Nicotine Withdrawal Causes Addicted Smokers To Have Trouble ‘Turning On’ Their Willpower.

New findings on the neurobiological basis of nicotine addiction may explain why 80 percent of smokers relapse after trying to quit.

More Addictive Than Heroin: How Nicotine Traps The Smoker

Along with cocaine and methamphetamine, nicotine is one of the most dangerously addictive drugs — addicting as many as 45 percent of those who smoke on a regular basis. Many smokers trying to quit report an overwhelming desire to maintain the habit, an internal battle of wills science has not fully understood.

Now, scientists using brain-imaging technology say smokers suffering from nicotine withdrawal may experience trouble shifting from our brain’s default mode — introspective or self-referential — to the higher focus of the executive control network, which helps control cravings for drugs, foods, and other substances.

Like a jerky transmission in an old truck, the nicotine-addled brain has trouble shifting focus, says Caryn Lerman, a University of Pennsylvania researcher who led the study.

“What we believe this means is that smokers who just quit have a more difficult time shifting gears from inward thoughts about how they feel to an outward focus on the tasks at hand,” Lerman said in a statement. “It’s very important for people who are trying to quit to be able to maintain activity within the control network— to be able to shift from thinking about yourself and your inner state to focus on your more immediate goals and plan.”

In the study, smokers abstaining from tobacco experienced weakened connectivity between large neurological networks in the brain, including the default mode, executive control, and something called the salience network. Lerman and her colleagues believe this weakening of connectivity harms the brain’s ability to muster the will to quit smoking.

Though researchers had previously examined the effects of the drug on brain activity while in a resting mode, this new study is the first to look at the effects of smoking while the brain is in action. Thirty-seven healthy smokers ranging in age from 19 to 61 underwent two fMRI scans, measuring brain activity during abstinence and smoking as usual. Smokers in the study consumed at least a half-pack of cigarettes a day, or more.

Those scans revealed weakened connections between the default mode and salience network, which researchers found associated with increased urges to smoke, lowered mood, and other common symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.

“Symptoms of withdrawal are related to changes in smokers’ brains, as they adjust to being off of nicotine, and this study validates those experiences as having a biological basis,” Lerman said. “The next step will be to identify in advance those smokers who will have more difficulty quitting and target more intensive treatments, based on brain activity and network connectivity.”

In future visits to the doctor, patients wishing to quit smoking may be offered diagnostic tests to determine the best course of treatment, the researchers hope. Today, more than 16 million Americans suffer from at least one disease caused by smoking, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and various lung diseases.

Smoking costs the United States some $289 billion per year, including $133 billion in direct medical costs associated with smoking-related diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Through smoking and second-hand smoke, more than a half-million Americans die every year.

Source: Lerman C., Louhed, James, Ruparel, Kosha, Yang, Yihong, Stein, Elliot A. Large-Scale Brain Network Coupling Predicts Acute Nicotine Abstinence Effects On Craving And Cognitive Function. JAMA Psychiatry. 2014.

Why hydrogen-powered cars will drive Elon Musk crazy.

Forget the Tesla Model S. Another car of the future is finally hitting the highway.

After decades of development—and no small amount of skepticism—major automakers are set to start selling hydrogen fuel-cell cars in small numbers in the US. In the coming months, a hydrogen-powered version of Hyundai’s Tucson sport utility vehicle will appear in southern California showrooms. And Honda and Toyota next year will offer Californians futuristic sedans that can travel 300 miles (480 km) or more on a tank of hydrogen gas while emitting nothing more toxic than water vapor.

The state of California, meanwhile, is putting up $20 million a year to finance the construction of 100 fueling stations, at last building former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s much hyped but vaporous “hydrogen highway.” It’s been 15 years since the California Fuel Cell Partnership, a coalition of automakers, technology companies and government policymakers, was founded, but now, says Catherine Dunwoody, its director, “We’re definitely at that tipping point where we’re confident that we can launch the market for hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.”

The Toyota FCV.

Up to now, the ambition of weaning drivers off fossil fuels has largely focused on hot-selling electric cars like Tesla’s Model S. (In the US, transportation alone accounts for nearly a third of the nation’s greenhouse gas spew.) But hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles may be the real game-changer.

Powered by a fuel whose supply is practically inexhaustible—every nation can be the Saudi Arabia of hydrogen—fuel-cell cars convert pressurized hydrogen gas into electricity that powers the vehicle. The hydrogen cars now coming onto the market have triple the range of most battery electric cars and can be refueled in minutes rather than recharged in hours. And hydrogen technology can be scaled up to fuel buses, long-haul trucks and other big vehicles that most current battery packs are too puny to power. “We don’t see any reason customers wouldn’t adopt this technology in exchange for a gasoline vehicle as there’s no trade-offs,” Craig Scott, Toyota’s US national manager of advanced technology vehicles, told Quartz.

Actually, there are trade-offs. One is price. When I drove a Mercedes fuel-cell prototype in 2007, a Daimler representative said it cost nearly $1 million to build the bespoke vehicle. The other is infrastructure. Today, there are fewer than two dozen public hydrogen fuel stations operating in the US—and seven of those are in the Los Angeles area. Hence Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s recent declaration that hydrogen cars were “bullshit.”

But the H-bomb is about to drop. The cost of making fuel-cell vehicles has dropped fast. And with state funding secured, a hydrogen fuel-station building boom is under way in California. The Obama administration, meanwhile, has launched an effort to take the state’s hydrogen strategy nationwide.

The rollout of hydrogen cars is about more than which road to take to the carbon-free future, though. It’s a test of two very different strategies. And it’s a showdown between Tesla, an upstart Silicon Valley automaker that grew to a $30 billion market cap—half of Honda’s—on the basis of a single electric car, and the world’s biggest car companies, who are dependent on the government to finance the first leg of the hydrogen highway.

