Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Flu Virus is a Terrorist?

In a recent PBS documentary about the 1918 flu pandemic, a virology expert described the flu virus as "a little terrorist."

I must say the description is spot-on.

Think about it: a flu virus works by invading cells that line the airways and literally hijacks cellular machinery to make copies of itself. When it expends the cell's resources, it effectively kills the host cell and the newly created viruses that are free to infect neighboring cells where the process continues.

It seems the flu and extreme religious ideology have something in common. Well, at least metaphorically.

Happy New Year!

Dr. Dave

Posted via email from Dr. Dave Science

Monday, December 14, 2009

Kills flu virus...nope

My coworker has a box of Lysol disinfecting wipes on her desk and I felt compelled to take a picture of the label. Why? The bright yellow label at the top says "Kills Flu Virus."

So what?

For starters, the flu virus--any virus, for that matter--is not alive. Viruses lack the basic machinery that makes life possible from bacteria to humans and everything in between. In general, viruses cannot replicate DNA, assemble proteins and sugars, or generate energy. Instead a virus must rely on a target cell to do all the work. (We can delve further, but I'll stop here.)

So, with the above in mind, how can you kill something that's not alive? The word "destroy" seems more appropriate, don't you think?

Semantics aside, very few people would actually notice (or care) that a virus can not be be killed. Focus on the big-picture: a simple non-living virus can cause tremendous harm to humans. Now that is something to notice.

-Dr. Dave

Posted via email from Dr. Dave Science

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Science in the news: The uproar over recent breast cancer screening recommendations

The outcry over the new recommendations for breast cancer screening seems to have subsided this week. As a recap, an expert panel advocates mammography for women 49 years or younger after consultation with their doctor; women 50 years and older should be screened every 2 years.

Why the change?

A panel of cancer experts evaluated medical data from women with breast cancer, looking specifically at factors such as age, treatment history and outcomes. After analyzing the data, the researchers observed both benefits and harms of early screening in women 49 years or younger.

Wait, harms of early detection? Really?

The harms the expert panel mentions are false-positive results, unnecessary biopsies, and over-diagnosis. The frequency of these events were greater in women 49 years and younger, and may outweigh the benefits of early screening in many women.

Diana Petitti, the Vice Chair of the expert panel had this to say:

"So, what does this mean if you are a woman in your 40s? You should talk to your doctor and make an informed decision about whether a mammography is right for you based on your family history, general health, and personal values."

Well said.

Dr. Dave

Posted via email from Dr. Dave Science

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

NASA Ares X-1 Success!

The test launch was a success! Way to go NASA! 

Watch the test launch below:

NASA Test Launch of Ares

Check out NASA TV to see the test launch of the new Ares rocket. How exciting!

Mission Control is waiting on weather; I hope it cooperates!

Dr. Dave

Posted via email from Dr. Dave Science

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Flu from the Flu Shot? Not! Part 1

A few weeks ago I received my annual flu shot. Although I had heard stories about people describing "flu-like" symptoms after vaccination, I had never experienced a problem over the past 10 years. This year was different.

Within hours of the injection my arm was sore; by the end of the day I felt achy, tired and I had a low grade fever. I would say that my symptoms were "flu-like," but if you think about it, many illness that are not the flu often start off with "flu-like" symptoms.

According to the scientific data contained in the vaccine's prescribing information, the symptoms I described are common (read the section on adverse events).

But is it the Flu?
According to the CDC, it takes an average of 2 days from exposure to the flu virus before showing signs of illness. Since the side effects occurred within a few hours of vaccination, it must be something else.

What is it? Stay tuned...

Dr. Dave

Posted via email from Dr. Dave Science

Friday, June 5, 2009

Your Oil Dollars at Work!

This post doesn't have much to do with science. I couldn't believe what I read and so I had to write write about it.

I had heard a while back that a Saudi prince is purchasing a VIP Airbus A380 Super Jumbo as his private jet. In case you are wondering, the A380 is the largest passenger aircraft (it's bigger than a 747).

At first I thought it was a joke. The plane is so huge that I could not imagine that somebody would want it for a private jet.

Just recently, I found out that the story is true. Here's the plan for the proposed interior.

The custom VIP A380 costs $500 million; that's half a billion dollars! It'll cost him more to fuel, fly and maintain it. Considering that this same Saudi prince already owns a VIP 747, surely there could be better ways to spend $500 million than to purchase a bigger plane.

How about providing the best health care to his people? What about investing in education and technology so they'll have something to rely on when their oil supply finally runs out?

Hey, it's not my money so why should I bother, right? Think about it the next time you're at the gas pump.

