Rochester Science

U of R research into forgotten brain cells may shed light on the inner workings of epilepsy, schizophrenia

People with ADHD may have a new part of their brain to blame. Neurons used to take much of the blame for mental disorders. Researchers believed that when neurons stopped doing their job mental disorders occurred. But now it seems there may be another cell in the mix – astrocytes.

Researchers used to consider astrocytes the lowly housekeepers of the brain. But now they’re finding that astrocytes are a much more crucial part to brain activity, may perhaps even play a factor in the development of mental disorders including epilepsy, schizophrenia, and ADD.

Maiken Nedergaard, a neurosurgery professor at the University of Rochester, and colleagues ran a study exploring astrocytes role in the brain. Nedergaard’s team used advanced lasers to look at astrocytes in rats and mice.

Researchers used to think that astrocytes simply absorbed Potassium so that the neurons could do their job. A neuron’s main job is communicating through electrochemical signals. Astrocytes had long been considered “brain glue,” whose main component was giving the brain structure.

Now astrocytes can be thought of more as moms. They clean and make sure neurons are doing everything they need to. It is when astrocytes do not do their job properly that mental disorders can develop. When an astrocyte isn’t doing it’s job of absorbing potassium, neurons start to fire erratically. When neurons fire erratically, they cannot communicate effectively with the rest of the brain.

Knowing that astrocytes are a cause behind some mental disorders, can help researchers develop better treatment. When a definitive biological cause is behind a disorder medicines can be developed to treat it.


What’s that buzzing sound? Plasterer bees make an early entrance in Rochester’s unseasonable spring.

Spring is in the air, but along with all the beautiful flowers and leaves come the not as favorable insects. One insect in particular that can be bothersome is a bee, and this year there has been an influx of Plaster (Plasterer) Bees in the Rochester area.

Plaster Bees are native to North America ranging from northern Canada to the Southern states of the United States. They are most active in the months of March through July and live in the ground. In their underground nests they create cells lined with polyester secretion giving them the nickname of the polyester bee.

Typically we are accustomed to bees flying at us in our gardens or on our decks from above, but this particular species reside in the ground. Since the Plaster Bees rise from the ground it take a lot of people by surprise, but according to Lynn Braband of Cornell Cooperative Extension there is no need to be alarmed because they are not very aggressive.

This trend of Plaster Bees is not just limited to Monroe County. These bees have made early spring homes around the surrounding areas as well because of the warm winter Western New York has been having. It is not uncommon to see them in large gatherings on bare ground or in lawns. According to the New York State Biodiversity Project, the majority of bees in New York State are solitary bees such as these, ground nesters and digger bees.

These Plaster Bees are important for fertilisation, as is any bee. They are particularly important because they only gather pollen from a few species of plants. Some of these Plaster Bees have an advanced pollen carrying system on their bodies and are beginning to be used for commercial pollination. Most of the bees that are seen outside are males who can’t actually sting anybody. The females, even though they can string, are not very hostile so it is not likely that they would. The influx is expected to go down within a few weeks.

Rochester Technology

Local hospitals get pathogen-zapping UV filters to help save lives

It’s common to perceive hospitals as clean, safe environments where sick people go to feel better and lives are saved. What is less-commonly understood is that hospitals commonly struggle with pathogens, also known as disease-causing microorganisms.

A recent donation from the John and Jayne Summers Foundation granted UV light machines to Unity, Strong Memorial, Rochester General and Highland hospital to prevent infectious bacteria from spreading. The UV machines kills germs and can purify water by using remote sensors to distribute a lethal dose of UV light. “High intensity UV-C (Ultraviolet “C”) light emitted from our patent pending R-D (Rapid Disinfection) system blasts surfaces and airborne particles with a lethal dose of energy causing pathogens to be destroyed,” wrote Sam Trapani, CEO of Steriliz,

Clostridium difficile (C. diff), MRSA, and VRES are some of the most commonly found microorganisms in care facilities. C. diff is perhaps the most dangerous microorganism to hospitals nationwide, most commonly affects older adults on antibiotics and can leave patients terminally ill.

