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Vital Signs
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Course: The History of Beer

Instructor: William "Nick" Nichols, A&S '96 (MS), is an environmental protection specialist at the Environmental Protection Agency. (He is also teaching Environmental Protection 101 this semester.) A student of the history of beer, he has visited more than 450 brewpubs in the United States, Canada, and England.

Course Description: Learn the history of the "nectar of the gods" — beer! The course, offered through the Baltimore Free University (BFU), covers the history of beer brewing, beer marketing, politics, and legends and lore. Participants must be 21 or older, as there will be several "field trips." The BFU offers free, not-for-credit personal enrichment courses that range from ballroom dance and yoga to documentary photography, debt management, and socialist thought.

Suggested Readings, to be provided by the instructor, include excerpts from:

Secret Life of Beer: Legends, Lore & Little-Known Facts, Alan D. Eames (1995).

Beer, Its History and Its Economic Value as a National Beverage, Frederick W. Salem (1972).

Pennsylvania Breweries, Lew Bryson (2000).

Beer in America: The Early Years, 1587-1840, Gregg Smith (1998).

American Breweries II, Dale P. Van Wieren (1995).

Brewed in America: A History of Beer and Ale in the United States, Stanley Wade Baron (1972).

Related Web Sites:

Vital Signs

Stepping Up Blood-Sugar Monitoring
People with type II diabetes — who are known to be twice as likely to die from cardiovascular disease as those without — have long monitored such factors as their weight, cholesterol, and blood pressure. "The big unknown has been the role of blood sugar levels," says Hopkins
endocrinologist Sherita Golden. She is senior author of a Hopkins study that offers new evidence linking elevated blood sugar levels in diabetics with increased risk of cardiovascular disease. The researchers' conclusion: People with type II diabetes should monitor their blood sugar levels more than the usual twice daily in order to avoid levels exceeding 150 milligrams per deciliter for sustained periods. The study appeared in the Annals of Internal Medicine online September 21.

New Promise for Treating Prostate Cancer
A bodily signaling process known as "Hedgehog" could provide a means for distinguishing lethal metastatic prostate cancers from those restricted to the walnut-size organ, according to a new study by Hopkins School of Medicine researchers. The results could revolutionize the decision-making process for men diagnosed with the disease, who have until now faced an agonizing decision: Adopt a "watchful waiting" approach in hopes the cancer will stay confined to the prostate, or undergo immediate surgical removal in case the cancer is metastatic. When the cancer spreads beyond the prostate, it is usually fatal, despite aggressive treatment. The researchers found that all 15 samples of metastatic prostate cancers (donated after death) had Hedgehog activity — 10 to 100 times higher than the highest levels seen in localized tumor samples (only three of 12 of which had detectable Hedgehog activity). "Manipulating the Hedgehog signaling pathway may also offer a completely new way to treat metastatic prostate cancer," notes Hopkins researcher David Berman. The study appeared in the September 12 advance online edition of Nature.

Jonesing for That Cup of Joe
You're not imagining that headache you feel after missing your morning cup of coffee. Caffeine withdrawal is a real disorder — so real, in fact, that it will probably be included in the next edition of DSM, or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, thanks to a recent study by Hopkins professor of psychiatry and neuroscience Roland Griffiths and American University's Laura Juliano. The researchers conducted a review of over 170 years of research on caffeine withdrawal. They determined, among other things, that withdrawal can cause significant distress (flu-like nausea and muscle pain) and that our desire to avoid such symptoms motivates our regular use of caffeine — most commonly in the United States through coffee and soft drinks. The study appeared in the October issue of Psychopharmacology. — SD

Photo by John Dean Vignette

When the plaster cast started out on the patient's fractured foot, it was a blank canvas — white, smooth, unblemished. When the patient returned to Johns Hopkins Bayview six weeks later, her cast had become a work of art. A dark brown reindeer peered out from the plaster covering the top of her foot, its antlers curved around her calf. Dangling over her toes was a red rubber ball — the reindeer's nose.

"Hey, do you mind if we keep this?" Michael Keene, the orthotist who crafts most of the 30 casts created daily at Bayview, remembers asking the patient. Knowing she would be returning soon, Keene cleaned up the inside of her cast, spritzed it with some Lysol, and hung it up on the wall leading into the cast room.

Michael Keene's wall of fame
Photo by John Dean
Two years later, the wall has become a gallery of 26 decorated fiberglass and plaster casts. There are patriotic casts with American flags, scary ones with skulls, and Christmas casts with glued-on felt trees and sparkly snowflakes. One patient started to transform his leg cast into a suit of armor with silver paint, a leather belt, and glued-on nickels as side rivets. Then his speedy recovery intervened. "He never got to finish it," Keene says. He sounds wistful.