Dr. Dave

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Hubble Space Telescope

NASA's mission to fix the Hubble Space Telescope is taking top billing in the science news this week. (Take that swine flu!) Astronauts recently completed a series of grueling repairs that will extend the telescope's functional life to 2014.

When the telescope was launched in 1990, NASA scientists soon discovered that the main mirror that allowed the Hubble telescope to "see" were slightly off from the design specifications by about a millimeter. In the everyday world, being off by a millimeter is no big deal, but for the Hubble telescope this tiny error meant that it was unable to "see" distant galaxies very clearly.

In 1993, NASA sent a repair mission to the Hubble telescope and fixed the problem. Since then, the Hubble telescope has returned amazing images of distant galaxies and helped astronomers and astrophysicists better understand our universe.

The website www.hubblesite.org has an amazing gallery of pictures taken from the Hubble telescope. I hope they don't mind, but I've posted a few pictures that are simple out of this world!




I think it's amazing that the bright dots in each galaxy is a star. Keep in mind that the Sun is also a star, which means it's possible for other stars to have orbiting planets, perhaps even one similar to our own!

Dr. Dave

Saturday, May 2, 2009

What's the Deal with Swine Flu?

By now, everyone has heard that the swine flu is slowly spreading around the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) has raised the pandemic threat level to 5, which means that an outbreak is imminent; a threat level of 6 means an outbreak is occurring. To me, the word "outbreak" makes the swine flu sound more ominous. Maybe it's because I only expect to hear about an outbreak of this scale in a Hollywood movie.

In this post, I'll try to give you the basics of the flu and explain why a swine flu is now infecting humans. The information below was gathered from reliable health sources, such as the WHO and CDC.

What's in a name?
Influenza, the flu, is believed to have been around for a few thousand years. The ancient Greek doctor Hippocrates, who is considered to be the father of modern medicine, has described the symptoms of the flu in 412 B.C. but it didn't have a name.

Fast forward to the 1700s–most people believed that astrological or occult occurrences caused health outbreaks and so an old Italian word
influenza, which roughly meant influence of the stars, was given during an outbreak in Italy and the name stuck.

The flu virus
The flu is spread by a virus, which is very different from a bacteria. A bacteria has the machinery of life, which allows it to copy its own DNA, make energy, and reproduce. A virus does not have this machinery; instead it relies on a host cell to do all the hard work for it.

Viruses come in many shapes and sized, but most have a few common features, such as a protein shell on the outside and precious DNA (or RNA) blueprints on the inside. Below is a cartoon of a flu virus I found on the web. The blue and green spikes are the proteins and the genetic blueprints are on the inside.

The flu virus has many proteins, but two key proteins are haemaggluttinin and neuraminidiase, and are abbreviated H and N, respectively. Haemagglutinin allows the flu virus to enter a cell and neuraminidase allows the virus to exit the cell.

By the way, flu viruses are named by their H and N proteins. The flu goes by names like H1N1 (swine flu) and H3N2, etc.

How it works
The flu virus uses the H protein to enter cells in the back of the throat and in the lungs. Once inside, the virus falls apart and the blueprints eventually find their way to the cell's machinery which contain instructions to make more viruses; eventually the cell becomes full of newly made flu viruses. When the time is right, the viruses use their N proteins to escape and spread to other cells, and eventually to other people.

Here's a cartoon of the flu virus "life cycle" I found on the web.

How do humans get the swine flu?

All sorts of animals get the flu. Most flu viruses that infect animals are specific to the species. This means that a flu virus that infects dogs have H and N proteins that can only enter dog cells.

Interestingly, some flu viruses that infect humans can also infect birds and pigs! These viruses have H and N proteins that allow the entry and escape process to occur without a hitch.

Pigs are considered mixing vessels since they can be infected by human and swine flu viruses. Why mixing vessels?

Imagine this, if a pig is simultaneously infected with two different flu viruses (swine and human), there is a chance that the viruses can infect the same cell. As the viruses use the cells machinery to assemble copies of themselves, there is a chance that mixing can occur, that is some of the proteins and blue prints from the human virus can mix with the proteins and blueprints from the swine virus. In the end, a new flu strain can be created that is different from the original human strain and can cause new cases of the flu.

Below is a cartoon from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases that shows how new flu strains form.

Bird flu worries
Not too long ago, health scientists were worried about an avian flu (bird flu) called H5N1. Many deaths were reported in Pacific Asian countries but no pandemic alert was raised.

Doesn't the flu vaccine help?
Even if you get a yearly flu vaccination, you are not immune to the new H1N1 swine flu strain. Unfortunately, the flu virus undergoes subtle changes each year. This means that an H1N1 strain from this year could be different from the H1N1 strain next year. This is why it is always important to get a yearly flu vaccination.

