Inquiring Minds

The Big Chill

Imagine a time when the entire universe froze. That is essentially what happened about 11.5 billion years ago, when the universe was a quarter of the size it is today, according to a model published online May 6 in the journal Physical Review D. The model was developed by Research Associate Sourish Dutta and Professor of Physics Robert Scherrer at Vanderbilt, working with colleagues at the University of Oregon.

Cosmologists now think dark energy makes up more than 70 percent of energy and matter in the universe and is pushing the universe apart at an ever-faster rate. “One thing that is unsatisfying about many of the existing explanations for dark energy is that they are difficult to test,” says Scherrer. “Our model can interact with normal matter and so has observable consequences.”

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licoriceLicorice Compound Offers Anti-Cancer Potential

A chemical component of licorice may offer a new approach to preventing colorectal cancer without the adverse side effects of other preventive therapies, Vanderbilt Medical Center researchers report. In the study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, Dr. Raymond Harris, Dr. Ming-Zhi Zhang and colleagues show that inhibiting the enzyme 11b-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 2 (11ßHSD2)—either by treatment with a natural compound found in licorice or by silencing the 11ßHSD2 gene—prevents colorectal cancer progression in mice predisposed to the disease.

Licorice has been used for thousands of years for ailments ranging from coughs to constipation, but long-term consumption can lead to low blood potassium and increases in blood pressure.

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Writing Instruction Gets a Failing Grade

A national survey of high school writing instruction finds 50 percent of teachers say they are not prepared to teach students how to write well and rarely assign complex writing tasks. The study by Steve Graham, Currey Ingram Chair in Special Education, was published recently in the Journal of Educational Psychology.

“Students need to be engaged in writing longer compositions that involve analysis and interpretation, teachers should apply evidence-based writing practices and adaptations for struggling writers, and teacher-education programs and school districts need to better prepare teachers for writing instruction at the high school level,” Graham says.

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