It’s Okay Not to Be Okay (Psychology)

Resisting “happy switch hype” can protect your mental health.  

SUMMARY

  • “Happy Switch Return-to-Normal Hype” can misguide and impede the healing and recovery process.
  • Disaster recovery requires a trauma-informed lens that emphasizes attention to triggers, accessing trusting community, and relentless self-care.
  • It’s okay not to be okay. Asking for help is the new imperative of today. Accessing resources to tend to mental health is vital for healing and cultivating resilience.

After a year that feels like a big human behavior experiment requiring every ounce of resilience, creativity, and fortitude we can muster, there is palpable eagerness to return to “normal.” 

Who can blame us for wishing for a happy switch? It’s like we’ve been cast in a jarring Quentin Tarantino meets Groundhog Day meets Survivor mash-up, rife with dark, morbid twists and turns that are predictably unpredictable. Pining for some lighter scenes and less drama is a fair ask. We’ve had our fill of obstacles and stunts. 

Still, we cannot let earned overzealousness disillusion us to think things were normal to begin with. Pre-pandemic was no picnic: We were already dealing with a global mental health crisis and significant disparities with regards to race, class, gender, sexual orientation, age and ability. This past year has shone a needed light on the tremendous need for relentless work for accountability, reparations, and overdue social change. 

Given the enormity of trauma we’ve endured, it’s amazing to behold the level of resilience we’ve demonstrated. Adaptability has become our middle name. We are feisty creatures. Still, the next phases are unlikely to be a cakewalk. 

This past year, we’ve grieved many losses: loved ones, health, sense of safety, mobility, rites of passage. Weddings, funerals, graduations, functions, classes, meetings, dates, socials, shows, and performances have been canceled or made virtual. Many of us are reeling as we experience a catastrophic impact on our mental health and those we love. We cannot help but want to wriggle our way out of this chokehold and breath some new air. Enough is enough. 

“Happy Switch Hype” is the oversimplified framing of “return to normal” as something we can get to with ease and just a little moxie. That just one flip will get us there. For more than a year, we have been pining to get back to regular routines: to see and hug each other in person, to be able to catch a show, to not be marinating in fear every second. For all hell not to be breaking loose. Maybe some of us even miss our cubes and commute.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting a reprieve; in fact, research shows that returning to routines aids healing. But when we romanticize normal, it can impede our process of recovery, which will likely continue to be messy and tumultuous. I’m not saying we have to expect the worst, but that keeping our seatbelts fastened until the ride comes to at least a running stop is wise. Given all we’ve endured, we need to stay buckled to evidence-based approaches that mitigate trauma to help protect us in the days ahead. 

Disaster recovery is not a five-step formula, nor is it an expedient process, but research shows there are mindsets, behaviors, and habits we can adopt to help facilitate healing and cultivate resilience:  

1. Resist pressure to jump back in, full-octane.

Don’t “should” or “must” yourself if you’re experiencing strong emotions in your return to work or other routines. Getting back to places you’ve been away from can be triggering and provocative, making what felt surreal more real. Give yourself time to process such emotions and avoid defaulting to guilt if you can’t find your happy switch in breakneck fashion.

2. Form your trust squad. 

When we have people we trust, it increases our psychological safety, which in turn helps facilitate a healing process. Relationships are protective elements for our mental health. Hiding never serves us well, and the pressure to be “normal” or “fine” does nothing to help us get to a better place. 

3. Practice relentless self-care. 

Identify your go-to healing strategies and practice them religiously. Research shows that lifestyle medicine: sleep, nutrition, hydration, movement, and nature are essential foundations for well-being. Relentless self-care involves ritualizing micro-breaks into our days to recalibrate. Whether humor, creative activities, meditation, breathing exercises, dance breaks, and chats with friends, we must weave in regular joy-filled moments that help us build resilience given the ongoing adjustments we are tending to. 

4. Know that it’s okay not to be okay.

Acknowledge your own mental health. It’s hard to imagine not being scathed by such traumatic, enduring circumstances. As humans, we are wired to respond to our environments. Given the enormity at hand, it’s not uncommon to experience escalations in stressanxiety, and depression. Healing doesn’t happen when we ignore this, but when we employ a trauma-informed lens to understand ourselves and one another. Untreated trauma can wreak havoc.