The commonest fuel in the universe

An automotive fuel cell is essentially a big battery. A pressurized tank supplies hydrogen gas that travels to an anode on one side of the cell, where a platinum catalyst splits the gas into protons and electrons. On the other side, oxygen from the ambient air flows to the cathode. In between them sits a membrane that lets the hydrogen’s protons pass through but blocks the electrons. The electrons are forced to take the long way round to the cathode, via an external circuit. That stream of electrons is the electrical current that powers the vehicle’s motor. When the electrons and protons meet again in the cathode, they combine with the oxygen and create water.

US Department of Energy US Department of Energy

Hydrogen may be the most abundant element in the universe, but outside the centers of stars and gas-giant planets, very little of it exists in the pure and compressed form that fuel cells need. It needs to be extracted from other compounds, like water or methane. That takes energy, which means that fuel-cell cars, like electric cars, are never truly “emissions-free” unless the hydrogen is produced from renewable sources like solar, wind or biogas.

They are, however, relatively clean. Cars that run on hydrogen derived from natural gas emit 55% to 65% less carbon than gasoline-powered ones, because they’re more efficient; they also don’t spew carcinogens or smog-forming compounds. Battery-electric and fuel-cell cars emit about the same amount of greenhouse gases per mile when natural gas is used to produce electricity or hydrogen, according to a February report from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Currently, an electric car is probably cheaper to operate than a fuel-cell vehicle with comparable range. Based on one estimate—though it may be dated—a fuel-cell car will cost three or four times as much per mile. But that could come down. While the big car companies’ interest in electric cars has been fickle, following equally fickle mandates from state and federal regulators, a handful of car companies have stayed the course on fuel cells, steadily improving the technology over the years.

The road to the future begins in Los Angeles

The epicenter of fuel-cell technology in the US lies a few miles from the Los Angeles International Airport. That’s where Honda and Toyota maintain their US headquarters (Hyundai’s HQ is in neighboring Orange County.) More than a decade before California enacted its groundbreaking 2006 climate-change law, which mandated big reductions in carbon emissions, the state had decreed that the major automakers meet targets for selling emission-free vehicles to combat air pollution. That has made smoggy southern California the test bed for both electric and hydrogen-fueled cars.

Toyota, for instance, began its fuel cell program in 1992. Despite building perhaps the most successful hybrid electric car, the Prius, which paved the way for consumers to accept pure electric vehicles, Toyota has long been skeptical of electrics. “We see a way forward for commercializing fuel cells,” says Scott. “That’s why were bullish on this. We’re still having a hard time seeing costs come down for batteries.”

Daniel Sperling, the director of the Institute for Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis, recently visited Toyota’s fuel-cell research and development labs in Japan. “They have a massive investment in fuel cell technology and clearly see a path to the mass market,” he told Quartz. “I think they’ve gotten to the point where the costs are low enough that they won’t lose too much money.”

How a $1 million car became a $50,000 car

These advances have been a long time in coming. Toyota introduced its first prototype fuel cell car in 1996. Eleven years later it modified a Highlander SUV to run on hydrogen. These early fuel cells were hand-built, hence the million-dollar Mercedes I drove. Toyota’s Highlander reportedly cost a similar amount. But in January of this year, when executives unveiled the FCV, a sleek prototype of a car due to be released in 2015, they said they had reduced costs by 95%.

How? For one thing, the cost of electric power trains and motors has plummeted, thanks to the mass production of the Prius and other hybrids. Fuel cell systems have also gotten more advanced. Scott says Toyota’s latest fuel cells are more efficient, more powerful, and use less platinum, the priciest of precious metals.

Honda, similarly, built its first hydrogen prototype, called the FCX, in 1999 and delivered five of the cars to the city of Los Angeles in 2002. Six years later, Honda began leasing the FCX Clarity for $600 a month, hydrogen included. There are about two dozen of the claret-hued cars currently on the road in the LA area. Like Toyota, Honda is launching a new model next year; the name is as yet undecided.

Now, at Honda’s sprawling US headquarters in Torrance, California, Steve Ellis, the company’s manager for fuel cell marketing, notes that the fuel-cell stack for next year’s car will be 33% smaller than the previous version. The energy density has jumped 60%, meaning the fuel cell generates more power at a lower price. “We’re not nibbling at the edges here,” says Ellis. “There’s leaps in technology advancement and cost reduction.”

A worthy competitor to electric cars

I took a spin in Honda’s FCX Clarity to get a taste of what next year will bring. It’s a sleek, technology-packed four-seat sedan, and you can have any color you want as long as it’s Star Garnet Metallic. The 2013 model is a copy of the original introduced five years earlier, but under the hood the fuel cell has been tweaked over time to improve performance. While the Clarity does not rival the Tesla Model S in sheer style and whiz-bang technology—there’s no 17-inch iPad-like touch screen to control the car—it’s decked out with luxury touches and gizmos like a collision avoidance system.

Fill’er up. Honda’s Steve Ellis with the FCX Clarity at a hydrogen gas station. Photo: Todd Woody/Quartz

Like most electric cars, the Clarity runs silent. It accelerates swiftly through the boulevards surrounding Honda’s corporate campus and holds its own on LA freeways. There’s one big difference: After I pull into a hydrogen fuel station near the Honda campus and top off the tank, The range indicator reads 240 miles. The next-generation car will travel more than 300 miles.

A Nissan Leaf or Ford Focus Electric, by contrast, goes only about 75 miles on a charge. An entry-level, $63,570 Tesla Model S has a range of 208 miles, while the $75,070 version goes 265 miles. It takes four hours to fully charge the high-range Model S using a fast home charger. On a road trip, drivers can add 170 miles of range in 30 minutes at Tesla’s Supercharger stations. Clarity’s refuel time? Just a few minutes. I pop open the fuel door, plug in the fire-hose-like apparatus, and lock it into place. (A new pump design will reduce refueling time to fewer than three minutes.) It’s not too different from fueling a gasoline vehicle. I drive off without a twinge of range anxiety.

