind the Scenes of “Legally Blonde” at Ohio State

The Ohio State University Department of Theatre’s November 2018 rendition of the Broadway musical “Legally Blonde” marries the fun, girl-power themes of the 2001 book-turned-film with upbeat and comical musical numbers, like “Omigod You Guys” and “Bend and Snap.” Cindy Tran Nguyen, a theatre and marketing double major at Ohio State, brings her own charm and sense of individuality to the lead character of Elle Woods — something that will appeal to old and new “Legally Blonde” fans alike.

Physicists uncover new behavior of elusive Higgs boson particle

It’s been six years since scientists confirmed the existence of a long-theorized particle called the Higgs boson, finally providing an explanation for how other particles acquire mass.

The Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS), a particle detector built in an underground cavern in Cessy, France, on top of the Large Hadron Collider. 

The Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS), a particle detector built in an underground cavern in Cessy, France, on top of the Large Hadron Collider.

Conditions on Earth make it extremely difficult to detect this mysterious particle, which is why discovering it took the world’s single largest machine — the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) — and thousands of scientists from more than 100 countries.

Eager for more answers about the deep hidden structure of nature, physicists at CERN have been searching nonstop for further clues about the Higgs boson and how it interacts with other particles.

Years of data and trillions of high-energy particle collisions at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) later, victory was reached once again this month with a discovery that links the Higgs boson and the top quark — an interaction that Brian Winer, professor and chair of the Department of Physics, has been searching for since before the Higgs was proven to exist.

Winer and several other Ohio State researchers played a principal role in the search for this remarkably rare event through their collaboration on the CMS experiment at the LHC, which published the new results on June 4 in the journal Physical Review Letters.

“The top quark is the heaviest of all the quarks, and because the Higgs boson gives mass to other fundamental particles, the theory predicts it should interact quite strongly with the top quark,” Winer explained.

To test this connection, scientists looked for evidence of a unique case in which the Higgs boson is produced along with a top quark and an antitop quark in the same collision (called ttH production).

“Of all the Higgs bosons that are produced, only 1 percent are produced in this way,” said Tony Lefeld, a PhD candidate in the Department of Physics who was part of Winer’s CMS research group. “We have to collide things billions or trillions of times just to get a few collisions that generate this combination.”

And the rapidly decaying nature of these particles means that ttH production can’t actually be observed — it must be measured by working backward through a complicated chain reaction. On top of that, many other kinds of collisions produce similar end results.


Ohio State astrophysicists involved in stellar discovery

The Milky Way galaxy is surrounded by a halo of stars, as simulated in this image (courtesy Annika Peter, CCAPP)

Scientists are finding galaxies billions of light years away from Earth, yet there are still discoveries to be made right next door.

In January, data from the Dark Energy Survey — which utilizes an 8,000-pound camera mounted on an equally powerful telescope in the Andes Mountains to see deep into space — revealed 11 previously unknown stellar streams orbiting the Milky Way galaxy.

Stellar streams mostly reside on the outskirts (or “halo”) of the Milky Way, and they represent remnants of dwarf galaxies and star clusters that passed by the galaxy too closely and got torn apart by its gravitational pull. Only about 20 stellar streams had been identified in the Milky Way before this discovery, and locating so many at once is unprecedented, said Annika Peter, faculty member at Ohio State’s Center for Cosmology and AstroParticle Physics (CCAPP), which is a key collaborator in the Dark Energy Survey(DES).

“The fact that we found so many streams so close together is surprising, and it tells us that, actually, the Milky Way has munched up quite a lot of these little galaxies over time,” said Peter, who is also a professor in the Departments of Astronomy and Physics.

This lends credence to astronomers’ belief that galaxies are formed from small galaxy building blocks over time, said Paul Martini, professor of astronomy and a member of CCAPP. “The stellar streams are relics of some of these building blocks,” and can provide a sort of fossil record for the Milky Way’s evolutionary history, he said.

In addition to clues about where these stars came from, follow-up measurements will help researchers build a better model of the distribution of dark matter in the Milky Way’s halo, Peter said.

“The orbits of these stars are really sensitive to dark matter,” she said, adding that some people are looking for “stream gaps” for evidence of smaller, starless dark matter halos in the Milky Way.

These types of discoveries are made possible with the enormous data sets produced by large-scale astronomical surveys like DES, though it’s “analogous to searching for a needle in a haystack,” Martini said.


Exploring approaches to save coral reefs — right here in Ohio

With their unique structures and breathtaking colors, coral reefs are one of the world’s most inspiring and appreciated natural wonders. They’re also greatly threatened by environmental stressors associated with climate change, including sea temperature rise and ocean acidification.

Some coral species are less sensitive to these climate shifts than others, and scientists have been trying to pinpoint the causes of their resilience in hopes of better managing reefs in the future.