This isn't a snooty gallery. Nor is it a juried show. Anyone who wants can have his or her work displayed — even one little girl who didn't decorate her wrist cast at all but wanted it hung anyway. "We take everything," Keene says.

Those casts aren't merely art; they also serve as a reminder to incoming patients — the ones with the fresh, unblemished casts — that bones don't stay broken forever. Before too long, their casts will be sawed off, and life will return to normal.

"Having the casts there kind of inspires them," Keene says. "They're immortalized on the wall in art." — MB


Anti-Bacterial Additive in Streams
In hand soap and other personal care products, triclocarban kills germs. But when you rinse your hands after washing, the chemical enters the environment, where it is accumulating in startling quantities. The
Bloomberg School's Rolf U. Halden was lead author on a study that provided the first peer-reviewed environmental data on triclocarban contamination. He and research intern Daniel H. Paull found triclocarban in waterways at up to 20 times previously reported levels. Halden, who is concerned that the compound could contaminate fish and build up in the food chain, says more research must be done to determine if there is a long-term risk for humans. He adds, "It's somewhat unsettling that we've been using this persistent disinfectant for almost half a century at rates approaching 1 million pounds per year, and still have essentially no idea what happens after we flush it down the drain." The study was published in the September online edition of Environmental Science & Technology.

New Help for Failing Hearts
Each year, progressive heart failure kills about 50,000 people. Another 1 million are hospitalized because of the condition, which results when the heart can no longer pump blood efficiently. Now Hopkins researchers have developed a new class of compounds that show promise in restoring cardiovascular function. Since the 1980s, nitric oxide has proven effective at improving the heart's relaxation after each beat. But at a cost: diminishment of the heart's capacity to pump. Krieger School chemist John P. Toscano and Medicine's cardiologist Nazareno Paolocci have developed a new class of compounds called nitroxyl (HNO) precursors. In testing on dogs, these compounds improved cardiac relaxation while doubling the heart's ability to pump. "This has the potential to lead to alternative treatments for cardiac failure in humans," says Toscano. The researchers presented their findings at the American Chemical Society's August meeting. — DK


For 25 years, Hopkins' program in recording arts and sciences, jointly run through the Peabody Conservatory and the Whiting School of Engineering, has enabled students to learn recording and production, audio design, and acoustics. Program director Alan P. Kefauver offered these samples of sound studio jargon:

Fader: A linear attenuator — a control that slides up and down, versus a knob that turns — used to control sound levels.

Producer's Fader: A very important looking control that does absolutely nothing. "It makes the producer feel important and gives him something to do with his hands," notes Kefauver. Often the producer will "hear" a difference after moving the useless knob, to the great amusement of sound engineers.

Equalization: The ability to change the timbre of a sound — that is, the distinctive quality that makes a B-flat on a violin sound different from a B-flat sung by a soprano — without changing its pitch.

Compressor: A device used to restrict the dynamic range of a musical sound. Radio stations compress the sounds they broadcast, to make the music sound better on inferior car radios.

Pan Pot: Short for panoramic potentiometer, a control that allows a producer to move sound smoothly from side to side in stereo, as well as front to back in surround-sound audio systems.

Digital Reverberator: A device that produces artificial ambience, often added to a recording made in an acoustically dead space to make it appear to have originated in a more pleasing aural environment.

Phantom Image: Sound that seems to originate between stereo loudspeakers, or, if you're wearing headphones, between your ears. Kefauver also says it can be a vision of a hamburger or pizza floating between the loudspeakers after eight straight hours of audio mixing.

Here and Abroad

In an effort to connect School of Nursing students and alumni with work and volunteer opportunities outside the United States, a group of students at the school recently established an International Health Organization. The group aims to host a monthly speaker series and create a data clearinghouse of international jobs and volunteer possibilities in nursing.

...JHPIEGO, an international health organization at Johns Hopkins, has received a five-year $75 million award from the U.S. Agency for International Development to lead ACCESS, a program aimed at saving the lives of mothers and their newborns in developing nations. The award will enable JHPIEGO to expand current programs that train and support doctors, nurses, midwives, and health educators throughout Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and Europe.

...Johns Hopkins School of Medicine has chosen Hopkins oncology professor Ian McNiece to chair its first academic division outside Baltimore: the Division of Biomedical Sciences, Johns Hopkins Singapore. The new division aims to have 12 Singapore-based Hopkins faculty who will lead training and research in immunology, cellular therapy, cancer biology, and experimental therapeutics. It will also offer graduate training in basic and clinical research to Singaporeans and other Southeast nationals.