No automaker will reveal the production cost of its hydrogen cars, but analysts peg it at between $50,000 and $100,000. Gil Castillo, senior group manager of advanced vehicles for Hyundai in California, says costs have dropped 70% since the Korean company began working on fuel cells in the late 1990s. “I wouldn’t say that they’re at a price where they would equal a regular mid-sized sedan but they’re possibly up there with higher-end electric vehicles,” he told Quartz. Hyundai has announced it is leasing its hydrogen SUV for $499 a month, with fuel thrown in for free. Honda and Toyota haven’t yet announced pricing.

The cars are pricey but the fuel is cheap… probably

That the Hyundai lease includes free fuel indicates just how unsettled the economics of hydrogen remain. With so few hydrogen cars currently on the road, companies are reluctant to build lots of fueling stations, which can cost more than $1.5 million apiece. But automakers don’t want to put cars in showrooms until they know drivers can find a neighborhood hydrogen gas station. “The oil industry does not see a reward for being an early mover and has been unwilling to make big investments in hydrogen stations,” says Sperling.

The Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell. Photo: Hyundai

The problem isn’t necessarily supply. Hydrogen is used in oil refining, food production and other industrial processes, and supplies are plentiful in California. The question is how to transport it and what to charge for a kilogram of compressed gas to make a profit. One model is the prototype Shell hydrogen station in Torrance, which resembles a typical suburban gasoline station, minus the mini-mart selling junk food. A pipeline delivers the hydrogen from a nearby production facility and drivers punch in a code to access the pumps. As I filled up the Honda Clarity, another driver was pumping hydrogen into a fuel-cell version of a Chevrolet Equinox SUV.

But not everyone lives near an oil refinery, and building new pipelines isn’t cheap. At a station in Burbank, hydrogen is produced onsite by extracting it from natural gas. Greener yet, a station in Santa Monica creates its own hydrogen with an electrolyzer that uses an electrical current to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. (The station buys renewable energy from a local utility.) And a station in Orange County produces renewable hydrogen out of methane gas from a wastewater treatment plant.

California’s solution to the hydrogen chicken-and-egg conundrum? Cash. State funding will pay up to 70% of the capital costs of building the first 100 fuel stations, and subsidize operating and maintenance costs. “That has given station developers more confidence that they can make this investment and not lose their shirts,” says Dunwoody of the California Fuel Cell Partnership. “After we get to 100 stations, there will be enough investment in the market.” Or least that’s the hope.

California’s on-ramp to the hydrogen highway

A 2012 report from the organization estimates that 100 fueling stations will support more than 53,000 hydrogen vehicles. A network of 68 stations by the end of 2015, in the right places, would be enough to get the market to the tipping point of being commercially viable, the report says. Most will probably be installed at conventional gas stations.

Daniel Poppe, vice president of Hydrogen Frontier, a southern California company that builds and operates fueling stations, says the state funding will keep the market going until a critical mass of vehicles are on the road. “If we see a large number of cars, in the thousands not hundreds, then there will be a huge opportunity for all types of businesses to support the commercialization of hydrogen as a mainstream transportation fuel,” he told Quartz in an email.

California Fuel Cell Partnership

California is taking a much more planned approach to hydrogen fueling than it did to electric-car charging. For electrics, cities and businesses have set up charging stations willy-nilly in the hope that if they build them drivers will come. The state, on the other hand, is creating strategic clusters of hydrogen fueling stations in regions home to affluent, environmentally-conscious early adopters. In other words, the same places where a Tesla Model S is a common sight—Berkeley, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Santa Monica, west Los Angeles and coastal Orange County.

Given the hydrogen cars’ range, the state also estimates that a few “connector” stations located along major highways will allow drivers to travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco and popular destinations like Lake Tahoe, Palm Springs and the Napa wine country. That, as it happens, is a strategy pioneered by Tesla, which is building a national network of Superchargers to allow Model S owners to drive cross-country for free.

Can the big automakers out-Tesla Tesla?

The party line from green car proponents is that battery electric and fuel-cell technologies are complementary, filling different niches. The hard truth, though, is that Tesla may well end up being the biggest rival to hydrogen cars.

In February, Tesla revealed plans to build the world’s largest lithium-ion battery plant—a “gigafactory”—to drive down costs, so its next car, set to debut in 2017, can be cheap enough for the mass market. According to Tesla’s estimates, the gigafactory would allow the company to make 500,000 cars a year. (This year Tesla expects to build only 35,000.)

While Honda, Hyundai and Toyota are not disclosing sales targets, they say they expect only a few thousand cars to be sold or leased at first. “It’s completely unrealistic that everyone will be driving a fuel cell in a couple of years,” says Hyundai’s Castillo, noting the company will only make 300 hydrogen cars a year between in 2014 and 2015.

But the major automakers have the capacity to make far more cars than Tesla, which should further reduce fuel-cell costs. (They’re also cooperating with each other; Honda and General Motors are hooking up on R&D, and Toyota has a similar deal with BMW.) And even if hydrogen remains more expensive, mile for mile, than electricity, there’s still a trade-off in fueling time—three to five minutes for a hydrogen car versus hours for a battery-electric vehicle. 

The solar-powered hydrogen car

While both electric and fuel-cell cars still rely on fossil fuels to generate their sources of power, both types of technology could also spur renewable energy production. Tesla’s battery packs already are being used to store electricity from rooftop solar panel arrays and its gigafactory would produce gigawatts of energy storage that could upend the utility industry.

Honda’s solar-powered home hydrogen station.

In California, state law requires that a third of hydrogen used for transportation come from renewable sources if the producer received government funding. Once there are 10,000 fuel cell cars on the road, that rule kicks in for all hydrogen producers. “As we get to larger and larger volumes of hydrogen, California must look at more large-scale renewable energy production,” says Dunwoody.