Learning to get comfortable with the uncomfortable and ask for help is the new imperative of today. Explore resources from reputable mental health organizations such as Active Minds, National Alliance on Mental Illness, AAKOMA Project, The Jed Foundation, National Association of Social Workers, American Psychological Association, and the World Health Organization.

Featured image credit: Shutterstock/Pewara Nicropithak


Reference: Lee, K. (2018). Mentalligence: A New Psychology of Thinking. Learn What it Takes to Be More Agile, Mindful and Connected in Today’s World. Deerfield Beach, FL: HCI. Link


This article is originally written by Kristen Lee and is republished here from psychology today under common creative licenses

Are People Who Swear More Honest? (Psychology)

A new study claims they are, but the evidence is still unclear.

SUMMARY

  • A study suggests that people who curse a lot are more honest. They may use fewer social filters and therefore may be more honest.
  • Other studies have reached the opposite conclusion, finding that honest people may swear less, not more.
  • One reason that findings may differ is that cursing serves many purposes, for example, swearing in comedy has a different meaning than when someone is hurt or angry.

Do you curse a lot? Good for you. A study from University of Cambridge researchers says that you’re likely an honest person.

Those who swear may be more honest than those who keep their language clean, maintains David Stillwell, Reader in Computational Social Science at the Judge Business School, one of the authors of a 2017 study. Those who curse use fewer social filters and therefore may be more honest.

“We found a consistent positive relationship between profanity and honesty; profanity was associated with less lying and deception at the individual level and with higher integrity at the society level.” The study says, “Swearing is often inappropriate but it can also be evidence that someone is telling you their honest opinion. Just as they aren’t filtering their language to be more palatable, they’re also not filtering their views.”

The study “found a consistent positive relationship between profanity and honesty; profanity was associated with less lying and deception at the individual level and with higher integrity at the society level.”

I wish I had known that when I was in the army. I thought drill sergeants were intimidating when I should have known that beneath that rough exterior they were more honest than the commanding officer whose language wasn’t laced with curses.

Honesty Isn’t Always Linked to Profanity

Not everyone sees the use of rough language as an indicator of honesty. Reinout de Vries and colleagues reach the opposite conclusion in their article, “Honest People Tend to Use Less—Not More—Profanity.”

The reason why studies reach different conclusions is that, in fact, cursing serves many functions and is highly context-dependent, according to Dutch psychologist Ad Vingerhoets and colleagues. For example, cursing in the military serves as a form of group bonding and solidarity, for comedians it is a way of eliciting laughter, when hurt it is a form of catharsis, and for the aggrieved a means of causing emotional pain to others.

What does it mean when profanity isn’t an exceptional utterance but ubiquitous, heard from dinner table chatter to a president’s tweets? In the last few years, once taboo words are printed in respected newspapers; the F-word routinely laces movie dialogues (The Wolf of Wall Street uses it 569 times); streaming TV shows and apps use vulgar language as part of the dialogue even if it is anachronistic, such as in The Queen’s Gambit, set in the late ’50s and early ’60s, when, in reality, at that time telling someone to “shut up” was shocking. It was only a few years before that the word “pregnant” couldn’t be used on TV.

While profanity has moved center stage, it is still off limits for some: teachers, children, clergy and newscasters come to mind. How long will this be true? Will what was once taboo become so pervasive that it will have no shock value or perform a bonding function?

If a potty mouth is acceptable for children and cursing commonplace from the pulpit, what will take the place of the psychological functions that profanity once performed? No one knows but I would prefer that society return to the expectation of decent language as the norm and leave coarse language for those times when it serves a useful purpose.


This article is originally written by Arthur Dobrin, who teaches applied ethics at Hofstra University. He is the author, coauthor, and editor of more than 20 books. This article is republished here from psychology today under common creative licenses

Can “Playing Around” Boost Your Romantic Life? (Psychology)

What does playing around do to your relationship? Here’s what research shows.

SUMMARY

  • Engaging in “playful” behavior with a romantic partner can boost mood, promote closeness, and help partners better navigate conflict, a research review found.
  • Related research on romantic relationships found that partners who are able to “let go of the small stuff” and resolve arguments quickly enjoyed similar benefits.
  • Positive relationship behaviors may also bolster physical health, the research suggests, by minimizing stress and stimulating beneficial biological processes.

