Johns Hopkins Gazette: March 3, 1997

In Brief

ACE takes a short ride before 'The Big One'

The ride of a lifetime for the Advanced Composition Explorer is scheduled for Aug. 21. This is the date for the Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory's solar system explorer to roar off from Cape Canaveral aboard a Delta II rocket. Last month, ACE took a more modest but equally important trip. Cushioned in an "air ride van," it journeyed from APL's Laurel, Md., lab, where it was built, to the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., just a few miles south. There, scientists hope final tests will find ACE fit for its data-collecting mission deep in space.

Preliminary tests in Laurel found ACE structurally sound when it was subjected to vibrations. "The test went smoothly with all systems performing as expected," said Mary Chiu, program manager for spacecraft development at APL. In Greenbelt, the data-collecting spacecraft will be subjected to a variety of tests including acoustics, thermal vacuum and balance testing.

"The acoustic tests simulate lift-off and the early launch environment," Chiu said. "In the thermal vacuum tests, we will put ACE in a vacuum chamber and apply thermal shrouds to the top and bottom, to simulate the heat from the sun-facing end and cold at the other end."

In Greenbelt, ACE will also be balanced, almost as a tire is balanced with weights, to assure that it does not wobble as it rotates at five revolutions per minute collecting "real time data" on solar winds, the result of solar flares on the sun's surface. Energy particles from solar flares are carried by solar winds toward Earth, where they create in our atmosphere geomagnetic storms that can interfere with the communications systems on other spacecraft and communications satellites. It is expected that ACE will be able to supply up to one hour's warning of solar flares.

After ACE blasts off in August, it will orbit a million miles above the Earth at an equilibrium point between the Earth and sun's gravitational fields called "L1." Its mission will be to study energetic particles coming from the sun, detect and monitor geomagnetic storms stirred up by the sun, and collect other data that may unlock more clues to the origin and evolution of the solar system.

Data collected by ACE will be fed to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Solar flare warning data and other information gathered by ACE will be shared with a number of agencies including NASA, the U.S. Air Force and power companies.

Hopkins' chapter of Tau Beta Pi to mark 75 years

A ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the Hopkins chapter of Tau Beta Pi, the national engineering honor society, is set for March 4, at 11:30 a.m. in the engineering quadrangle in front of Shriver Hall on the Homewood campus. A plaque commemorating the 75th anniversary will be unveiled.

Speakers for the event include President William R. Brody, who is a member of a Massachusetts chapter; Pierce Linaweaver, university trustee; Willard Hackerman, emeritus university trustee; and senior Mili Ashar, the Hopkins Tau Beta Pi chapter president.

The Hopkins Tau Beta Pi chapter, established in April 1921, was the society's first chapter in Maryland. Since 1921, 1,651 Hopkins engineers have become members with 40 to 50 inducted yearly.

Medical News

Ragweed vaccine may offer relief to hayfever sufferers

A new vaccine for ragweed allergy may provide hayfever sufferers with quicker, better relief with fewer shots. The old vaccine--made of water-based extracts of whole pollens and animal dusts--was administered as a series of shots commencing in January.

The new vaccine, which contains only specific parts of allergens, need not be started until July with two to four injections given over two to three weeks before ragweed season starts. Peter Creticos, an associate professor at the School of Medicine who led several clinical trials of the new vaccine, said that study participants experienced a 31 percent reduction in symptoms and a 54 percent reduction in the need for supplemetal medication. Future trials will determine if there is a benefit in fewer, lower doses.

Long-term estrogen therapy benefits heart

Long-term estrogen replacement therapy after menopause may reduce heart attack risk by lowering blood-fat levels and increasing blood flow to the heart, causing blood vessels to stay open wider and longer.

"Augmented coronary blood flow caused by estrogen may persist during long-term estrogen replacement therapy," said Roger S. Blumenthal, an assistant professor of medicine at Hopkins and lead author of the study published in the March issue of American Heart Journal. "Coronary arteries may become tolerant to the dilating effect of long-term estrogen therapy. Strong, healthy blood vessels play an important role in protecting the heart," Blumenthal added.

Men now seen as part of family planning

A report released by the School of Public Health's Center for Communication Programs says that men can take stronger roles in family planning.

Based on a 10-year, 16-nation research project titled "Reaching Men Worldwide," the CCP report concludes that men can and do play significant roles in family planning decisions when they are made more aware of their partner's needs and concerns and are encouraged to take an active role in planning for their children's futures.

"Most family planning methods, as well as most efforts to promote their use, historically have focused on women," says Phyllis Tilson Piotrow, CCP's director. "Recently, the recognition that men significantly influence reproductive decisions has led to new communication projects to promote their participation."

Viruses checked before they make 'improvements'

When they are getting ready to infect new cells, viruses build homes of protein shells.

During construction the shells are vulnerable. Researchers at the School of Medicine, hoping to take advantage of this stage of vulnerability, are probing weak spots where new drugs might be able to damage or block the building process.

Cytomegalovirus, a member of the herpes family of viruses, uses the newly discovered protein, called assemblin, to construct its shell. Wade Gibson, professor of pharmacology and molecular sciences, whose research group discovered assemblin, said that blocking the assemblin "scaffold" CMV uses to build its protein shell could stop the replication of the virus. "There is a good chance that a drug can be developed to block CMV assemblin without side effects on any important human proteins," Gibson said.

State health departments underfunded, report says

A study published in Public Health Management and Practice has found that funding for state health departments has declined steadily and that, as a result, state environmental agencies may be poorly equipped to approach environmental protection on a health-risk basis.

Federal legislation has mandated such an approach, but the study found only a small percentage of environmental agencies had the ability to carry out risk assessment research.

Thomas A. Burke, professor at the School of Public Health and lead author of the study, said that a closer relationship between health and environmental agencies is needed to resolve disparities between health and regulatory activities.

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