...On September 1, the Protection Project (TPP) launched "Preparing Iraqi Women as Leaders, Advocates, and Participants in the Political Process." Part of the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, the program aims to prepare Iraqi women for leadership roles by giving them the tools and the skills to become politically active. Says TPP co-director Mohamed Mattar, "All activities in the program are firmly based in an understanding that women's participation is a crucial characteristic of a successful and fair democratic process in the new Iraq."


Founded in 1993, the Provost's Undergraduate Research Awards encourage undergraduates to engage in research activity. In the last decade, 528 students have been granted awards to study a wide variety of topics. Here's a brief look at the projects of two recent recipients:

Won Lee '07, public health and anthropology, "The Impact of Famine on the North Korean Refugee Children in Northeast China"
In his study of how famine has affected the patriarchal kinship system, Won Lee interviewed six North Korean refugees in Yanji, China, who were in hiding to avoid prosecution by the Chinese government. "Korean culture is a bit different from American culture in that the notion of paternal extended family is still vividly alive," Lee says. Could this system withstand the strain of starvation and hiding? Yes, kinship among these refugees still exists, although it has changed with the times. For example, although North Korean women are now more often breadwinners in their families, the men Lee interviewed still believed in the idea of male dominance.

Joshua Frederick Rowe '06, history and Writing Seminars, "William S. Burroughs' Nova Trilogy in the Historical Context of Post-Modern Media Theory"
Struck by how similar Burroughs' theories of language and deconstruction of the text were to contemporary critical theory, Rowe set out to discover whether the beat writers were in contact with a nascent intellectual avant-garde during their time in Paris, ca. 1958-1962. He found no relationship, so instead Rowe analyzed the extent to which later theory owes a (mostly unacknowledged) debt to Burroughs. "I think Burroughs is one of the most important cultural figures of the late 20th century," he says. "The Nova trilogy represents a critical moment in his career, the turning point from more-or-less straight narrative to a more clinical or detached view of the text."

Up & Comer

Name: Jonah Erlebacher
Age: 35

Position: Assistant professor of materials science and engineering, Whiting School

Stats: BS '91 in physics and history of art from Yale, PhD '99 in applied physics from Harvard

Research: Erlebacher works on materials that have structures at the nano scale — think very, very small. One such material is nanoporous gold, which, he says, "looks like a sponge with holes only 10 nanometers across. It's not gold-colored, but more coppery." Potential uses include energy conversion technologies, such as fuel cells. "The materials have to be structural, chemically reactive, porous, and have as high a surface-area-to-volume ratio as possible, to allow chemical reactions to happen most efficiently. One way to do that is to make a material with pores only 10 to 100 times the size of an atom."

Mentor: Jenny Glusker, now retired from the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, who discovered the structure of vitamin B-12. She let him work in her lab as an intern when he was a high school student. "We even published a couple of papers, amazingly enough," says Erlebacher. "She, more than anyone else, excited me into being a scientist."

Scouting Report: Says Glusker, "His great artistic and mathematical talents serve him well, and he possesses the intellectual curiosity and the determination to follow through and complete projects that are essential traits for a productive scientist. The computer graphics programs he wrote while here are still used daily in our laboratory, and we follow his career with pride."

Alternative Career: Furniture maker. He has a wood-working shop in his garage, in which he does not use nanoporous gold: "I keep getting tempted to gild my furniture. But I just don't like that look very much."

Forever Altered

Mentor, hero, inspiration: Hopkins teachers who have left their mark

During my undergraduate days at the Peabody Conservatory I was fortunate to study voice with Phyllis Bryn-Julson, who had this wonderful way of smiling and laughing while making very clear that she expected great things from you. You always knew that the bar was raised with each accomplishment, but never felt that you were a horrid disappointment given a failure. It's that type of unfailing support that young singers desperately need.

While I was there, Phyllis was an active performer, and I doubt that I missed many of her performances in the Baltimore/Washington region. I learned much watching her perform and even more watching her rehearse, which she allowed me to do from time to time.

Phyllis also has one wicked sense of humor. I recall helping her with one of her practical jokes, for which we concocted letters to various students, faculty, and administrators — people who needed to take life a little less seriously — with requests for meetings all happening at noon on April 1. Depending on the person, the meeting would concern a subject particularly sensitive to their personal experience. On April 1, we sat at her office window overlooking the plaza and watched everyone crossing to get to their fictitious meetings. Thankfully everyone in the Peabody community knows and loves Phyllis and seems to take her practical jokes in the spirit with which they were intended.

While I can't co-opt her amazing range or perfect pitch, I hope I've picked up some of her musicianship and generous spirit.

Kyle Engler, Peab '92, '94 (MM), is a senior lecturer in voice at McDaniel College. A mezzo-soprano, she performs with opera companies and orchestras throughout the U.S. and Europe.

Return to November 2004 Table of Contents

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