Or small-scale. At Honda’s R&D campus, I drive the Clarity up to a gate that opens to reveal a prototype of a solar-powered hydrogen fueling station for the home (see picture above). The electrolyzer is powered by a 5-kilowatt photovoltaic panel array and can produce 30 miles’ worth of hydrogen overnight in your garage, from water. (Honda is still working to bring down the cost of home-brew hydrogen.) The gas can also be used to power residential fuel cells like those being developed by power giant NRG Energy.

Volunteer ‘cuddlers’ soothe newborns too sick to go home.

A volunteer slips her arms into a gauzy yellow hospital gown and approaches a medical crib holding a tiny newborn hooked up to noisy machines.

“OK,” she says, with a smile. “Baby time.”

That means cuddle time in the neonatal intensive care unit at the University of Chicago’s Comer Children’s Hospital. Here, as at several other hospitals around the country, strangers offer a simple yet powerful service for newborns too tiny or sick to go home.

When nurses are swamped with other patients and parents cannot make it to the hospital, grandmas, empty-nesters, college students and other volunteers step in. They hold the babies, swaddle them, sing and coo to them, rock them, and treat them as if they were their own.

A plaintive cry signals time to get to work.

“You can see them calm, you can see their heart rate drop, you can see their little brows relax,” said Kathleen Jones, 52, a cuddler at the Chicago hospital. “They’re fighting so hard and they’re undergoing all this medical drama and trauma. My heart breaks for them a little bit.”

Newborn intensive care units are noisy, stressful environments. There are babies born extremely prematurely, or with birth defects and other illnesses. Some are too sick to be held – but not too sick to touch. Cuddlers reach a finger inside their incubators and stroke tiny bare bellies.

Scientific evidence on benefits of cuddling programs is scarce, but the benefits of human touch are well-known. In one study, gentle caressing or placing a hand on preterm infants reduced levels of stress hormones. Other recent studies have suggested touch may benefit preemies’ heart rates and sleep and perhaps even shorten their hospital stays.

Studies also suggest that early negative experiences – including pain, stress and separation from other humans – may hamper brain development, while research in animals shows that positive interactions enhance brain growth, said Dr. Jerry Schwartz, medical director of medical neonatology at Torrance Memorial Medical Center near Los Angeles.

The benefit “at the most superficial level” is obvious, he said. “A baby is crying, mom’s not there, the nurse is busy with other sick babies, and it’s an unpleasant life experience to be crying and unattended to, and, voila! A cuddler comes over and the baby stops crying.”

Nancy Salcido has been a cuddler at Torrance for a year. Her two daughters are grown, and she considers her three-hour cuddling shifts good practice for any potential grandchildren.

“I just kind of hold them close to me … and talk to them, sharing my day, or give them little pep talks,” Salcido said. “One of the nurses has nicknamed me the baby whisperer.”

Parents typically must consent for their babies to be part of cuddling programs, and cuddlers must undergo background checks and training before starting the job. At Chicago’s Comer hospital, that includes lessons in how to swaddle babies tight to make them feel safe and how to maneuver around intravenous lines, as well as instruction in hygiene including frequent hand-washing.

At the Golisano Children’s Hospital in Rochester, N.Y., one cuddler is a young man born there prematurely long ago. He “just wants to come and give back,” said Chris Tryon, a child life specialist at the hospital, part of the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Comer’s cuddlers include 74-year-old Frank Dertz, a retired carpenter who heard about the program from his daughter, a Comer nurse.

“It’s quite a blessing for me. I get more out of it than the babies, I think,” Dertz said.

Kathleen Jones says the same thing. A mother of three grown daughters and grandmother of two little girls, she joined Comer’s program in 2012, working a couple afternoons a week or sometimes at night.

“They say that I look so in love with them when I’m there, but I cannot NOT crack an ear-to-ear smile whenever I pick that little guy or girl up.”

Volunteer ‘cuddlers’ soothe newborns too sick to go home

Her love seems obvious as she rocks a stranger’s newborn, the baby girl’s tiny hand gripping Jones’ finger.

“Ooh, I want to take you home,” Jones coos. “You’re so brave … you’re going to be feisty, aren’t you?”

Jones used to wonder why parents or other relatives aren’t comforting their own babies. But then, in August, her youngest grandchild was born deaf, with brain damage doctors say was caused by a virus her mom contracted before birth. Evelyn Steadman spent her first three weeks at Comer, and got cuddling care while she was there.

While family members visited often, “life happens and you can’t sit by a bedside for three weeks,” Jones said.

Erica Steadman had had a C-section, and already had her hands full with a toddler at home.

“She was being held and loved and watched over,” she said. “I felt a great sense of relief from that.”

The Real Expiration Date for Common Foods.

The regulation guidelines for expired foods are few and arbitrary. They are also voluntary. They sprang up in the 1970s for more consumer information and perceived freshness. Expiration labels are only required by law for infant formula and baby foods; other laws regarding dairy are left up to some states and vary.

There is waste before, during and after a food item’s grocery stay. Now, more than ever, when throwing out food we’re unsure of, it feels like trashing bags of money – and most of it is completely unnecessary. But nobody wants to read yet another scolding article about it. So…

Now that we know our expiration labels don’t tell us anything at all – where do we go from here? What can we eat with confidence?

First, let’s define some terms for the dates printed on food products:

Expiration – This is an estimated date for when the item is expected to go bad and the consumer is expected to proceed with caution. Still, a surprisingly large amount of these can be expanded.

Sell by – That’s for the retailer, not for you. It’s about peak quality, like with flavor. It’s for store display and, maddeningly, much of this gets tossed – prompting a “dumpster dive” revolution. Wouldn’t it be nice if people didn’t have to relegate themselves to a dumpster to get this perfectly good food? But in the dump it goes first.

Best if Used By/Before and Use By – Again, these refer to quality, not safety.

Pack or Born On – This is just the manufacturer’s date stamp often found on canned goods and beer.

