Science, Health & Tech

We cover these essential linchpins of the Pittsburgh regional economy, and how they impact residents' personal health and employment. 

More than 80 worship leaders are set to meet with experts at the University of Pittsburgh's Voice Center on Sunday for a seminar on vocal health.

Voice Center Associate Director Jackie Gartner-Schmidt said many religious leaders experience vocal strain when delivering long, emotional sermons.

"We're rarely paying attention to how we speak and the emotions of what we're saying," said Gartner-Schmidt. "Especially in worship team, praise team, and worship leading, sometimes the emotion and speaking loudly, we can get a little carried away and our voice can take a hit."

All too often a patient who has battled an aggressive sickness ends up succumbing to a simple, but ultimately fatal, infection.

"These are patients … who are undergoing chemotherapy, whose immune systems get compromised," said Dr. Aleem Gangjee of Duquesne University, "patients who are transplant recipients — their immune system is also compromised — and of course for patients who are afflicted with HIV/AIDS."

Gangjee is a medicinal chemist who, along with a team of researchers, is developing compounds that will tackle the stubborn fugnal infection.

CMU Research Sheds Light on Chinese Censorship

Mar 13, 2012

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have published a report showing that the Chinese government is censoring more internet content than previously believed.

Lead author David Bamman said Chinese censors blocked 16% of the 57 million microblog posts he monitored.

The posts were censored for a variety of reasons. Some were spam, others were pornographic, but Bamman said the most highly deleted terms were political.

Pittsburgh Zoo Loses “Unique Animal”

Mar 12, 2012

"Noname," the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium's Komodo dragon for more than 14 years, died during surgery on Sunday.

Henry Kacprzyk, curator of reptiles and Kids Kingdom at the zoo, said Noname came to Pittsburgh from the National Zoo. He said Disney's Animal Kingdom also wanted the animal, but the National Zoo thought the staff in Pittsburgh was more professional.

He said Noname became comfortable with people and their presence.

A new study indicates exposure to heavy diesel exhaust fumes in workplace mines increases the risk of dying from lung cancer.

Mike Attfield led the initiative, titled "The Diesel Exhaust in Miners Study: A Cohort Mortality Study With Emphasis on Lung Cancer," [PDF] that he said aimed to improve upon previous thoughts and research.

The Carnegie Science Center is holding an exposition to introduce middle school and high school students to career options in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

In its twelfth year, "SciTech Days" is expected to bring in more than 3,000 students this week, learning about STEM professions from about 40 businesses and universities. Another 3,000 are expected in the November edition of SciTech Days.

Linda Ortenzo, Director of STEM Programs at the Science Center, said the students get to see how science and technology are used in business.

PA Turnpike Tolling Could Become Fully Electronic

Mar 6, 2012

Paying a toll on the Pennsylvania turnpike could become a thing of the past…well, kind of.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission announced it will continue to pursue a conversion to an All-Electronic Toll (AET) collection system, which could enhance safety, improve customer convenience and increase operational efficiency.

Amid Shale Rush, Trying to Answer Health Questions

Mar 2, 2012

Amy Pare is a plastic surgeon in Washington County. She makes her living doing lifts, tucks and augmentations. So it's remarkable that she finds herself in the middle of a public health debate. It started about two years ago, she says.

That's when patients started coming in with what looked like acne on their faces.

"We started to have patients that would have open areas or recalcitrant lesions, that just kind of bled, ulcerated, didn't quite heal."

Peoples Natural Gas is asking the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) to approve a base rate increase of $28.4 million to fund its modernization efforts. The plan, which began last year, is to replace all 44 miles of cast iron pipes throughout the company's system.

"We look at the cast iron pipeline system as the most at-risk pipelines." said Joe Gregorini, Vice President of Rates and Regulatory Affairs. "The fact is that's fairly old pipeline that's been around many, many years."

Fallingwater App Now Avaliable

Feb 27, 2012

Ever wonder if there was a way to carry Fallingwater in your pocket all the time? Now you can have interactive photos and videos of Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece on your smart phone and in your hand.

The Fallingwater app was developed by in-D media, a multimedia company, for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, which owns Fallingwater. The app includes 275 color photos, 17 virtual reality panoramas, and 25 minutes of video.

Linda Wagner, director of Fallingwater, said one of the most fascinating things about the app is its interactive content.

Virtual pickpocketing may have just become more challenging.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have created a new method to improve credit card security that allows a card to be turned "on" and "off."

With new technology such as Near-Field Communications (NFC) and Radio Frequency Identification (ID), consumers no longer have to swipe their credit card to make a purchase or withdraw money. Instead, they may simply "wave" their card over a scanner.

A new report [PDF] from the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council (PHC4) finds that among patients who acquired a healthcare-associated infection (HAI) in 2010, nearly 42% were readmitted within 30 days of discharge, 31.3% were readmitted specifically because of an infection or complication.

Among those without an HAI 16% were readmitted.

New Hope for Heart Patients

Feb 23, 2012

Patients who suffer from end-stage biventricular heart failure, a condition where both sides of the heart become weakened and can't pump blood adequately throughout the body, might have a new hope, an artificial heart implantation that surgeons say will serve as a "bridge to transplant."

Penn State Explores Direct Digital Manufacturing

Feb 21, 2012

By the time the next academic year rolls around, scientists at Penn State University hope to have a cutting-edge manufacturing technology lab installed on campus.

Leaders of the school's Center for Innovative Materials Processing (CIMP) said the new facility explores "direct digital manufacturing" — a relatively new process by which machines can create products automatically, using only a digital blueprint.

Essentially, an engineer would be able to enter specifications into a computer and pick up the real, finished product at the other end of the lab shortly thereafter.

