Science, Health & Tech

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

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

In a small, but growing office in Shadyside, Rhiza Founder and CEO Josh Knauer stood in front of a computer linked to the cloud and crunched big data for a Kia car dealer and a Pittsburgh TV station.

“Behind this very simple display of data are hundreds of billions of records of data that we are sifting through,” Kanuer said of the colorful mix of graphics and numbers on his screen. “And in a matter of seconds … we were able to get to results that had gone through those records and found just the ones that are relevant to this story for this television station and for this very local specific advertiser.”

rumpleteaser / Flickr

Jenny Stalnaker, her husband, and their 3-year-old son Townes spend a good two hours cleaning their house every night before bed. 

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

The days of an individual doctor hanging out a shingle and offering a general family practice are all but gone. The new norm is that your primary care physician is part of a multi-doctor practice. It’s also more likely than not that those doctors have either already hired a nurse practitioner or a physician assistant, commonly referred to as physician extenders, or they are considering making such a move.

“I find that the PA (physician assistant) generally gives you a lot of time,” said Jeff Phillips of McCandless.  Phillips said until recently he never saw a PA, but now almost exclusively sees a PA when he visits his doctor’s office. “So far so good.”

Sanofi Pasteur / Flickr

Every year, about 300,000 students get immunized in Pennsylvania.

Now, the state Department of Health is asking for the public’s comments on proposed changes to its immunization policy.

Mora McLaughlin / 90.5 WESA

Paleontologists have unearthed the most well-intact titanosaur skull ever found. The herbivore was 40-to-50 feet long and weighed twice that of an average zoo elephant.

After presenting their findings in Pittsburgh, Dr. Rubén D. F. Martínez of the Universidad Nacional de la Patagonia San Juan Bosco; Dr. Lawrence Witmer of Ohio State University and Matt Lamanna of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History published their research in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.

Melinda Roeder / 90.5 WESA

As companies like Uber and Google work to make self-driving cars, a local company is working on another autonomous vehicle: forklifts.

Engineers and designers at Seegrid have spent the last decade perfecting technology that allows automated forklifts to travel through warehouses and move heavy product without a human behind the wheel. The machines roll about like robots, making noises that sound like beeps, bells and sirens as a means of communicating with one another and employees.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

The city's water authority got a slap on the wrist Monday from the Wolf administration two years after making a critical change to the chemicals added to Pittsburgh drinking water.

State Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Quigley said Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority should have gotten approval from the state before switching from soda ash to caustic soda for corrosion control.

Courtesy University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health have found that areas that are hot spots for drug trafficking haven’t necessarily seen a corresponding increase in overdose deaths. The findings are based on overdose data from 1979 to 2014 and are published in the journal Preventive Medicine.

Flickr user Abby Lanes

Pittsburgh-based PPG industries announced to shareholders on Thursday that it will stop putting lead in any of its products by 2020.

The announcement came shortly after shareholder Perry Gottesfeld, public health activist and founder of the nonprofit Occupational Knowledge International, delivered a petition with more than 5,000 signatures asking the company to discontinue the use of lead.

“PPG is now the first large U.S. company to agree to completely reformulate their products and take out lead,” Gottesfeld said.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Lab rats can be taught to do just about any simple task for food or a treat. 

Scientists can also watch what is going on inside a rat’s brain by inserting a few electrodes. So it's not unusual that researchers at the University of Pittsburgh attached wires to the brains of a group of rats while performing menial tasks. The researchers wanted to understand the effect of anxiety, but what they learned was unusual.

Cannabis Pictures / Flickr

It could take up to 24 months for the state of Pennsylvania to set up a system for regulating and dispensing medical marijuana. In the meantime, patients who want to use cannabis as medicine do so at their own risk, according to researchers studying the issue.

Marcel Bonn-Miller is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and is currently studying how cannabis use affects people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

PA Internet News Service

By the end of 2016, Pennsylvanians should be able to set aside money in tax-exempt savings accounts to spend on the wide range of expenses brought on by disabilities.

The new Pennsylvania Achieving a Better Life Experience Act, also called ABLE, allows family members to contribute up to $14,000 total per year into an “ABLE account,” which is modeled after the Section 529 accounts that parents can use to set aside pre-tax savings for their children’s college bills.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

Downtown-based investment company BNY Mellon is one of many large organizations trying to change what it means to go to work by providing some of the comforts of home. 

The company opened a new Innovation Center on Monday on the 12th floor of its Grant Street office. 

Employees sat on Adirondack chairs and picnic tables near a bocce court and large windows. Nearby, a kitchenette sat filled with coffee and snacks. Those spaces are what Jen Wagner, head of the Pittsburgh Innovation Center, called collision points.

Melinda Roeder / 90.5 WESA

Managers at the Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Station got some advice this year from a panel of unlikely consultants – high school students.

Blackhawk High School students studied federal regulations for problems like workers' exposure to dangerous gases and the disposal of radioactive waste. Nuclear engineers and scientists from First Energy Corporation challenged the teens to produce energy safely and more efficiently.

Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr

 

Senate backers hope medical marijuana legislation in Pennsylvania will get to Gov. Tom Wolf's desk this week.

A Senate committee made changes to the bill Monday, and the bill's backers say they hope it can win passage in the House and Senate this week.

Charles Williams / Flickr

While much of the testimony at a state Senate hearing in Pittsburgh on Thursday focused on the need for the state to fund opioid addiction treatment regimens, one expert recommended the state take legal action against insurers who illegally deny coverage of long-term rehabilitation programs for those addicted to heroin or prescription painkillers.