Guaranteed Fresh – This is mostly the baker’s way of letting you know how long you can enjoy the baked good before it possibly goes stale. It doesn’t mean it’s harmful, but could be stale. Homemade is different.

Yogurt and deli meat can last a week to 10 days more than the “sell by” date. Salami at two to three weeks. Most fresh meats, especially poultry and seafood, should be cooked and eaten within days. Eggs a whopping five weeks after expiration. When in doubt, gently place eggs in a big bowl of cold water filled to the top. If the eggs float, toss them. If they “stand up” that just means they are not as fresh but are still okay to eat.

Packaged items can last a long time after expiration but after a number of months you may notice a staleness and waxy taste which could be rancid oils. Packaged and canned items can generally last a year or more after the stamped date. Preppers, feel free to chime in because I know you follow good storage guidelines and practice rotation. High-acid canned goods like tomato don’t last as long as low-acid goods like green beans.

The key to keeping storable foods the longest, is cool, dry and airtight – ideally, never above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Canned goods included. If you see bulging cans – do not open! It’s rare to see bloated cans, but it could be botulism. Bill Nye made this crystal clear to me as a kid.

Real Simple and iVillage offer a list of items and a “true” expiration, some lasting for years, but again, take with a grain of salt. Throwing out opened juice after a week in the fridge? No way! Of course if you make your juice yourself, ideally, it should be consumed immediately for best benefits. Whole, natural foods and drinks do not generally last as long as the grocery store – but you knew that! For instance, when I buy homemade bread, I know to freeze it, otherwise mold is great indicator I waited one day too long. Lesson learned. Raw honey can last forever and pasteurized honey and brown sugar indefinitely.

Cheese can have a long fridge life too. According to one naturopath, Kerrygold cheese from grassfed cows can be bought in bulk at Whole Foods and sit in the fridge for six months – mine is still fine after one month.

Is it really a great idea to be eating old food? Debatable. Some fruits like bananas can have added benefits with age. Eastern principles frown on old or rotten food for its lack of nutrition and effect on the body or bio-rhythms (except for items better with age or fermentation). But, I’ve seen depression-era folks charge through their 80s having lived a frugal life eating the bad fruits first, expired foods and keeping the fridge well above the suggested 40 degree mark. (Where can I get an immune system like that!)

The bottom line is that expiration is perception and to follow your nose and your gut. If something smells or tastes funny, do not risk it! Common sense and intuition are good friends and thankfully, we are much less likely to get sick in a clean home than from a restaurant. If you think you might get food poisoning, immediately take homeopathic Arsenicum Album 30c and Activated Charcoal.

What have you noticed that you can eat after the stamped date?

Two websites devoted completely to real expiration dates:

All Recipes allows you to type in what ingredients you currently have and pulls up recipes you can use. You can save favorite recipes in your own online recipe box.

The little-known health benefits of asparagus.

Asparagus is a member of the lily family with a number of health benefits. Unique-tasting, this vegetable contains many nutrients with known functions in and benefits on the human body.

First and foremost, asparagus has good amounts of vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin K, riboflavin and thiamin.


Vitamin A supports eye health, immune health as well as the health of epithelial tissues including the skin, intestinal lining and lung lining. Vitamin C also supports immune health, while being a strong antioxidant at the same time. A cup of raw asparagus tips has about 7.5 mg of vitamin C, which is more than the amount of this vitamin in a pear or a cup of plums or carrots.

Asparagus is high in potassium and low in sodium, with an excellent potassium-to-sodium ratio. It is a low-glycemic food which is low in carbohydrates and calories. At the same time, it has relatively higher levels of protein as compared to other vegetables.

Other nutrients found in asparagus include fiber, iron, zinc, niacin, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sulfur and fructose-containing oligosaccharide (FOS), and it also contains an array of phytonutrients such as alpha-carotene, inulin, lutein, quercetin, rutin, zeaxanthin and others.

Significantly, asparagus contains a good amount of folate, which is important in preventing birth defects. This makes asparagus a great food choice for pregnant and nursing women.

Folate has other health benefits too – it protects cardiovascular health by keeping blood levels of homocysteine in check, while sufficient folate intake has been linked with lower risks of certain types of cancer, in particular breast cancer, cervical cancer and colorectal cancer.

Other compounds in asparagus also exhibit protective effects against cancer; for example, glutathione is a potent antioxidant which neutralizes free radicals in the body before they are able to cause significant damage to bodily cells.

Traditional uses of asparagus

Asparagus has historically been used to help treat rheumatism and arthritis – phytochemical antioxidants plus inhibitors of the COX-2 enzyme (which produces inflammatory chemicals) could be why it helps relieve arthritic symptoms. This vegetable also has alkalizing and diuretic properties.

In Ayurvedic medicine, asparagus is seen as a kidney strengthener, an overall tonifying food for women, as well as an aphrodisiac.

Under Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) principles, asparagus could be useful for people with excess body “heat” and “dampness” – these are common conditions for people who consume rich, oily, highly processed, highly seasoned and highly intoxicating foods.

How do steroidal hormones given to livestock affect the humans who consume them?

Do women get breast cancer more often when their hormones are thrown out of whack? You bet. Are those cases more severe than others? The jury is still out on that one. What about thyroid tumors and ovarian cancer – can those come from eating meat and drinking dairy from cows that are given hormones to make them fatter? Yes, those tumors can come from hormone overload. Do men get testicular cancer from an overdose of hormones? Absolutely.


How much do you know about steroids? Do you know if steroids are a class of hormones or hormones a class of steroids? Then, what’s a steroid hormone? Overdosing on hormones can be linked to infertility and coronary heart disease.