A recent research review suggests that being playful in your romantic relationship is important for increasing the happiness and longevity of the relationship. Now, by “play around” I don’t mean checking out dating apps or Ashley Madison, unbeknownst to your partner. Nor do I mean “playing games”—which partners often do as a means to manipulate or dominate, and which creates much material for couples therapy.

No, being “playful” with your partner refers to engaging with playful attitudes, communication, and behavior. The research found that playfulness generates positive emotions and stimulates beneficial biological processes, including the activation of certain brain circuits. And that influences how the couple communicates and interacts—which helps deal with stress and tension. That, in turn, enhances the quality and duration of the relationship.

The study was published in Social and Personality Psychology Compass. Interestingly, it’s congruent with some other, unrelated research that shows how you can consciously shift your emotions and behavior around conflict and frustration in your daily life and relationship. 

For example, a study from the University of Miami found that people who can’t let go of small frustrations that occur from time to time—we all experience them—affect their brain activity in ways that lead to more negative emotions and less well-being. Dwelling in your annoyance or bruised ego intensifies negative emotions, which will often be displayed towards your partner in some form. 

The antidote is to expand your consciousness about how you perceive your situation. That is, enlarge your perspective; step outside of your narrow self-focus about those minor frustrations. Let yourself acknowledge that, in the long run, they don’t really matter. This will impact the quality of your relationships, including with your romantic partner. In effect, this research emphasizes the importance of learning to “let go of the small stuff.”

Then there’s this research, from Oregon State University. It found that when people are engaged in an argument—say with their partner—and are intent on reaching a resolution of some kind before the end of the day, the emotional residue of the disagreement is significantly reduced and even erased. This study pointed out the damage that ongoing stress, including that aroused by arguments that remain unresolved, can have on mental and physical health. That includes depression, anxiety, heart disease, a weakened immune system, reproductive difficulties, and gastrointestinal issues.

As the lead author Robert Stawski pointed out, “While people cannot always control what stressors come into their lives—and lack of control is itself a stressor in many cases—they can work on their own emotional response to those stressors. Some people are more reactive than other people, but the extent to which you can tie off the stress so it’s not having this gnawing impact at you over the course of the day or a few days will help minimize the potential long-term impact.”

So—play with your partner, let go of the small stuff, resolve the argument before bedtime… and enjoy your relationship!


Reference: Brauer, K., Proyer, R.T. and Chick, G. (2021), Adult playfulness: An update on an understudied individual differences variable and its role in romantic life. Soc Personal Psychol Compass. https://doi.org/10.1111/spc3.12589


This article is originally written by Douglas LaBier who is a psychologist and the Director of the Center for Progressive Development in Washington, DC. This article is republished here from psychology today under common creative licenses

Deep Diamonds Contain Evidence Of Deep-Earth Recycling Processes (Earth Science)

Diamonds that formed deep in the Earth’s mantle contain evidence of chemical reactions that occurred on the seafloor. Probing these gems can help geoscientists understand how material is exchanged between the planet’s surface and its depths.  

New work published in Science Advances confirms that serpentinite—a rock that forms from peridotite, the main rock type in Earth’s mantle, when water penetrates cracks in the ocean floor—can carry surface water as far as 700 kilometers deep by plate tectonic processes.

“Nearly all tectonic plates that make up the seafloor eventually bend and slide down into the mantle—a process called subduction, which has the potential to recycle surface materials, such as water, into the Earth,” explained Carnegie’s Peng Ni, who co-led the research effort with Evan Smith of the Gemological Institute of America.

An illustration showing how diamonds can offer researchers a glimpse into the processes occurring inside our planet, including deep-Earth recycling of surface material. Artwork by Katherine Cain, courtesy of the Carnegie Institution for Science.

Serpentinite residing inside subducting plates may be one of the most significant, yet poorly known, geochemical pathways by which surface materials are captured and conveyed into the Earth’s depths. The presence of deeply-subducted serpentinites was previously suspected—due to Carnegie and GIA research about the origin of blue diamonds and to the chemical composition of erupted mantle material that makes up mid-ocean ridges, seamounts, and ocean islands. But evidence demonstrating this pathway had not been fully confirmed until now.