Highmark has chosen Verizon to develop Pennsylvania's first comprehensive health information exchange (HIE). Doctors will be able to enter a patient's information into a system that will then be accessible by other physicians treating that patient.

"Health information exchanges are designed to provide a clearinghouse for health care providers and hospitals to share and exchange information to improve patient care," said Aaron Billger, a spokesman for Highmark.

Track Crime In Your Area Online

Feb 20, 2012

The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Deliquency (PCCD) has launched a new website that will give the public better access to crime-related data.

The website is a clearinghouse for state and county justice statistics, data trends, and PCCD-funded research and evaluations. The site includes general information about crime in specific communities, including number of arrests, types of offenses, and the number of people incarcerated and paroled. The information is free and open to the public.

A web service that helps patients view hospital quality will begin publishing data on the occurrence of infection associated with central line-associated bloodstream infections.

Hospital Compare, which provides information about the quality of care in more than 4,700 hospitals across the country, plans to publish data on the occurrence of infection at specific hospitals.

The emergency department at West Penn Hospital in Bloomfield will reopen on Valentine's Day, after being closed for more than a year. The move comes as part of Highmark's $745 million takeover of the West Penn Allegheny Health System (WPAHS). The new facility features 23 patient beds in private rooms, all new medical equipment, and a fast track patient triage system.

Senator Calls For Stricter Smoking Laws

Feb 10, 2012

Pennsylvania State Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf (R-Montgomery) wants to strengthen the Clean Indoor Air Act to ban smoking in casinos and all restaurants, bars, and taverns.

In September 2008, the Clean Indoor Air Act took effect prohibiting smoking in most indoor work and public places through the state.

Under the current law, smoking is allowed in half of a total floor space in casinos, and bars can apply for exceptions to the smoking ban if they show they earn less than 20 percent of their revenues from food sales.

Different Approach To Environmental Argument

Feb 10, 2012

People either believe in climate changing patterns, or they don't. Dr. Andrew Hoffman, Director of the Erb Institute at the University of Michigan, looks beyond the scientific debate and considers the social aspect of the believers and non-believers.

Unveiling of the Giving Life Wall at UPMC

Feb 10, 2012

On Saturday, UPMC will dedicate the Giving Life Wall, a photomontage on permanent display at UPMC Presbyterian hospital that honors those who gave the gift of life through organ donation.

The wall is a collaborative effort between the hospital system and the Center for Organ Recovery & Education (CORE).

The popularity of smoking through a hookah has been on the rise for several years, with many towns and cities having cafes or bars specifically for hookah. The National Cancer Foundation funded a study into whether or not websites that offer Hookah products are candid about their products.

The research team at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine did a systematic search of some of the most prominent Hookah Tobacco websites on the Internet.

Website Helps People Evaluate Tweets

Feb 6, 2012

Wonder what people think about your recent tweets? Well, a new website is offering feedback if users agree to anonymously rate tweets from people they follow.

"Who Gives a Tweet?" is a collaboration among researchers at Carnegie Mellon, MIT, and the Georgia Institute of Technology. Over 19 days, 1,443 visitors to the site rated more than 43,000 tweets.

CMU researcher Paul André said social media often help people express interest in things but not their dislikes.

One Year Later, Obama’s Energy Efficiency Plan Is Stalled

Feb 3, 2012

After last year's State of the Union Address, President Obama traveled around the country rolling out specific details of a broad policy platform he called "win the future." He made a stop at Penn State where he focused on a topic he admitted sounds kind of boring: improving energy efficiency.

"Everybody focuses on cars and gas prices and that's understandable. But our homes and our buisnesses use 40 percent of the energy," said Mr. Obama.

New Energy Coalition Touts Power of Wind

Feb 2, 2012

"I don't think the average consumer knows they have a choice about where their electricity supply comes from," said Katie Bellezza, marketing manager at EverPower Wind Holdings, Inc., at Thurday's ChoosePAWind website launch. A new wind energy coalition rolled out the program in Pittsburgh with the goal of educating the public about the benefits of wind energy, and how to buy it locally.

CORE Courts More Donors

Feb 2, 2012

The Center for Organ Recovery and Education (CORE) wants to enlist 20 million new donors this year and will devote substantial energy and resources to the national initiative.

CORE is a not-for-profit organ procurement organization that is federally designated to serve Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and parts of New York.

The so-called Women's Right to Know Act (House Bill 1077) would require an abortion provider to do an ultrasound at least 24 hours before the procedure. Supporters say they want to make sure women have all of the medical information necessary before making a final decision on having an abortion.

Autism Study Sheds Light On Challenges

Jan 29, 2012

Information from more than 3,500 autistic adults and caregivers is included in the Pennsylvania Autism Needs Assessment study, the largest of its kind in the nation.

Anne Bale, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (DPW) said there was a great need for information about people living with autism.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration's (EIA) latest report finds reserve estimates for the Marcellus Shale formation are dramatically lower than reported last year. The estimate in the Annual Energy Outlook 2012 (AEO2012) is 141 trillion cubic feet of gas, compared to 410 trillion in 2011.

Policy and Communications Director for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, Steve Forde, said that isn't of much concern, and added that the estimate is simply a "snapshot in time." He said the coalition will continue to look at longer-term trends.

Health Officials Consider Rules For Wood-Fired Boilers

Jan 23, 2012

The Allegheny County Health Department is trying to figure out how to best regulate emissions from wood-fired boilers used to heat homes. The department has been seeing an increasing number of complaints about smoke as the popularity of the devices grows. However, there weren't many residents attending a recent Board of Health public hearing on proposed regulations.

Pages