You could be consuming hormones that are given to conventional, CAFO-raised turkeys, pigs and chickens too, so don’t think that it’s just red meat that’s bad for you, because that’s just a hoax to get you to choose the lesser between evils. Plus, farm-raised fish are given hormones to make them bigger too. Imagine animals that are given extra hormones in the last two weeks before they are slaughtered, and those animals and their relatives that suffer before they die, sometimes hearing their fellow animals scream in pain and agony – all those stress hormones are released into the tissue, and you eat that! Do you look for non-rBGH (Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone) and non-rBST (same thing, different name) milk and cheese? Do you look for wild-caught fish that are NOT in the ocean anywhere near Fukushima, such as Alaska or the U.S. West Coast? You might want to make some adjustments to your purchasing habits. Check out this list of 50 “jaw-dropping” toxic food additives that cause cancer: (

In most CAFOs, confined animal feeding operations, cows are forced by drugs to produce WAY TOO MUCH milk, and their udders get infections, passing those infections on into the milk and to the humans that consume it. Many hens are given drugs that make them lay WAY TOO MANY eggs and create health problems that supposedly justify more antibiotics. Are you eating antibiotic- and hormone-laden eggs? What about butter? Let’s examine the “dose” of drugs humans get when they eat and drink by-products of CAFOs and animals fed genetically modified feed.

99% of feedlot cattle in U.S. are given steroidal hormone implants

Every year, U.S. farmers raise about 35 million beef cattle. Of those entering feedlots, 99% are given steroidal hormone implants to promote faster growth, and that’s the same kind of muscle-building androgens that athletes consume. A large percentage of poultry and pigs are fed these same drugs. Did you hear otherwise? They lied. Other animals receive estrogens, primary female sex hormones, in order to shut down the estrus cycle. Cow’s milk that is treated with rBGH has higher levels of IGF-1. Studies in humans, animals and cell cultures indicate that elevated levels of IGF-1 in humans increase the risk of breast cancer!

Why does it say on labels that there is “no significant difference” in milk from cows that are not given this rBGH or rBST hormone? Do they mean flavor, quality or risk of cancer? You can bet there is with the latter, but the FDA is not out to help you stay organic and healthy, so you can scrap that thought.

Did you know that many piglets are raped at industrial farms by older pigs? Imagine their depressed lives and how that affects their hormones and central nervous systems. What should you know about “veal crates” and the “debeaking” of hens without any anesthetic? You are what you eat, so if you eat animals that lead a short, miserable, depressed life, then what are YOU?

Humans are getting diseases from sick, depressed, abused animals that are shot up with hormones and antibiotics and dragged to their death. Most conventional meat is not Kosher either, so the slaughter of the animal can be inhumane.

Do government websites warn people about hormone-laden meats causing cancer? Barely do they warn you, and when they do, they slip in some more bad advice:

“Eat more vegetables, fruits and whole grains and eat less red and processed (e.g., bacon, sausage, luncheon meat, hot dogs) meats. These actions may reduce the risk of developing many types of cancer as well as other diseases.”

What can you do to protest, boycott and help with the humane treatment of animals, and to put a stop to confined animal feeding operations? What can you do to help protect the environment and the future of farming? Have you heard of campaigns against the cruelty of animals? (

Researchers turn a nickel-rich nanoparticle into a platinum-rich “nanoframe”

For hundreds of years, alchemists have tried to turn base metals into precious ones. Though they may never turn lead into gold, scientists have discovered a way to turn a nickel-rich nanoparticle into a platinum-rich “nanoframe” that could shape the development of fuel cells and other electrochemical technologies.

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory teamed up to convert platinum-nickel polyhedra into bare frames that had a much richer platinum content. Argonne physical chemist Vojislav Stamenkovic, and Lawrence Berkeley researcher and UC Berkeley professor Peidong Yang led the research team that has given scientists a new approach to catalysis.

“Polyhedra have been the usual nanostructures used for decades for catalysis research,” Stamenkovic said. “Our research shows that there may be other options available.”

Platinum is a highly active catalytic agent, making it desirable for researchers who are searching for new materials for fuel cells and metal-air batteries, among other technologies. Unfortunately, because of its rare and expensive nature, researchers have had to find ways to use it as efficiently as possible. In the polyhedron configuration, many of the prized platinum atoms were buried and unreachable in the bulk of the nanoparticle.

By eroding the inside of the nanoparticle using a chemical process, the researchers were able to create a nanoframe – a skeleton of the original polyhedron that retained the relatively platinum-rich edges. While the original polyhedron consisted of three nickel atoms for every platinum one, the nanoframes had, on average, the reverse proportions.

The choice to use nanoframes as opposed to polyhedra conferred on the researchers an additional major advantage. Instead of having to come into contact with the surface of the nanoparticle, catalyzed molecules could contact it from any direction at all – including what used to be the inside of the structure. This increased the surface area available for reactions to take place.

“With frames, we completely opened the structure and got rid of the buried nonfunctional bulk atoms. There are still a substantial number of active sites on the nanoframes that can be approached from any direction,” Stamenkovic said.

After eroding the material, the Argonne and Berkeley scientists wanted to ensure its stability in the harsh, highly demanding electrochemical environment. To do so, they created a “second skin” of platinum over the nanoframe, increasing its durability.

According to Yang, the nanocatalyst frames offer a number of advantages. “In contrast to other synthesis procedures for hollow nanostructures that involve corrosion induced by harsh oxidizing agents or applied potential, our method proceeds spontaneously in air,” he said. “The open structure of our platinum/nickel nanoframes addresses some of the major design criteria for advanced nanoscale electrocatalysts, including high surface-to-volume ratio, 3-D surface molecular accessibility and significantly reduced precious metal utilization.”

“Our results describe a new class of materials based on the hollow nanoframe’s open architecture and its well-defined surface compositional profile,” Stamenkovic added. “The technique for making these hollow nanoframes can be readily applied to other multimetallic electrocatalysts or gas phase catalysts. We are quite optimistic about its commercial viability.”