The research team—which also included Carnegie’s Steven Shirey, and Anat Shahar, as well as GIA’s Wuyi Wang and Stephen Richardson of the University of Cape Town—found physical evidence to confirm this suspicion by studying a type of large diamonds that originate deep inside the planet.

“Some of the most famous diamonds in the world fall into this special category of relatively large and pure gem diamonds, such as the world-famous Cullinan,” Smith said. “They form between 360 and 750 kilometers down, at least as deep as the transition zone between the upper and lower mantle.”

Sometimes they contain inclusions of tiny minerals trapped during diamond crystallization that provide a glimpse into what is happening at these extreme depths.

This cartoon shows a subducting oceanic plate traveling like a conveyor belt from the surface down to the lower mantle. The white arrows show the comparatively well-established shallow recycling pathway in the top layer of the plate (crust and sediments), that feeds into arc volcanoes. Our new findings from studying diamonds reveal a deeper recycling pathway, shown in light blue. Water infiltrating fractures in the seafloor hydrates the rocks in the interior of the plate (forming “serpentinite”), and these hydrated rocks can sometimes be carried down to the top of the lower mantle. This is a major pathway that transfers water, carbon, and other surficial elements deep down into the mantle.Illustration by Wenjia Fan, W. Design Studio.

“Studying small samples of minerals formed during deep diamond crystallization can teach us so much about the composition and dynamics of the mantle, because diamond protects the minerals from additional changes on their path to the surface,” Shirey explained.

In this instance, the researchers were able to analyze the isotopic composition of iron in the metallic inclusions. Like other elements, iron can have different numbers of neutrons in its nucleus, which gives rise to iron atoms of slightly different mass, or different “isotopes” of iron. Measuring the ratios of “heavy” and “light” iron isotopes gives scientists a sort of fingerprint of the iron.

The diamond inclusions studied by the team had a higher ratio of heavy to light iron isotopes than typically found in most mantle minerals. This indicates that they probably didn’t originate from deep-Earth geochemical processes. Instead, it points to magnetite and other iron-rich minerals formed when oceanic plate peridotite transformed to serpentinite on the seafloor. This hydrated rock was eventually subducted hundreds of kilometers down into the mantle transition zone, where these particular diamonds crystallized.

“Our findings confirm a long-suspected pathway for deep-Earth recycling, allowing us to trace how minerals from the surface are drawn down into the mantle and create variability in its composition,” Shahar concluded.

This work was supported by the Diamonds and Mantle Geodynamics Group of the Deep Carbon Observatory, a U.S. National Science Foundation grant, and the research program of the Gemological Institute of America

Featured image: Examples of rough CLIPPIR diamonds from the Letseng mine, Lesotho. These are the same kinds of diamonds as the ones analyzed in this study. Largest stone is 91.07 carats. Photo by Robert Weldon; copyright GIA; courtesy of Gem Diamonds Ltd.


Reference: Evan M. Smith, Peng Ni, Steven B. Shirey, Stephen H. Richardson, Wuyi Wang and Anat Shahar, “Heavy iron in large gem diamonds traces deep subduction of serpentinized ocean floor”, Science Advances  31 Mar 2021: Vol. 7, no. 14, eabe9773 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abe9773


Provided by Carnegie Science

Martian Meteorite Mineral Named After Carnegie’s Yingwei Fei (Planetary Science)

Carnegie’s Yingwei Fei is the namesake of an iron-titanuim oxide mineral discovered in a meteorite that originated on Mars. Caltech’s Chi Ma announced the find this week at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference.

Called Feiite, with a composition of Fe3TiO5, the mineral formed during a violent impact on the Red Planet that sent the rock hurtling into space. During the event its molecular architecture was rearranged by a shock wave resulting in extreme pressure, which formed a new crystalline structure. A chunk was ejected and eventually crashed to Earth, where it was studied by Ma using electron-beam and synchrotron techniques.

The name was selected in recognition of Fei’s many significant contributions to high-pressure mineralogy and mineral physics.

Back-scatter electron image of the newly discovered mineral Feiite, named after Carnegie’s Yingwei Fei, which Caltech’s Chi Ma revealed in a shocked Shergotty Martian meteorite using advanced electron-beam and synchrotron techniques. The image is courtesy of Chi Ma, Caltech.