Naturally, most research in this field is happening in coastal regions. But Andrea Grottoli, professor at The Ohio State University School of Earth Sciences, is conducting some of the world’s leading research on coral resilience — right here in Ohio.

Traditionally, scientists have examined the relationship between corals and their symbiotic algae (which gives them their color, as well as provides them with vital sources of energy) when studying resilience.

When under heat stress, corals may eject some of these algae, making them appear pale or “bleached.” If normal sea temperatures return, they can re-acquire algae, but prolonged stress leads to mortality, Grottoli said.

But there is likely another health component at play. Along with algae, corals also comprise intricate communities of unique and underexplored microbial organisms, collectively known as the microbiome.

Grottoli’s most recent study is the first to explore what role the coral microbiome plays in anatomical resilience under the combined effects of elevated temperature and acidity.

“A coral’s microbiome is thought to be a part of the immune system, just like it is in humans,” Grottoli said.


Tibetan ice core could reveal more than 600,000 years of climate history

Researchers from The Ohio State University are studying the oldest ice core ever drilled outside of the North and South Poles, thanks to an international collaboration co-led by Lonnie Thompson, Distinguished University Professor in the School of Earth Sciences.

The ice core — drilled from the Guliya Ice Cap in Tibet — may include ice that formed more than 600,000 years ago, making it one of the oldest ice samples ever recovered.

The ancient ice contains valuable information about past climate conditions on Earth, which scientists can compare with modern climate models to make predictions about the future. What researchers have found so far “provides dramatic evidence of a recent and rapid temperature rise at some of the highest, coldest mountain peaks in the world,” according to a university news release.

“The ice cores actually demonstrate that warming is happening, and is already having detrimental effects on Earth’s freshwater ice stores,” Thompson said.

In fact, temperatures in this region are rising at nearly 1.5 times the rate of temperatures at sea level, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“Generally, the higher the elevation, the greater the rate of warming,” Thompson said.

Tibet also contains the world’s third-largest store of freshwater ice, and increased melting in the area, as well as in the Arctic and Antarctica, are greatly contributing to rising sea levels. Rapid glacial melting could eventually be catastrophic for the 1.5 billion people in Asia who depend on high-altitude glaciers for a fresh water supply during dry seasons and in times of drought.

“You might think of glaciers as a savings account, in which snow (water) is deposited every year. Under today’s climate, more water is being withdrawn than is being deposited, and the account is dwindling,” said Thompson, adding that scientists also expect to see decreases in yearly precipitation.

He and his research team hope that studying the ancient ice will uncover parallels that exist between ice loss in tropical glaciers — such as those on the Tibetan Plateau — and climate processes elsewhere on the planet.

“Because [the Tibetan Plateau] is the highest and largest of Earth’s elevated regions, it plays a significant role in the global climate system,” he said.

The ice is currently being stored in a -22-degree (F) freezer at Ohio State’s Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center (BPCRC), said BPCRC post-doctoral research fellow Emilie Beaudon, adding that part of the core will be sent to the National Ice Core Laboratory in Denver for future investigations.

Though the ice is the oldest discovered outside the polar regions, scientists are unearthing even older ice in places like Antarctica. In August, scientists determined that an Antarctic ice core contained 2.7-million-year-old ice — the oldest ever recorded. From the ice they were able to find that 2.7 million years ago, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were less than 300 parts per million. Last year, atmospheric CO2 surpassed 400 ppm for the first time in 3.6 million years.

Collaborators on this project include Ellen Mosley-Thompson, Distinguished University Professor of Geography at Ohio State and Director of BPCRC; Mary E. Davis, Stacy E. Porter, Emilie Beaudon, Ping-Nan Lin, M. Roxana Sierra-Hernández and Donald V. Kenny, all of Ohio State; Tandong Yao, Guangjian Wu and Baiqing Xu of the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research; and Ninglian Wang of Northwest University and Keqin Duan of Shaanxi Normal University, both in Xian, China.

Original Story

Komen Columbus looks beyond breast cancer to solve racial divides

The equation is simple: the more money and education you have, the more likely you are to be in good health.

The equation for reversing this trend, however, is a bit more complex.

Impoverished and minority populations have long suffered the burdens that stem from health inequity, such as higher rates of infant mortality, diabetes and heart disease and lower total life expectancy. The story of breast cancer has been no different.

Over the past five years in the U.S., the breast cancer mortality rate has gone down among white women, yet remained relatively stable among African-American women, according to a recent report from by Susan G. Komen Columbus on breast health disparities. The resulting inequality is significant.

