Ancient artifacts are gaining new life from cutting-edge computer technology in the laboratory of Professor of Paleontology Stephen Gatesy. Along with computer scientist Oliver Bimber of Germany’s Bauhaus University, Gatesy is using a complex augmented-reality process called live video-mixing to study how dinosaurs walked. The process superimposes an animated, 3-D image of a skeletal dinosaur foot onto an actual dinosaur footprint. Then a viewer wearing special goggles can “see how the tracks were made and how the dinosaur might have moved,” Gatesy says. Museums will likely be the first consumers of the new technology, which, Gatesy says, is “ideal for making people understand how a fossil came about.” Eventually, scientists hope the 3-D goggles will also aid paleontologists working in the field. Gatesy and his colleagues presented the new technology at an October meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.
—Lori Baker ’86 A.M.
A new study coauthored by Professor of Medicine Sally Zierler has found a link between economic hardship and the early onset of perimenopause, the stage at which hot flashes and other premenopausal symptoms begin. In a paper published in November in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, Zierler, with coauthors from Harvard, traced the onset of perimenopausal symptoms in a sample of 600 women between the ages of thirty-six and forty-two. Results indicated that women who experienced economic distress as children and adults entered perimenopause an average of 1.2 years earlier than their wealthier peers. The effect may be caused by an increase in stress hormones that are reproductively toxic, Zierler notes. “Scientifically, this finding gives us evidence that social experience gets expressed biologically,” she says. The findings have profound implications for public policy as well. “Unfair distribution of wealth is depriving people of their right to health, if you think of health as a right,” Zierler says.
BETTING ON BETAS
In addition to keeping patients alive for hours and days after a heart attack, beta-blocker drugs can actually extend the lives of such patients for months and years, according to a Brown-led team that reported its findings in the October 29 issue of Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association. Of 2,000 patients studied, says lead author and assistant professor of medicine Kristin Ellison, the mortality rate for those receiving beta-blockers was 16 percent lower after two years and 34 percent lower after five years than the rate for patients who didn’t receive the drugs.
—Zachary Block ’99