“This is quite an honor,” he said. “For over a century, Carnegie experimental petrologists and mineralogists have been at the forefront of mineralogical research. I am proud to join the list of Carnegie researchers with minerals that bear their names.”

The Perseverance rover, which recently landed on Mars, will eventually return samples to Earth for study. But for now, earthbound scientists interested in studying Martian rocks in detail are limited to probing the rare meteorites from the Red Planet.

Ma’s research uncovered several previously unknown minerals, including Feiite, which provide new insight into impact processes on Mars, and could also inform our understanding of high pressure and temperature mineralogy on Earth.

“This is a much-deserved acknowledgement of Fei’s impressive legacy in the high-pressure research community,” said Michael Walter, the Deputy Director of Carnegie’s Earth and Planets Laboratory. “His work has helped us understand so much about our own planet’s geologic history, so it is fitting that his name is now part of the quest to understand the processes that shaped our neighbor, Mars.”

Featured image: Mars mosaic courtesy of NASA


Provided by Carnegie Science

From Stardust To Pale Blue Dot: Carbon’s Interstellar Journey to Earth (Chemistry)

We are made of stardust, the saying goes, and a pair of studies including University of Michigan research finds that may be more true than we previously thought.

The first study, led by U-M researcher Jie (Jackie) Li and published in Science Advances, finds that most of the carbon on Earth was likely delivered from the interstellar medium, the material that exists in space between stars in a galaxy. This likely happened well after the protoplanetary disk, the cloud of dust and gas that circled our young sun and contained the building blocks of the planets, formed and warmed up.

Carbon was also likely sequestered into solids within one million years of the sun’s birth—which means that carbon, the backbone of life on earth, survived an interstellar journey to our planet.

Previously, researchers thought carbon in the Earth came from molecules that were initially present in nebular gas, which then accreted into a rocky planet when the gases were cool enough for the molecules to precipitate. Li and her team, which includes U-M astronomer Edwin Bergin, Geoffrey Blake of Caltech, Fred Ciesla of the University of Chicago and Marc Hirschmann of the University of Minnesota, point out in this study that the gas molecules that carry carbon wouldn’t be available to build the Earth because once carbon vaporizes, it does not condense back into a solid.

“The condensation model has been widely used for decades. It assumes that during the formation of the sun, all of the planet’s elements got vaporized, and as the disk cooled, some of these gases condensed and supplied chemical ingredients to solid bodies. But that doesn’t work for carbon,” said Li, a professor in the U-M Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

Much of carbon was delivered to the disk in the form of organic molecules. However, when carbon is vaporized, it produces much more volatile species that require very low temperatures to form solids. More importantly, carbon does not condense back again into an organic form. Because of this, Li and her team inferred most of Earth’s carbon was likely inherited directly from the interstellar medium, avoiding vaporization entirely.

To better understand how Earth acquired its carbon, Li estimated the maximum amount of carbon Earth could contain. To do this, she compared how quickly a seismic wave travels through the core to the known sound velocities of the core. This told the researchers that carbon likely makes up less than half a percent of Earth’s mass. Understanding the upper bounds of how much carbon the Earth might contain tells the researchers information about when the carbon might have been delivered here.

“We asked a different question: We asked how much carbon could you stuff in the Earth’s core and still be consistent with all the constraints,” Bergin said, professor and chair of the U-M Department of Astronomy. “There’s uncertainty here. Let’s embrace the uncertainty to ask what are the true upper bounds for how much carbon is very deep in the Earth, and that will tell us the true landscape we’re within.”

A planet’s carbon must exist in the right proportion to support life as we know it. Too much carbon, and the Earth’s atmosphere would be like Venus, trapping heat from the sun and maintaining a temperature of about 880 degrees Fahrenheit. Too little carbon, and Earth would resemble Mars: an inhospitable place unable to support water-based life, with temperatures around minus 60.

In a second study by the same group of authors, but led by Hirschmann of the University of Minnesota, the researchers looked at how carbon is processed when the small precursors of planets, known as planetesimals, retain carbon during their early formation. By examining the metallic cores of these bodies, now preserved as iron meteorites, they found that during this key step of planetary origin, much of the carbon must be lost as the planetesimals melt, form cores and lose gas. This upends previous thinking, Hirschmann says.