Nationally, the breast cancer mortality rate is 40 percent higher for African-American women compared to white women, and 41 percent higher for African-American women in Franklin County, according to data from the National Cancer Institute and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Source: Susan G. Komen Columbus

Faced with this clear divide, Susan G. Komen, the parent nonprofit that oversees about 100 affiliates, saw the opportunity to dramatically improve breast health. Last summer, the foundation set an ambitious goal: to cut U.S. breast cancer deaths in half — from 40,000 to 20,000 per year — by 2026, said Julie McMahon, director of mission for Komen Columbus.

To make such a powerful improvement will mean taking extensive action to reduce breast cancer disparities. And with Komen already investing around $200 million into ongoing breast-cancer research and clinical trials across the country, Komen Columbus thinks the real platform for change will be found at the community level.

“Health care doesn’t happen in a vacuum; people can only make as healthy choices as the ones available to them,” McMahon said.

For African-American women, risk factors include a history of lower access to and engagement with the healthcare system, delays in follow-up care, lower-quality screening and treatment options and biological predispositions to aggressive breast cancers such as triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), McMahon said.

According to the Komen Columbus report, nearly half of African-American breast cancer deaths in the Columbus region occur in just five ZIP codes — North Linden, Whitehall, Northeast Columbus, Forest Park East and Southeast Columbus. Because these ZIP codes pop up for a lot of different issues, such as lack of education, employment and access to health insurance and care, those problems have also come under the lens, McMahon said.

“None of us can fix any of this alone,” McMahon said. “We’re figuring out how we can place all of these organizations and resources that we have — some of which have never worked together but do great work separately — together so that we can start making an impact.”

Down the road, McMahon and others at Komen envision a world where public services ranging from food and housing to early-childhood development and breast-cancer prevention become streamlined, so that when a woman is getting employment help or going to a diabetes consultation, she is also referred to screening or genetic testing for breast cancer, McMahon said.

“Over time this could become a paradigm change for communities where preventative health has never been a priority,” she said.

And it’s not just vulnerable populations among which there is room for improvement. Higher income women with private insurance could benefit from employers allowing work time to be used for appointments or increased availability of before- and after-hours appointments, as noted in the report.

Despite challenges ahead, such as a lack of available local data on health and ethnicity and potential future setbacks to the Affordable Care Act, Komen will keep working toward its goal of fostering communities “in which the color of your skin, your income and where you live doesn’t impact your chance of survival when someone tells you that you have breast cancer,” McMahon said.

Smart Columbus: Oh, the places we’ll go

In small government offices and crowded boardrooms, the future of urban transportation is transpiring right here in Columbus — the U.S. Department of Transportation’s first Smart City.

The wheels started turning for Smart Columbus last summer, when the city won the USDOT’s Smart City challenge over cities such as Austin, Portland and San Francisco. The roughly $415-million venture, supported by federal and private funds, has several focus areas, including transportation access, smart logistics and sustainable transportation.

From real-time traffic/parking data to charging stations for electric cars to driverless shuttles around Easton, the city hopes to become a model for communities around the nation, said Brandi Braun, assistant director for the Columbus Department of Public Service.

“How people want to move — and the way people should move — is changing, and the Smart Columbus grants are allowing us to prepare for that future,” Braun said, adding that the city’s initial proposals to the USDOT must be implemented by 2020.

The movement aims to both attract new jobs and sectors to the city as well as provide better access to existing ones, Braun said. For example, six autonomous vehicles will make routes within Easton Town Center “to address first- and last-mile challenges in one of the city’s largest job centers” by dropping individuals off directly in front of where they work, according to the city.

Another issue that Smart Columbus hopes to address is the lack of mobility in communities like Linden.

“Mobility options are not equitable — not everyone lives within walking distance of their nearest bus stop; not everyone can afford a car,” Braun said. “The one-car-one-person model doesn’t work for everyone.”

If there were better access to transportation, more people could be empowered to connect themselves to jobs, education, health care and more.
This is the thought behind the bus rapid transit — a transit system designed to be more efficient than a traditional bus service but less pricey than a light rail or metro system — that COTA will implement along a 15.6-mile stretch of Cleveland Avenue between downtown and Polaris Parkway, said Marty Stutz, vice president of communications, marketing and customer service at COTA.

The new transit line, called CMAX, will operate in mixed traffic along with regular COTA service, but traffic-signal priority technology will allow CMAX buses that are behind schedule to shorten the length of a red light or keep a light green longer, Stutz said. CMAX was in the works well before the Smart City grant was announced, but because it will serve transit-dependent areas like Linden the project became “a great platform to collaborate with Smart Columbus,” said COTA spokeswoman Lisa Myers, adding that CMAX is on track to launch in January 2018.

COTA is also working with Smart Columbus on designing a smart pass payment system that would work for COTA buses, car2go cars, CoGo bikes, taxis, Uber, Lyft and others, Stutz said. This would allow those without access to smart phones or bank accounts to use services like Uber by loading the smart pass with cash at a neighborhood kiosk.

