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Is an Unsinkable Ship on the Horizon?
photograph of floating metalFLOAT YOUR BOAT? A metal structure treated with extremely brief, high-powered laser bursts rises to the surface compared to an untreated disc, part of Rochester research to explore how lasers interact with metal. Photograph by J. Adam Fenster

Rochester researchers have created a metallic structure so water repellent that it refuses to sink—even when it’s damaged or punctured.

The structure, described in ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces, is a project of a lab led by Chunlei Guo, a professor of optics and physics. It’s the latest research from Guo’s team that uses lasers to transform the properties of metal surfaces.

In previous research, Guo and his colleagues developed a groundbreaking technique to “etch” the surface of metal with extremely brief, high-powered laser bursts. The lasers create intricate micro- and nanoscale patterns that trap air and make the surfaces superhydrophobic.

They found, however, that after being immersed in water for long periods of time, the surfaces could start to lose their hydrophobic properties.

Thus Guo’s lab treated the surfaces of two parallel aluminum plates facing inward and separated by just the right distance to trap and hold enough air to keep the structure floating.

Even after being forced to submerge for two months, the structures immediately bounced back to the surface after the load was released, Guo says. The structures also retained that ability even after being punctured multiple times, because air remained trapped in parts of the compartment or adjoining structures.

—Bob Marcotte

A First in the Search for Fusion Energy

New research at the University’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics is shedding important light on the ways in which laser beams interact with plasma, a hot soup of freely moving electrons and ions that’s often considered the fourth state of matter.

The research is considered an important milestone in the search for fusion energy, which requires a system that can generate and confine sufficiently high temperatures and pressures at the center of an implosion of matter in the plasma state.

Reporting their findings in the journal Nature Physics, laboratory scientists David Turnbull and Dustin Froula and physics and astronomy PhD student Avram Milder—working also with colleagues at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in France—demonstrated for the first time how laser beams modify the conditions of the underlying plasma, in turn affecting the transfer of energy in fusion experiments.

The findings not only contribute to understanding fusion dynamics, but they also hold the promise of making future experiments far more effective.

As a result of the research, Turnbull says new models that better account for the underlying plasma conditions are being developed.

—Lindsey Valich

Better Assessments for Older Cancer Patients

A study from the Wilmot Cancer Institute concludes that a tool known as geriatric assessment can meaningfully influence cancer care for vulnerable older patients and should be a routine part of that care. The study, published in JAMA Oncology, is believed to be the first to evaluate the efficacy of the assessment in a randomized clinical trial.

Supriya Mohile, corresponding author and the Philip and Marilyn Wehrheim Professor of Hematology/Oncology, says that many oncologists in community practices are not aware of, or do not ask about, living conditions, functional ability, cognition, and family support for their patients who are 70 or older. But impairments in such areas are linked to chemotherapy toxicity, an inability to complete treatment, and an overall decline in health or risk of early death.

For example, older adults are disproportionately vulnerable to falls, which in turn have been shown to increase the risk of chemotherapy side effects. If an older cancer patient falls at home—an event that would be revealed in a geriatric assessment but might otherwise go unmentioned by the patient or caregiver—the physician can talk to the patient and the caregiver about those risks and recommend physical therapy to prevent additional falls.

“We’ve shown that we can modify the behavior of oncologists if they have the right tools and guidance,” says Mohile. “And when oncologists are better informed about the special needs of their older adult patients, everyone’s experience is much improved.”

—Leslie Orr

Mango Vaping? Beware, Say Researchers

Flavored “e-liquids” and pods used in vaping are made from chemicals that have harmful effects on lung tissue, including inflammation and genetic damage that could indicate long-term risk for respiratory disease and even cancer. That’s according to a study appearing in the journal Scientific Reports.

“Names like mango, cucumber, and mint give the impression that the flavors in e-juices are benign,” says Irfan Rahman, a professor in the Medical Center’s Department of Environmental Medicine and lead author of the study. But exposure to the chemicals used to produce the flavors “triggers damage and dysfunction in the lungs that are a precursor to long-term health consequences.”

Notably, with the exception of propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin, which form the base of vaping liquids, as well as nicotine, most manufacturers do not disclose the chemical compounds used to create the flavors in vaping products. Using mass spectrometry, Rahman and his colleagues were able to identify almost 40 different chemicals present in seven flavors manufactured by the company Juul. The study includes a full list of the chemicals, including hydrocarbons and volatile organic compounds, many of which have industrial uses and are known to be harmful if inhaled.

Juul—which accounts for more than 70 percent of all vaping product sales in the US—has halted sales of most of its flavored pods, and several states, including New York, are in the process of banning the products. However, many other companies and independent vape shops continue to manufacture and sell an estimated 8,000 different flavored e-juices and pods. In addition, JUUL continues to sell its menthol flavor, which the study showed to be as harmful as other flavors.

“Vaping technology has only existed for a short period of time and its use, particularly among younger people, has only recently exploded,” says Rahman, who helps lead the Western New York Center for Research on Flavored Tobacco Products, a partnership between researchers at the Medical Center and Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. “This study gives further evidence that vaping—while less harmful than combustible tobacco in the short run—is placing chronic users on the path to significant health problems later in life.”

—Mark Michaud

Better Bedtimes Mean Better Teen Health

Researchers at Rochester have found a simple and timeworn solution to what experts say is a disconcerting epidemic of teenage sleep deprivation. In a study published in the academic journal Sleep, Jack Peltz ’13 (PhD), now an assistant professor of psychology at Daemen College, and colleagues at Rochester report that enforcing a parent-set bedtime for 14- to 17-year-olds is key to helping teens get the sleep they need.

That’s important because the documented consequences of not getting enough sleep include increasing rates of anxiety and depression among adolescents, as well as suicidal thoughts and actions.

In a project conducted through the Medical Center, researchers asked teenagers and their parents to keep sleep diaries over seven days, collecting reports of sleep duration, daytime energy levels, and depressive symptoms. Parents provided information about their enforcement of sleep-related rules and bedtimes.

The results suggest that parents’ enforcement of bedtimes yielded better mental health outcomes for their offspring, even if setting a bedtime was difficult in some situations.

The bottom line, according to coauthor Ronald Rogge, an associate professor of psychology at Rochester, is that “even though adolescents start gaining self-sufficiency and independence, they still need sleep and might not prioritize that if left to their own devices.”

Heidi Connolly, a professor of pediatrics and chief of the Division of Pediatric Sleep Medicine at Rochester, who is also a coauthor of the study, says that while there is no iron-clad rule governing adolescent sleep patterns, most teenagers need 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep each night. The recommendations mirror those of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

—Sandra Knispel