The UV light used to destroy bacteria aren’t just lethal to the single-celled: humans are only permitted near the UV machines if they are equipped with personal protective gear, to protect their skin and eyes from irritation. Most treatments can take up to 30 minutes and there are no known pathogens that can withstand exposure to these UV-C light, “Obviously, the bigger the space the more time it will take to deliver a lethal dose of UVC energy to all surfaces,” said Trapani.

The Rochester Patient Safety Collaborative, headed by Ghinwa Dumyai, M.D., associate professor of Medicine at the University of Rochester, is is working to reduce C.diff infections by 30%. “That goal is aggressive – especially when you consider how hardy C. diff spores are – but it’s in keeping with a national goal set by the Department of Health and Human Services,” said Dumyati. By focusing on environmental and staff hygiene, the new safety collaborative hopes to reach their goal in the next few years. So, next time you’re sitting in the doctor’s office, there is no need to fear for dangerous pathogens; these machines are hard at work to ensure your safety!


Looking for a trade in? The facts about appliances in the Energy Star Rebate program.

On March 19 the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) kicked off a new program that offers rebates to residents who purchase energy-efficient appliances. This “Buy Green Save Green” program ends on April 30th of this year, or when the $3.5 million budget has run out – whichever comes first.

If you’re a New York State resident you can receive a cash rebate of $350 when you purchase a refrigerator, or $250 when your purchase a clothes washer. The appliance must be CEE High Efficiency Tier 2 or 3 in order to be eligible for the rebate program. A list of eligible appliances is at

Getting cash back is a plus but there are benefits to buying an energy-efficient appliance versus a non-energy-efficient one. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a 16 cubic-foot refrigerator can use upwards of 725 kilowatts of energy each year. That’s two or even three times the energy used by refrigerators eligible for the Buy Green Save Green rebate. Even new refrigerators that are not CEE rated, or are CEE Tier 1 class (not qualified for the rebate) use somewhere between 550 and 700 kilowatts per year. Still much higher than those qualified for the rebate.

Keep in mind that appliances can lose efficiency over time as well. While it’s not easy to calculate exactly how many kilowatts you add over time, there are lots of things that can cause your appliances to work harder and lead to loss of efficiency while shortening the lifespan of the machine to boot.

The Department of Energy offers tips on reducing energy costs at home and help to avoid overworking the motors in appliances. Using more detergent than necessary for a load of laundry creates sud build up, resulting in the engine working harder than normal. Maintaining proper seals and adjusting latches to prevent air leaks on a refrigerator prevents the motor from needless running. Keeping a full freezer allows for easy temperature maintenance and works the air compressor less as well. More tips and information are offered at

Energy consumption is the main factor to qualify an appliance for Energy Star ratings, plus it keeps your wallet happiest by chopping your electric bill down. Using refrigerators as the example still– the energy use of a Buy Green Save Green eligible fridge is generally somewhere between 350 and 430 kilowatts. That is about half the energy used by non-energy-efficient appliances. As for costs, a non-efficient fridge costs $60 per year on average. Cut the energy use in half and it cuts your bill in half each year, saving hundreds of dollars over the lifespan of the appliance.

Energy use is not the sole criteria when the EPA hands out Energy Star ratings. A manufacturer must use top-of the line insulation, more efficient compressors, modern heat-transfer materials, and use precise temperature and defrosting mechanisms. Washing machines must be designed to use less water and use modern sensors to control water temperature.

So if you’re still chugging along with appliances from the 80’s and 90’s, consider taking advantage of the Buy Green Save Green program. You’re almost guaranteed to save money, not to mention significantly reduce your emission footprint  by replacing old appliances with the qualified ones of this program.

Science Technology

Is Space Age technology promoting Stone Age thinking?

Nick Carr delivers keynote at the Roberts Wesleyan 2012 Biennial Academic Conference, reflects on how society has adapted to ubiquitous information.