The other challenge facing Columbus is traffic and parking congestion — an issue that will certainly need to be addressed if the Mid Ohio Regional Planning Commission’s population-increase estimate of 1 million new residents by 2050 holds true.

“Neighborhoods that are crowded with people and cars can suffer because it’s too difficult for people to come visit, shop or even live in a community where parking is tight,” Stutz said. “The more options you provide to people, the more opportunities they have to enjoy your town.”

The solution here is to provide real-time parking, traffic and event information through an information portal so people can find available parking before they travel, Braun said. The system could also aid commercial truck drivers making deliveries in the downtown area by allowing them to schedule routes and deliveries when traffic and space are optimal.

Smart Columbus also aims to incorporate more electric vehicles into public and private fleets, encourage electric vehicle adoption by installing charging stations across the city and more, Braun said.

Along with furthering mobility and sustainability goals, COTA believes that increased use of alternate and public transportation will make Columbus more appealing in general.

“When people are outside of their cars walking, riding a bike or using transit — that’s the kind of sidewalk activity that energizes neighborhoods and makes communities more attractive,” Stutz said.

Although there’s a ways to go, Smart Columbus “really has the ability to transform the lives of our residents,” Braun said.

This story was originally published in The Columbus Dispatch on April 26, 2017 in the special print section Careers in Transportation.

As addiction rises, so does need for specialized doctors

Opioid overdose claimed the lives of more than 33,000 people in the U.S. in 2015, according to a report released by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

That’s more than double the fatal opioid overdoses that occurred in 2005, found the report, which analyzed and compiled data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Vital Statistics System.

Over that same time period in Ohio, opioid-related deaths — including deaths from prescription opioids (such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and fentanyl) and heroin — rose 430 percent, from 489 in 2005 to 2,590 in 2015, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

The nation has taken multiple steps to curb opioid addiction in recent years, including the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), which passed in 2016 and allots $181 million per year to fighting the opioid epidemic. CARA was the first major federal addiction legislation in 40 years.

On March 30, Ohio Gov. John Kasich announced a measure that limits the maximum length of narcotic painkiller prescriptions from 90 days to seven days (five days for minors). The law would not apply in certain situations such as hospice/palliative care. While these are steps in the right direction, there are still areas of improvement that need to be addressed, according to addiction medicine doctors.

“No. 1, there aren’t enough quality treatment programs, especially for younger patients,” said Dr. Steven Matson, chief of Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Division of Adolescent Medicine and medical director at Franklin County Juvenile Detention Center.

The patients Matson sees in Nationwide Children’s Medication Assisted Treatment for Addiction program typically began dabbling in drugs at around age 11 and gradually transitioned to using heroin, he said.

“When we see these youth, they’re in pretty bad shape, injecting eight to 10 times a day,” Matson said, adding that only around 9 percent of drug-addicted adolescents ever receive treatment.

Coupled with the lack of treatment options is a lack of public care for addiction, said Brittany Hovden, admissions and intake coordinator for Get Real Recovery, a detox and substance abuse treatment center in Orange County, Calif.

This is reflected in the high cost of addiction treatment for all ages, said Dr. Shawn Ryan, president of the Ohio Society of Addiction Medicine and assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Cincinnati.

“Insurance companies have somewhat begrudgingly started paying something, but there’s still not a robust reimbursement structure for addiction treatment, or mental health in general,” Ryan said.

Treatment costs associated with opioid addiction can add up fast, as the most successful approach involves a combination of medication — like methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone — and psychosocial intervention, Hovden said.

“The incredible craving and withdrawal are so great that if you don’t quiet that [with medication], it’s really hard for patients to actually participate in any sort of behavioral treatment, which they need to get better,” Matson said.

Yet not enough doctors are educated in addiction medicine to successfully expand availability of quality treatment, Matson said. “Although most doctors can recognize addiction, I think most are pretty limited in knowing how to respond to it.”

The field of addiction medicine — which encompasses internal medicine, psychology, mental-health counseling and public health, among others — has been around for decades, but wasn’t recognized as an official medical subspecialty by the American Board for Medical Specialties until 2015.

“We have to look at the entire patient in the complex bio-psycho-social disease state,” Ryan said. “I spend my time trying to figure out how in the world we are going to train more physicians to do this.”

Many primary-care physicians lack the time or energy to go through 2,000-plus hours of training in addiction medicine, as most are expected to see 30 patients a day in order to maintain a viable practice, Ryan added. Even if they had the skills, “it’s not feasible to see a patient in 12 minutes and address their complex medical and psychological issues,” he said. “There’s a general failure of American medicine involved in this.”

Along with increasing accessibility of quality addiction treatment, Matson hopes to see more effort go toward prevention.

“There isn’t a lot of science that shows what works best to prevent addiction, and we need to keep searching to find that,” he said.