A Red Cross and Red Crescent call to action on nuclear weapons.


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Do You Really Need a Vitamin D Supplement?

A new study says that taking vitamin D supplements for bone-strengthening and protection against osteoporosis is not necessary for healthy middle-aged adults.

But a bone health expert at Cleveland Clinic urges people at risk for vitamin D deficiency to consult their doctors before discontinuing use.


Studies showed no significant increase in BMD

Recent concerns about the safety risks of taking calcium supplements has led some adults to take vitamin D (without calcium) for bone protection.

The University of Auckland study — a meta-analysis of past studies — found that vitamin D supplements alone had little effect on bone-mineral density (BMD). Investigators combined data from 23 past trials, studying 4082 adults, 92 percent of whom were women. Studies showed no significant increase in BMD in most areas of the body.

In light of this researchers concluded that widespread use of vitamin D for osteoporosis prevention in adults without risk factors for vitamin D deficiency was unwarranted.

Importance of vitamin D shouldn’t be minimized

Chad Deal, MD, was not involved in the study but is Director of the Center of Osteoporosis and Metabolic Bone Disease at Cleveland Clinic.

Though not disagreeing with the study’s conclusions, he worries that the findings may cause some to minimize the positive impact of vitamin D on at-risk people.

“The study is on the effect of vitamin D on BMD, which is modest and not surprising,” says Dr. Deal. “Vitamin D would not be expected to have a large effect unless the patient had severe vitamin D deficiency, in which case the bone density effect could be significant.”

“Patients with vitamin D deficiency should not get the take-home message that vitamin D will not benefit them,” he says.


Fracture protection and other safeguards

For older, at-risk patients, vitamin D deficiency can have a major impact on fracture, says Dr. Deal. Deficiency can cause osteomalacia, softening of the bone due to impaired mineralization, which makes fractures more likely.

Bone mineral density is not a perfect surrogate for fracture, especially in older patients,” Dr. Deal says.

Vitamin D can also have “huge benefits” on muscle function, cognition and falling, he adds.

Healthy middle-aged adults should talk to their doctor about both their vitamin D and calcium levels to see if they need to be taking vitamin D supplements, either alone or with calcium.

Engineers cut time to 3D-print heterogeneous objects from hours to minutes.

Researchers at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering have developed a faster 3D printing process and are now using it to model and fabricate heterogeneous objects, which comprise multiple materials. Although 3D printing – or direct digital manufacturing – has the potential to revolutionize various industries by providing faster, cheaper and more accurate manufacturing options, fabrication time and the complexity of multi-material objects have long been a hurdle to its widespread use in the marketplace. With this newly developed 3D , however, USC Viterbi professor Yong Chen and his team have shaved the fabrication time down to minutes, bringing the manufacturing world one step closer to achieving its goal.


“Digital material design and fabrication enables controlled material distributions of multiple base materials in a product component for significantly improved design performance. Such fabrication capability opens up exciting new options that were previously impossible,” said Yong Chen, Ph.D., professor in the Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering and the study’s lead researcher.

Traditional modeling and prototyping approaches used to take days, but over the past several decades various additive manufacturing (AM) processes have been developed to fabricate both homogeneous and heterogeneous objects more quickly. Currently, AM processes such as multi-jet modeling, which create a solid 3D object from a digital model by laying down successive layers of material, can fabricate a complex object in a matter of hours.

Last year, Chen and another team of USC Viterbi researchers improved an AM-related process called mask-image-projection-based stereolithography (MIP-SL) to drastically speed up the fabrication of homogeneous 3D objects. In the MIP-SL process, a 3D digital model of an object is sliced by a set of horizontal planes and each slice is converted into a two-dimensional mask image. The mask image is then projected onto a photocurable liquid resin surface and light is projected onto the resin to cure it in the shape of the related layer.

Ring and bracelet system designed to help the hearing-impaired.

Take rings, add a bracelet, and you have a helping mechanism for the hearing-impaired in a novel design. For people who have hearing handicaps and do not know sign language, the ring and bracelet system can help them out, both in communicating what they need to say and in getting messages they can read. First, a Sign Language Ring behaves as a translating device that picks up motion and gestures and translates them into words, delivered through voice by the bracelet. The bracelet can translate spoken words into its readable display panel for the wearer to read. After use, the rings can be set into the bracelet for storage.


The design was inspired by Buddhist prayer beads. The name of the entire system is the Sign Language Ring, which is actually a set of rings and a bracelet. In all, six gesture-detecting finger rings can be snapped and stored on the bracelet. The user can program certain gestures to a specific word if desired. The speaker box and readable display are wrapped around the bracelet. After use, the rings can be set into the for storage.

Sign Language Ring is a 2013 winner of the red dot award for design concept. The red dot award for design concept is an annual design competition for design concept and prototypes. Winning concepts are exhibited at the red dot museum in Singapore for at least one year.