Melinda Roeder / 90.5 WESA

Anyone attached to their phone knows how frustrating a dead battery can be. But if you need a quick charge, look no further than your shoe.

Pittsburgh-based tech startup Sole Power has created a shoe insert with a battery pack that can charge small electronics such as flashlights, radios and cell phones. Sole Power was founded by Carnegie Mellon University graduate Matthew Stanton, who said it all started with a simple idea for a class project.

Courtesy of David Bellinger

 

It's 1957. Dr. Herbert Needleman is on his way to see a three-year-old patient at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Needleman is a young doctor, about six feet tall, with brown eyes and dark hair. This is the first case of lead poisoning he's ever seen.

When he shows up, the girl is not in good shape. Her eyelids are drooping. Her pulse is slow. She's not making a sound.

Noah Brode / 90.5 WESA

About 30 people gathered at Smallman Galley in the Strip District Monday for one of the first events of more than 60 this week geared at including all types of people in innovative practices across the city.

That includes everything from a small business resource fair and a women business leaders breakfast, to several more colorful ideas, like "Pizza Poems" and "Maker Storytime Thursday."

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

  Keith Shettler worked to install and retrofit duct systems in downtown buildings for more than 20 years, opening structures that had been closed off for decades.

“You could see the coal dust that was there when the steel mills were there," Shettler said, "to the asbestos that might be hidden behind all that put there years ago when asbestos was prevalent to put on job sites.”

Melinda Roeder / 90.5 WESA

A Pittsburgh-based company is finding new ways to use eye-tracking technology to help children with disabilities learn language skills at a younger age by playing digital games. Now the video gaming industry is taking notice.

Tobii Dynavox has been making devices to help nonverbal patients communicate with the help of computer-assisted voice technology. Many of their customers are stroke survivors and adults with degenerative diseases like ALS, in which sufferers lose muscle control. But the company is now looking to expand their devices to young children, and even toddlers.

Felipe Dana / AP

  Post updated March 29 at 5 p.m. 

The aedes aegypti mosquito that carries the Zika virus is present in Pennsylvania, and there are now 11 confirmed cases of people who became infected with the virus while traveling abroad.

And Allegheny County officials announced Tuesday afternoon the first confirmed case of Zika locally, contracted by a man who had visited "an affected area." 

But public health officials keep saying the risk of contracting the disease is slim to none. Have you ever wondered why?

Ben Allen / WITF

 

The opioid addiction crisis in Pennsylvania isn't just impacting adults, it's taking a toll on babies in the wombs of mothers who use prescription pain killers, heroin or Fentanyl.

WITF reporter Ben Allen recently reported on the issue for NPR and he spoke with WESA's Larkin Page-Jacobs about what he learned while working on the story. Allen said he visited a hospital in Harrisburg where they treat infants born addicted to opioids.

Melinda Roeder / 90.5 WESA

A new artificial lung could buy patients and doctors more time during life-threatening and cardiac-related emergencies.

Pittsburgh-based Cardiac Assist just received FDA approval for the respiratory device. Before that, the company created an artificial heart several years ago that’s been used more than 4,000 times worldwide. The artificial lung will hit the market within the next two months.

Carnegie Mellon University

Autonomous robots could handle and dispose of waste from nuclear sites as part of a robotics traineeship program between Carnegie Mellon University and the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Environmental Management

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

Peggy Glatch spends all day on her feet. She’s constantly moving while cutting her customers' hair.

She’s worked as a hair stylist for more than 40 years, the last 15 at Izzazu Salon downtown.

The salon was recognized as the first Live Well Workplace by the Allegheny County Health Department. Workplace is the fourth installment in the county’s push for healthier lifestyles, Live Well Allegheny.

Carnegie Mellon University

Over the last year, more than 400 Pittsburghers have gone to their neighborhood Carnegie Library, not to borrow a book, but an air quality monitor.

Now, this partnership with Carnegie Mellon University will be expanded nationwide.

“We want to repeat this experiment all across the nation,” said Sarah Longo, operations manager at AirViz, which makes the monitors. “As a for-profit company, this is our way of paying it forward, because it’s part of our mission to empower as many people as possible.”

Melinda Roeder / 90.5 WESA

A group of local high schoolers recently took on a smelly task: finding innovative ways to eliminate some of life’s most offensive odors.

Dozens of classmates from Avonworth and South Fayette high schools presented their ideas and prototypes to executives at Calgon Carbon Corporation. The Moon Township-based company creates purification systems for a range of products, from drinking water to pharmaceuticals.   

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Every day, Pine-Richland High School Nurse Susan Leonberg sees 30 to 40 students come through her office door. 

She said the number of students is average, but the number of flu cases she's seen isn't. So far, no confirmed flu cases have been reported.

“Many times, we do not get notified of confirmed cases," Leonberg said. "But as far as clinically, I don’t think we have seen it. We’ve had sick children, but not flu sick. You know, the normal kind of stuff.”

Wikimedia Commons

The rate of young, white females dying from drug overdoses in Pennsylvania is increasing faster than other demographics, according to a new report from the University of Pittsburgh.

Pitt researchers found fatal drug overdoses in Pennsylvania have increased 14-fold in the last 35 years, and deaths for young white females are climbing especially fast.

The paper's co-author, Jeanine Buchanich, said she isn’t entirely sure why. It isn’t just about the quantity of different drugs, she said, but how they’re using them.

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