A paper based on the research entitled “Highly Crystalline Multimetallic Nanoframes with Three-Dimensional Electrocatalytic Surfaces” appears in the February 27 edition of Science Express and will be published soon in Science.

Scripps Research Institute Scientists Discover a Better Way to Make Unnatural Amino Acids

Chemists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have devised a greatly improved technique for making amino acids not found in nature. These “unnatural” amino acids traditionally have been very difficult to synthesize, but are sought after by the pharmaceutical industry for their potential medical uses.

“This new technique offers a very quick way to prepare unnatural amino acids, many of which are drug candidates or building blocks for peptide drugs,” said Jin-Quan Yu, a professor in TSRI’s Department of Chemistry.

Yu’s team has reported the achievement as a research article in the March 14, 2014 issue of the journal Science.

Expanding Nature’s Alphabet

Amino acids are among the most basic components of living things. Long chains of them, translated from DNA, fold up to become proteins. Some smaller groupings of amino acids form hormones, and a few single amino acids function as signal-carrying neurotransmitters in the brain.

However, just 21 amino acids are found in human proteins, and only a handful of others have significant roles outside protein-making. In all, several hundred natural amino acids have been catalogued in living organisms. Yet thousands more are theoretically possible, and researchers expect that many of these unnatural amino acids will be medically useful. “They offer great structural diversity,” Yu said. Moreover, with their unnatural structures they will often be relatively resistant to the housekeeping enzymes that break down and recycle natural amino acids in cells, and thus should last longer in the body.

The numerous proposed applications of unnatural amino acids include anti-cancer drugs, antibiotics that will be able to thwart bacterial resistance, and drugs that inhibit the formation of amyloid aggregates such as those seen in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other diseases.

In principle, an unnatural amino acid can be made by taking a natural amino acid—or a closely related molecule—and chemically modifying it. A common strategy is to attach new molecules to the second of the two core carbon atoms in the amino acid—the “beta” carbon that in natural amino acids is left relatively bare of complex attachments.

Over the past decade, chemists have developed better and better methods for making this kind of modification, but it involves the breaking of very tough carbon-hydrogen bonds, and major obstacles have remained.

Clever Chemistry

However, in the research described in the new paper, Yu’s group, including first authors Jian He, a graduate student, and Suhua Li, a postdoctoral fellow, found a significantly easier method for making this type of modification.

The new method employs special “ligand” compounds, derived from the simple organic chemicals pyridine and quinoline, to enhance the ability of a standard palladium catalyst to break the carbon-hydrogen bonds. Yu’s team showed that they could use the pyridine and the quinoline to cut two of these tough bonds in a desired sequence and in each case attach a molecule from a broad class of simple organic compounds known as aryls. Alternatively, the scientists could use the quinoline to attach a common molecule known as an olefin. In both cases they achieved the feat more quickly and simply than had ever been done before.

“Many carbon-hydrogen activation reactions that were once out of reach are now possible with these new ligands,” said Yu.

Indeed, based on detailed studies of how the pyridine and quinoline ligands accelerate these reactions, Yu and his laboratory are already working with second-generation ligands and faster reactions.

Yu’s laboratory is part of a collaboration agreement between TSRI and the pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb. “Under this agreement we are putting the new methods to work to discover novel drug candidates,” Yu said. “In general, we expect that these new developments will greatly expand the scope of research on unnatural amino acids as potential drugs or drug building-blocks.”

The other co-authors of the paper, “Ligand-Controlled C(sp3)–H Arylation and Olefination in Synthesis of Unnatural Chiral a–Amino Acids,” were Youqian Deng, Brian N. Laforteza, Jillian E. Spangler and Anna Homs, all of TSRI at the time of the research, and Haiyan Fu, a visiting scholar from Sichuan University.

A brake for spinning molecules.

Chemical reactions taking place in outer space can now be more easily studied on Earth. An international team of researchers from the University of Aarhus in Denmark and the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg, discovered an efficient and versatile way of braking the rotation of molecular ions. The spinning speed of these ions is related to a rotational temperature. Using an extremely tenuous, cooled gas, the researchers have lowered this temperature to about -265 °C. From this record-low value, the researchers could vary the temperature up to -210 °C in a controlled manner. Exact control of the rotation of molecules is not only of importance for studying astrochemical processes, but could also be exploited to shed more light on the quantum mechanical aspects of photosynthesis or to use molecular ions for quantum information technology.

Cold does not equal cold for physicists. This is because in physics, there is a different temperature associated with each type of motion that a particle can have. How fast move through space determines the translational temperature, which comes closest to our everyday notion of temperature.

However, there is also a temperature for the internal vibrations of a molecule, as well as for the rotational motion around their own axes. Similar to a stationary car with its engine running, the internal rotation (the engine, in this case) does not translate into motion before the clutch is released. In the case of molecules, the many microscopic collisions between the particles which constitute gases, fluids, and solids couple the various forms of motion with each other.

The different temperatures thus approach each other over time. Physicists then say that a thermal equilibrium has been established. However, how fast this equilibrium is reached depends on the collision rate, as well as on any external influences working against this equilibration. For example, the infrared radiation emanating from the contraction of an interstellar gas cloud can cause the rotation of molecules to quicken, even without changing the speed at which the molecules are travelling. These kinds of processes take a very long time in the emptiness of space, as there are very few collisions there.

The cooling method for the rotational temperature is quick and versatile

Time is totally irrelevant at cosmic dimensions but with physical experiments it is crucial. Indeed, physicists can nowadays reduce the flight speed of molecules relatively quickly to almost absolute zero at -273.15 °C. However, it takes several minutes or hours for the rotation of non-colliding particles to cool to a similar level, making some experiments almost impossible. This may be about to change.