“Most models have the carbon and other life-essential materials such as water and nitrogen going from the nebula into primitive rocky bodies, and these are then delivered to growing planets such as Earth or Mars,” said Hirschmann, professor of earth and environmental sciences. “But this skips a key step, in which the planetesimals lose much of their carbon before they accrete to the planets.”

Hirschmann’s study was recently published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The planet needs carbon to regulate its climate and allow life to exist, but it’s a very delicate thing,” Bergin said. “You don’t want to have too little, but you don’t want to have too much.”

Bergin says the two studies both describe two different aspects of carbon loss—and suggest that carbon loss appears to be a central aspect in constructing the Earth as a habitable planet.

“Answering whether or not Earth-like planets exist elsewhere can only be achieved by working at the intersection of disciplines like astronomy and geochemistry,” said Ciesla, a U. of C. professor of geophysical sciences. “While approaches and the specific questions that researchers work to answer differ across the fields, building a coherent story requires identifying topics of mutual interest and finding ways to bridge the intellectual gaps between them. Doing so is challenging, but the effort is both stimulating and rewarding.”

Blake, a co-author on both studies and a Caltech professor of cosmochemistry and planetary science, and of chemistry, says this kind of interdisciplinary work is critical.

“Over the history of our galaxy alone, rocky planets like the Earth or a bit larger have been assembled hundreds of millions of times around stars like the Sun,” he said. “Can we extend this work to examine carbon loss in planetary systems more broadly? Such research will take a diverse community of scholars.”

Funding sources for this collaborative research include the National Science Foundation, NASA’s Exoplanets Research Program, NASA’s Emerging Worlds Program and the NASA Astrobiology Program.

Featured image: Element carbon in periodic table (stock image). Credit: © vchalup / stock.adobe.com


Journal References:

  1. J. Li, E. A. Bergin, G. A. Blake, F. J. Ciesla, M. M. Hirschmann. Earth’s carbon deficit caused by early loss through irreversible sublimation. Science Advances, 2021; 7 (14): eabd3632 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abd3632
  2. Marc M. Hirschmann, Edwin A. Bergin, Geoff A. Blake, Fred J. Ciesla, Jie Li. Early volatile depletion on planetesimals inferred from C–S systematics of iron meteorite parent bodies. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2021; 118 (13): e2026779118 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2026779118

Provided by University of Michigan

Covid-19 Mask Study Finds Layering, Material Choice Matter (Medicine)

Wearing a face mask can protect yourself and others from Covid-19, but the type of material and how many fabric layers used can significantly affect exposure risk, finds a study from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The study measured the filtration efficiency of submicron particles passing through a variety of different materials. For comparison, a human hair is about 50 microns in diameter while 1 millimeter is 1,000 microns in size.

“A submicron particle can stay in the air for hours and days, depending on the ventilation, so if you have a room that is not ventilated or poorly ventilated then these small particles can stay there for a very long period of time,” said Nga Lee (Sally) Ng, associate professor and Tanner Faculty Fellow in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.

The study was conducted during spring 2020, when the pandemic triggered a global shutdown of most institutions. Communities faced massive shortages of personal protective equipment, prompting many people to make their own homemade masks. Georgia Tech quickly set up the study since it already had “a great system for testing filtration efficiency using existing instruments in the lab,” Ng recalled.

The study’s findings were used to shape homemade face mask recommendations here last April, with the comprehensive study findings published on March 22 in the journal Aerosol Science and Technology.

In all, the researchers tested 33 different commercially accessible materials not limited to cloth fabrics, including single-layer woven fabrics such as cotton and woven polyester, blended fabrics, nonwoven materials, cellulose-based materials, materials commonly found and used in hospitals, and various filter materials.

Graduate student Taekyu Joo setting up the filtration efficiency measurement system. © Fobang Liu, Georgia Tech

“We learned there was a lot of variability in filtration performance even in the same type of material,” Ng said.

“We found commercially available materials that provide acceptable levels of submicron particle rejection while still maintaining air flow resistance similar to a surgical mask,” said Ryan Lively, an associate professor and John H. Woody Faculty Fellow in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. “These materials combine fabric fiber density, a maze-like structure, and fiber surface chemistry to effectively reject submicron particles.”

The best-performing materials for homemade masks were blackout drapery and sterilization wrap widely used for packing surgical instruments. Both materials are commercially available.