In the end, your best bet is to use common sense and wash your hands regularly. If you are sick, stay at home and get plenty of rest.

Please visit the following websites for more information:

WHO Influenza Page
CDC Influenza Page
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Influenza Page

Dr. Dave

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Memories: Dr. Dave in 1996

Although I moved into my home 6 months ago, the process of unpacking miscellaneous things takes a very long time. Some say that laziness is to blame; I blame nostalgia.

The other day, I pulled out a box labeled "Miscellaneous," which is a catchall for "I don't know where this goes so throw it in here." The optimist within me figured that this was an hour's task. When I came across a video tape labeled "The Furleys" the memories began to flow and time stood still.

The human brain is an incredible computer. Everybody has special abilities, whether it's athletics, mathematics, or art, people harness the power of their mind to accomplish great things. My special gift is memory. In my world, smells, sights, tastes, and sounds transport me back in time and play memories like a movie in front of eyes. This happens when I am asleep or awake. It's an amazing experience that I wish I could bottle and share with others.

Dr. Dave in a "Music Video"
So when I unearthed a VHS tape (yes, old school, I know) of my high school garage band, "The Furleys," my memories brought the unpacking process to an abrupt halt.

I really wanted to learn how to fly in high school, but the costs kept me grounded. I convinced my parents that drumming would be a cheaper option. It was. They agreed. They tolerated the noise. Bless them.

As my skills improved, I started playing in various garage bands and we eventually became good enough to play at house parties. Although I felt out of place at these parties, as long as I was playing the drums, I had a great time.

In my senior year of high school (1996), The Furleys were invited to play and be filmed for the school's TV Media program. We played a 2-hour set of original and cover songs, which were all contained within that tape.

I watched the entire tape and made a digital copies of two of my favorite songs, "Natives are Restless" and "My TV." You can watch the videos below. Enjoy!

Dr. Dave

Natives are Restless


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Chicago Meteorologist Amy Freeze hosts Dr. Dave!

In response to a post about my favorite Chicago TV meteorologists, I was invited to visit the Fox Chicago News studio by Chief Meteorologist Amy Freeze!

I was excited to hear from Amy; she's the first science celebrity I have met since I started this website! I was also excited because I had never seen a TV news studio;

Dr. Dave at Fox News Chicago
Before the broadcast was scheduled to begin, Amy gave me a quick tour of the newsroom (where the reporters and staff work) and broadcast studio. The newsroom was buzzing with activity, but the Fox News Chicago team took time to say hello.

Don't be fooled by what you see on TV! Despite how calm everything may look, there's people walking around behind the cameras getting ready for the following segments.

As much as I want to write about the whole experience, let's focus on Amy.

Fox News Weather Center
Amy has two elaborate weather workstations where she evaluates the meteorological data and develops her forecasts and weather graphics. I picked a good night to visit the station; a weather system was anticipated to drop 3 to 6 inches of snow around the Chicagoland area.

Here's a picture of Amy and I discussing the weather at one of her workstations:

As the news broadcast was going around her, Amy was busy evaluating the latest weather data and constantly tweaking forecast. It was clear that sh e takes great pride in her work. In fact, Amy is so dedicated to providing Chicagoland with the best weather forecast that an independet agency confirms that she has been the most accurate of all the area TV meteorologists for the past two years! Congratulations Amy!

Live Power Doppler
Most TV stations have access to data from a
local weather radar. Fox News Chicago maintains a 1 million Watt Doppler radar, located southwest of Chicago. Doppler radar is a tool that meteorologists can use to determine the speed, direc tion and intensity of rain or snow. I’ll talk more about how Doppler radar works in a later post.

When you see Amy’s forecasts, she'll use Live Power Doppler picture to show weather systems that are passing through the area. You can view L ove Power Doppler simply by clicking this link.

Fox News Chicago made an important investment in the Chicagoland area when they built their Live Power Doppler radar; it is the
most powerful and farthest reaching Doppler radar in the area.

How powerful is it? If you add up the power of all the other radars in the area, and then double it, Live Power Doppler is still more powerful. Wow!

Final Thoughts
It was a delight to visit the Fox News Chicago studio. At the end of the broadcast, I took a picture with the Fox News team at the anchor desk! (From L to R: Amy Freeze, Lauren Cohn, Me, my fiancee Shaili, and David Novarro)

Thank you Amy Freeze and to all of the Fox News Chicago team for your hospitality!

-Dr. Dave

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Dr. Dave meets Amy Freeze!