This attempt comes at a time when wearable technologies market watchers are recognizing a subset that carries ample opportunities for growth, and that is wearables as disability technologies for the deaf, blind, paralyzed, and elderly. In turn, there is interest in “hear ware,” which would include embedding jewelry with technologies that can help those who have hearing difficulties.


In a GigaOm Pro article titled “The wearable computing market: a global analysis by Jody Ranck, the author made note of the 2006 event in London, where the Victoria and Albert Museum hosted an exhibition on hear ware. These were technologies developed in response to a call from the UK Design Council to rethink the hearing aid. The result, said the author, was a fascinating array of wearable technologies outfitted with sensors and hearing devices.

The Particle at the End of the Universe.

The difficulty of trying to explain the hunt for the Higgs boson shows that nature will not be so easily defined.
The Large Hadron Collider at Cern probably has another 20 years of use and further glories can be anticipated.

In the early 80s, the US decided to build a massive particle accelerator which was called – with typical American excess – the Superconducting Super Collider. During its early planning stages, the great machine was enthusiastically supported by the vast majority of US congressmen who each hoped the $4.4bn project would be based in his or her state, bringing jobs and prestige.

The Particle at the End of the Universe, by Sean Carroll The Particle at the End of the Universe: The Hunt for the Higgs and the Discovery of a New World, by Sean Carroll

Texas was eventually selected to be the SCC’s home – at Waxahachie, near Dallas. Forty-nine out of the 50 state delegations in Congress promptly dropped their interest in the SSC, leaving it fighting for its life. The Nobel laureate (and SCC defender) Steven Weinberg subsequently appeared on radio with a congressman who wanted to stop the project. “I explained that the collider was going to help us learn the laws of nature and asked if that didn’t deserve a high priority,” Weinberg recalls. “I remember every word of his answer. It was ‘No’.”

A few months later the SSC was cancelled and so Europe took over responsibility for the next-generation collider that physicists said they needed. The Large Hadron Collider – built at the laboratories of Cern, near Geneva – eventually began operations in 2009 when scientists started smashing beams of protons into each other to seek new sub-atomic entities in the debris. Three years later, they found the Higgs boson, the fabled particle responsible for giving mass to objects. Peter Higgs, a Brit, and the Belgian François Englert, who first proposed the particle’s existence, subsequently shared the 2013 Nobel prize for physics.

Crucially, the LHC probably has another 20 years of use and further glories can be anticipated – though Sean Carroll makes it clear that these are unlikely to bring wealth or vast industrial returns. We construct machines such as the LHC, and try to uncover the building blocks of the cosmos, primarily as cultural exercises, he argues in The Particle at the End of the Universe. “Basic science might not lead to immediate improvements in national defence or a cure for cancer but it enriches our lives by teaching us something about the universe of which were are a part,” he tells us. “That should be a very high priority indeed.”

It is a fair point though it begs the simple question: just what have we learned from the billions of euros we have invested in particle physics? What cultural benefits have they brought? A great deal, says Carroll. We now know that sub-atomic particles come in two varieties: fermions that make up matter, and bosons that carry forces. The latter include gluons, photons, gravitons (which carry gravity) and of course the Higgs. The former, the fermions, include leptons such as the electron and quarks of which there are six types: up, down, charm, strange, top and bottom. On top of that we have issues of symmetry, force fields and wave functions.

And that, I am afraid to say, is just the start, for as Carroll makes abundantly and wearisomely clear, these particles, forces and processes combine in highly complex, intricate ways, often inducing numbing incomprehension in the process. “Whenever we have symmetry that allows us to do independent transformations at different points (a gauge symmetry), it automatically comes with a connection field that lets us compare what is going on at those locations,” we are told at one point. I confess the sentence makes no sense to me despite several readings. Nor is it the only chunk of Carroll prose that left me reeling in bafflement.

To be fair to the author, he is dealing with a subject of mind-spinning complexity. Things get messy, he admits. “It’s not supposed to be simple; we’re talking about a series of discoveries that resulted in multiple Nobel prizes,” he states.

It is a good point and Carroll does try to pace his book carefully – at least during the opening sections. New concepts are introduced with restraint and, by adopting a light, slightly gossipy style, he occasionally lightens the reader’s load. On the work of the experimentalists at Cern who strive day and night to drive their machines to the limits, he tells us that “occasionally they are allowed to visit their families, or see the sun, though such frivolities are kept to a minimum”. That perfectly captures the intense, massive collaboration – involving thousands of scientists – that was required to build and run the Large Hadron Collider.

Unfortunately, such levity makes only rare appearances in a book that is sadly disfigured by the over-weaning ambition, of an otherwise talented author, to write the definitive account of the laws of nature for the layman. The resulting confusion suggests such an account is simply not feasible. Nature will not be so easily defined, it seems.