“We have managed to cool down the rotation of molecular ions in milliseconds, and down to lower temperatures than previously possible,” says José R. Crespo López-Urrutia, Group Leader at the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics. The researchers from the Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg and the group led by Michael Drewsen at Aarhus University froze molecular rotational motion at 7.5 K (or -265.65 °C). And not only that, as Oscar Versolato from the Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg, who played an important role in the experiments, explains: “With our methods we can choose and set a rotational temperature between about seven and 60 Kelvin, and are able to accurately measure this temperature in our experiments.” Unlike other methods, this cooling principle is very versatile, being applicable to many different molecular ions.

In their experiments, the team used a cloud of magnesium ions and magnesium hydride ions using methods pioneered in Aarhus. This ensemble was “confined” in an ion trap known as CryPTEx, which was developed by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics (see Background). The trap consists of four rod-shaped electrodes that are arranged in parallel, in pairs aligned one above the other and having opposite electrical polarities. A high-frequency alternating voltage is applied to the electrodes to confine the ions in the centre close to the longitudinal axis of the trap. The trap is cooled to a few degrees above absolute zero, and there is an excellent vacuum so that adverse collisions are very rare.

Cooling down an ion crystal: A cloud of magnesium (blue spheres) and magnesium ions (tied blue and green spheres) is confined between the four cylindrical electrodes of a Paul trap. A laser, depicted in this image as a bright transparent strip in the center, cools the ions so that they solidify into a Coulomb crystal. When helium atoms (purple), which flow into the trap, collide with magnesium hydride ions, the rotation of the latter slows down — the rotation temperature drops. Credit: Alexander Gingell/Aarhus University

Collisions with cold helium atoms slow down the rotation of the molecular ions

In the trap, the physicists cooled the magnesium ions using laser beams which, to put it simply, slow down the ions with their photon pressure. The magnesium hydride ions in turn cool because of their interaction with the magnesium ions. This allowed the researchers to cool the translational temperature of the cloud to minus 273 degrees Celsius until several hundred particles solidify to form a regular crystal. In such crystals, the distances between the particles are very large, in contrast to the situation in crystals familiar from minerals. The particles which the cold laser causes to emit light can thus be seen at their fixed positions under the optical microscope.

To apply a brake to the rotation of the molecular ions, and thus to reduce their rotational temperature, the team injected an extremely tenuous, cold helium gas into the trap. In the ion crystal, the helium atoms flying at a leisurely speed collide with the magnesium hydride ions rotating about their own axis trillions of times per second. The collisions cause the helium atoms to gradually slow down the molecular ions. “This process is similar to the tides,” explains José Crespo: “The rotating ion polarizing the neutral helium atom is a little bit like the moon producing the tidal bulges.” A dipole is thus induced in the helium atom, which tugs at the rotating molecular ion such that it rotates a little slower.

The helium atoms in the experiment mediate between the various temperatures as they transfer translational kinetic energy to the molecular ions in some collisions and remove rotational energy in others. This effect is also exploited by the team to heat the rotational motion of the molecular ions through the amplification of the regular micro-motion of trapped particles.

Crystal size and shape control the heating of molecular ions

The physicists increase the micro-motion velocity of the molecular ions by varying the shape and size of the ion crystal in the trap: they knead the crystal as it were by means of the alternating voltage which is applied to the trap electrodes. The alternating field that the electrodes produce is equal to zero only along the trap axis. The further the molecular ions are located away from this axis, the more they feel the oscillating force of the field and the more violent is their micro-motion. Part of the kinetic energy of the swirling molecular ions is absorbed by the in collisions, and these atoms in turn transfer it to the rotational motion of the ions, thus raising their rotational temperature.

For the Danish-German collaboration, the ability to control the rotation of the molecular ions not only enables the manipulation of the micro-motion, and thus the rotational temperature, but also the quantum-mechanical measurement of this temperature. The scientists do this by exploiting the fact that the rotational motion of the molecules is quantised. Put simply: the quantum states of a molecule correspond to certain speeds of its rotation.

At very cold temperatures the molecules occupy only very few quantum states. The researchers remove the molecules of one from the crystal by means of laser pulses whose energy is matched to that particular state. They determine how many ions are lost in this process, in other words how many ions take on this particular quantum state, from the size of the crystal remaining. They determine the rotational temperature of the molecular ions by thus scanning a few quantum states.

Frozen in the trap: In the Paul trap, which consists of four electrodes, cold helium ions stream in from back left. Collisions with particles of the ion crystal, which is suspended in the center of the trap, cause the noble gas atoms to slow down the rotation of the molecular ions and thus cool their rotational temperature. Credit: J. R. Crespo/O. O. Versolato/MPI for Nuclear Physics

Accurate control of quantum states is a prerequisite for many experiments

“Being able to control the rotation of the molecular ions and thus the quantum state so accurately is important for many experiments,” says José Crespo.

Scientists can therefore recreate in the laboratory chemical reactions that take place in space if they can bring the reactants into the same quantum state in which they drift through interstellar space. Only in this way can one quantitatively understand how molecules are formed in space, and ultimately explain how interstellar clouds, the hotbeds of stars and planets, evolve both physically and chemically.

This speed control knob for rotating molecules could also contribute to a better understanding of the quantum physics of photosynthesis. In photosynthesis, plants use the chlorophyll in their leaves to collect sunlight, whose energy is ultimately used to form sugars and other molecules. It is not yet entirely clear how the energy required for this is quantum mechanically transferred within the chlorophyll molecules. To understand this, the researchers must once again very accurately control and measure the quantum states and the rotation of the molecules involved. The findings thus obtained could serve as the basis for imitating or optimising the photosynthesis at some time in the future in order to supply us with energy.

Last but not least, this control is a prerequisite for quantum simulations as well as for many concepts of universal quantum computations. In quantum simulations physicists mimic a quantum mechanical system that is difficult, or even impossible, to examine directly with another quantum system that is well-known and controllable. In universal quantum computers which physicists are trying to develop, the aim is to process information extremely quickly using the quantum states of particles. Molecules are possible candidates for this, their chances now growing as molecular rotation can be quantum mechanically controlled.