Just an update... I was invited to meet Fox News Chicago's Chief Meteorologist Amy Freeze this past Thursday! Amy was very kind, as was the entire news team. I have pictures and videos to document the visit, which I will share with you. More details later, but here's a picture of Amy Freeze and me together in front of her green screen:

That's really cool! Tune in for more on the visit later!

Dr. Dave

Friday, February 6, 2009

Predicting the Weather-Chicago Style

Chicagoans have reliable TV weathermen and women who know how to interpret and report the weather. It’s a challenging job because the weather in Chicago is so erratic.

A weatherperson (called a meteorologist) gathers and interprets scientific data from a network of weather balloons, satellites, and local weather radar stations. (You may have heard the term “Doppler radar,” I’ll explain what it is in a later post.)

Data, such as winds at different altitudes, moisture content, temperature changes, etc., are used to generate weather maps and computer models that help to predict what the weather will be like in the future, which is called a forecast.

If you have to venture outside, pay attention to the weather forecast, it will let you know what to wear!

I often look forward to the weather report as others would look forward to the sports report. In Chicago, there are two meteorologists whom I enjoy watching, WGN’s Tom Skilling and WFLD’s Amy Freeze.

Tom Skilling

Tom Skilling does a fabulous job of presenting the weather data. He not only tells you what the weather will be like, he also tells you why it is going to be that way, but he does it in a subtle way. Tom Skilling’s weather reports are educational yet easy to understand. You can read Tom’s blog entitled Before the Forecast at the link below:


Amy Freeze

Fox News Chicago’s meteorologist Amy Freeze has a very relaxed way of presenting the weather. Her weather reports are like having a conversation with your friend about skies above Chicago. Amy also has the easy-going educational style that Tom Skilling has, and, with a name like Freeze, she’s ideally suited to be a Chicago meteorologist! (I’m sure she’s heard that before!)

Read more about Amy at the links below:



I work in the same building as WFLD-Fox News Chicago and I’ve seen Amy Freeze broadcast outside during a Chicago Fire Kick for Playoff Tickets Contest (I won a t-shirt that day)

Amy, if you read this post, I would love to visit the Fox News Weather Center!

Dr. Dave

Monday, January 26, 2009

An Investment in Science is an Investment in the Future

President Obama renewed America's commitment to science and outlined a new energy policy for the future during his inauguration address.
In my lifetime, America has held the dominant position in science and technology, but in recent years the scientific landscape has been shifting. Too many science jobs have been outsourced to foreign countries and although they reap short-term profits, ultimately it costs American jobs and ideas. An investment in American science, and keeping the research on American soil, will reap benefits in the future.

Don't believe me?

Aim for the Stars
When President Kennedy announced his plan to land a man on the moon, there were many nay-sayers. The technology that made the lunar missions possible did not exist when President Kennedy challenged the American scientific establishment, but true to the American spirit, our scientists and engineers were up to the challenge. Nine years later, after many successes and failures, the lunar challenge was met.

Computers are an everyday part of life and the advances that made modern computing possible started long ago. Old computers were huge, they filled up warehouses and could do basic calculations. As research progressed, computers eventually became smaller and smaller, yet they were capable of doing more advanced calculations. Today we have iPods, cell phones, and personal computers thanks to initial research performed long ago.

Our Modern Challenge
Today, we are faced with an energy challenge that affects everyone.

President Obama's energy green energy policy will invest money in new technology that Americans are capable of inventing. Critics say that investing money in this new technology is a waste; I disagree.

The money we spend now in research will come back to benefit society in ways we can't even imagine. All the amenities of modern American life has its roots in research of the past. The telephone, electricity, automobile...the list can go. Americans are capable of great ideas, so let's invest in our minds.

Mr. Obama, science is read to heed your call.

Dr. Dave

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Does an Astronaut's Nose Run in Space? (Part 2)

In an earlier post, I wrote about runny noses in space. Yes, a nose can run in space, but not like it does on Earth. Why? Microgravity!

Out to Launch
This question made me wonder–would I want to send an astronaut into space who has a runny nose?

Consider this–the gradual change in pressure on a commercial flight is enough to rupture the eardrum of a congested passenger.

Can you imagine what would happen to a congested astronaut on a rocket launch into space? Commercial flights are tame relative to a rocket launch.

Astronaut Selection
NASA has very strict health and physical requirements for astronauts. Their website has a section called Astronaut Selection that is worth exploring.

Although the site doesn't outline specific health requirements, I think it is safe to assume that an astronaut must be in excellent condition given the rigorous demands of the job.

If you want to learn more about becoming an astronaut, read the journal entries of from the Astronaut Class of 2004.

Dr. Dave