The researchers said people should avoid using filters such as a HEPA/MERV or vacuum bags unless they are certified to be fiberglass-free since often such filters on their own may release glass fibers that can be inhaled. Other materials to avoid for masks include loose-knitted material, batting fabric, felt, fleece, or shiny, reusable shopping bags.

Multilayered samples performed much better than single-layer samples, but people should pay attention to breathability. The two-layered and three-layered samples tested show an overall filtration efficiency of about 50% for submicron particles. Mask fit is also important since particles can easily escape through gaps at the nose or through the sides of the mask.

The analysis showed that properly fitted and multilayer masks reject 84% of particles expelled by a person when one person wears it. Two people donning these types of masks reduces particle transmission by 96%.

A final takeaway of the research was the importance of universal mask wearing.

“The best way to protect ourselves and others is to reduce exhaled particles at the source, and the source is our face,” Ng said, adding, “That really gets amplified when everyone starts wearing masks.”

She expressed optimism that the findings will motivate people to more widely embrace mask wearing if they are sick and need to be in public.

“Not everyone understands the importance of airborne virus transmission, and the importance of wearing a mask,” she said. “I hope that the practice will continue to help reduce the release of these viral particles into the environment and help protect others.”

In addition to Ng and Lively, the researchers included Taekyu Joo, Masayuki Takeuchi, Fobang Liu, Matthew P. Rivera, and Bahnisikha Dutta from Georgia Tech; Joy Barr and Eric Parker from theClubhou.se; Emily S. Blum and John H. Tipton from the Global Center for Medical Innovation; and Julia Varnedoef from Cobb County (Georgia) Schools.

Featured image: Some of the mask fabric samples tested by Georgia Tech researchers © Taekyu Joo, Georgia Tech


Reference: Taekyu Joo, Masayuki Takeuchi, Fobang Liu, Matthew P. Rivera, Joy Barr, Emily S. Blum, Eric Parker, John H. Tipton, Julia Varnedoe, Bahnisikha Dutta, Ryan P. Lively & Nga Lee Ng (2021) Evaluation of Particle Filtration Efficiency of Commercially Available Materials for Homemade Face Mask Usage, Aerosol Science and Technology, DOI: 10.1080/02786826.2021.1905149


Provided by Georgia Institute of technology

Research Reveals Why Redheads May have Different Pain Thresholds (Medicine)

Study in red-haired mice uncovers mechanisms involved and suggests new treatment strategies for pain

New research led by investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) provides insights on why people with red hair exhibit altered sensitivity to certain kinds of pain. The findings are published in Science Advances.

In people with red hair (as in numerous other species of animals with red fur), the pigment-producing cells of the skin–called melanocytes–contain a variant form of the melanocortin 1 receptor. This receptor sits on the cell surface, and if it becomes activated by circulating hormones called melanocortins, it causes the melanocyte to switch from generating yellow/red melanin pigment to producing brown/black melanin pigment. Earlier work by David E. Fisher, MD, PhD, director of the Mass General Cancer Center’s Melanoma Program and director of MGH’s Cutaneous Biology Research Center, demonstrated that the inability of red-haired individuals to tan or darken their skin pigment is traced to inactive variants of this receptor.

To investigate the mechanisms behind different pain thresholds in red-haired individuals, Fisher and his colleagues studied a strain of red-haired mice that (as in humans) contains a variant that lacks melanocortin 1 receptor function and also exhibits higher pain thresholds.

The team found that loss of melanocortin 1 receptor function in the red-haired mice caused the animals’ melanocytes to secrete lower levels of a molecule called POMC (proopiomelanocortin) that is subsequently cut into different hormones including one that sensitizes to pain and one that blocks pain. The presence of these hormones maintains a balance between opioid receptors that inhibit pain and melanocortin 4 receptors that enhance perception of pain.

In red-haired mice (and therefore, possibly humans), having both hormones at low levels would seemingly cancel each other out. However, the body also produces additional, non-melanocyte-related factors that activate opioid receptors involved in blocking pain. Therefore, the net effect of lower levels of the melanocyte-related hormones is more opioid signals, which elevates the threshold for pain.

“These findings describe the mechanistic basis behind earlier evidence suggesting varied pain thresholds in different pigmentation backgrounds,” says Fisher. “Understanding this mechanism provides validation of this earlier evidence and a valuable recognition for medical personnel when caring for patients whose pain sensitivities may vary.”

