In the Lab

Tracking Air Pollution in the Pioneer Valley

October 28, 2010

Just looking off into the distance on a warm day in the Pioneer Valley shows that the area doesn’t have quite the air pollution problems that smog-plagued cities Beijing or Los Angeles do.

But that doesn’t mean the air is completely free of pollutants, says chemistry professor Karena McKinney; a nearby coal-fired power plant may be emitting harmful levels of mercury, a neurotoxin. McKinney, two other faculty colleagues and several undergraduate researchers set out this past summer to get a better handle on how that power plant is affecting the environment by measuring the amount and geographical distribution of mercury in air, sediment and biological samples. (Related studies with a new, cutting-edge piece of equipment recently caught the eye of staffers with the Massachusetts Recovery and Reinvestment Office, who featured her work on the organization’s website.)

In the Lab

Fighting Obesity by Studying the Brain

Janurary 25, 2011

Obesity is an epidemic that ravages individuals and weighs upon society as well. At Amherst College, John-Paul Baird, Associate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, has spent the last year eight years exploring neural networks and brain chemicals that impact eating behavior. These chemicals, called neuropeptides, influence feelings of hunger and fullness, or satiety. Professor Baird's lab is working to characterize how some of these neuropeptides function in certain areas of the brain to influence food intake. The longer-term goal of basic research such as this is to identify potential therapeutic compounds that could contribute to the treatment of obesity and other eating- and metabolic-related disorders.

Physics Professor Pioneers New Method to Image Vortices in Ultracold Gases

September 3, 2010

Physics professor David Hall and his group of undergraduate researchers have invented a new technique for examining the behavior of rotating matter at the coldest temperatures in the universe.

The method—which involves an apparatus that refrigerates atoms to billionths of a degree above absolute zero—enabled them to create the first-ever movies of vortex motion in individual Bose-Einstein condensates (BECs). And they developed the technique in Hall’s very own campus laboratory.

Disease Likely Not a Common Cause of Species Extinction, New Amherst Study Finds

August 25, 2010

Challenging the widespread belief that rare and endangered plants and animals are unhealthy, a new study has found they in fact harbor a lower number and diversity of disease-causing parasites than non-threatened, close relatives of the same family, according to Amherst College biology professor Michael Hood and his research team.

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