Fisher adds that the results suggest new ways to manipulate the body’s natural processes that control pain perception–for example, by designing new medications that inhibit melanocortin 4 receptors involved in sensing pain.

“Our ongoing work is focused on elucidating how additional skin-derived signals regulate pain and opioid signaling,” adds co-lead author Lajos V. Kemény, MD, PhD, a research fellow in Dermatology at MGH. “Understanding these pathways in depth may lead to the identification of novel pain-modulating strategies.”

This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Melanoma Research Alliance, the U.S.-Israel Binational Science Foundation, and the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Medical Research Foundation.


Reference: Kathleen C. Robinson, Lajos V. Kemény et al., “Reduced MC4R signaling alters nociceptive thresholds associated with red hair”, Science Advances  02 Apr 2021: Vol. 7, no. 14, eabd1310 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abd1310


Provided by Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard

Astronomers Found Possible Evidence Of Planet Formation Through Gravitational Instability (Planetary Science)

Cadman and colleagues in their paper, presented their recent observations of the protoplanetary disc surrounding AB Aurigae. They have revealed the possible presence of two giant planets of masses 4–13 MJup (4–13 times that of the mass of the Jupiter) in the process of forming. Both planets observed at 𝑎 ≈ 30 AU and may have formed through gravitational disc instability (GI) in the natal AB Aurigae disc. Their study recently appeared on Journal ArXiv.

There are two widely held theories for how giant gas planets can form: core accretion and disk instability. Core accretion occurs from the collision and coagulation of solid particles into gradually larger bodies until a massive enough planetary embryo is formed (10-20 Earth masses) to accrete a gaseous envelope. On the other hand, gravitational instability mechanism occurs when the solar nebula breaks up through its own self-gravity into clumps of gas and dust, termed giant gaseous protoplanets (GGPPs), which then contract and collapse to form giant planets. Gravitational instability appears to be capable of forming giant planets with modest cores of ice and rock faster than the core accretion mechanism can.

Ab Aurigae is a 2.4 M, Herbig Ae/Be star, at a distance d ~ 162.9 pc. Various authors find an age for the star-disc system to be somewhere between 1–4 Myr. The young measured age of 1−4Myr for this system allowed Cadman and colleagues to place strict time constraints on the formation histories of the observed planets. Hence they may be able to make a crucial distinction between formation through core accretion (CA) or the gravitational instability (GI), as CA formation timescales are typically Myrs whilst formation through GI will occur within the first ≈ 104−105 yrs of disc evolution.

They focused their analysis on the 4−13 MJup planet observed at R ≈ 30AU. They found that CA formation timescales for such a massive planet typically exceed the system’s age. The planet’s high mass and wide orbit may instead be indicative of formation through GI. They used smoothed particle hydrodynamic simulations to determine the system’s critical disc mass for fragmentation, finding Md,crit=0.3M. Viscous evolution models of the disc’s mass history indicated that it was likely massive enough to exceed Md,crit in the recent past, thus it is possible that a young AB Aurigae disc may have fragmented to form multiple giant gaseous protoplanets.

They also done calculations of the Jeans mass in an AB Aurigae-like disc and found that fragments may initially form with masses 1.6−13.3MJup, consistent with the planets which have been observed. They therefore proposed that the inferred planets in the disc surrounding AB Aurigae may be evidence of planet formation through GI.

Featured image: SPH models of an AB Aurigae-like disc. Each disc is set up with 𝑀∗ = 2.4 M, 𝑅out = 400 AU, 𝑁 = 1 × 106
and Σ ∝ 𝑅¯1, 𝑐s ∝ 𝑅^ –0.25. They vary the disc-to-star mass ratios within the range 𝑞 = 0.08 – 0.15 (𝑀d = 0.2 – 0.35 M). They found the critical disc-to-star mass ratio for fragmentation in an AB Aurigae-like disc to be 𝑞crit = 0.125 (𝑀d,crit = 0.3 M). © Cadman et al.


Reference: James Cadman, Ken Rice, Cassandra Hall, “AB Aurigae: Possible evidence of planet formation through the gravitational instability”, ArXiv, pp. 1-12, 2021. https://arxiv.org/abs/2103.14945


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