Welcome to the Scientific American podcast for the seven days starting March 22nd. I am Steve Mirsky. This week on the podcast, U.S. Army Captain Bret Moore talks about combat stress in Iraq. We will also hear from Shannon Babb, the big winner in this year's Intel Science Talent Search, and astronomer Stephen Pompea tells us about a science project that even little kids at home can help out with. Plus, we will test your knowledge of some recent science in the news. First up, Captain Bret Moore. Captain Moore is a clinical psychologist with the 85th Combat Stress Control Unit based in Fort Hood, Texas. He is currently deployed in Iraq, where U.S. combat operations have now passed the three-year mark. Along with fellow psychologist and Army Captain Greg Reger, Moore wrote the article, "Combating Stress in Iraq," which appeared in the February/March issue of the publication Scientific American Mind. Captain Moore called me from Kirkuk in northeastern Iraq.
Steve: Captain Moore, I really appreciate you calling in.
Moore: Oh, not a problem. Thanks for having me.
Steve: It's our pleasure. Can you tell me, first of all, over the years it has been called shell shock, then battle fatigue, and now apparently combat stress. Can you define combat stress?
Moore: Yeah! Combat stress is basically a reaction to some type of event within a combat environment which makes the individual adjust to a situation. The correct term, actually, is probably combat operational stress. Then, the operational identifier was added because even soldiers who may not go on a lot of combat mission[s] are still prone to stress in the operational environment, maybe health, on issues, or the grueling workdays environment. So, combat operational stress is probably the best term for basically anything within the environment that causes the person to adjust and it can cause problems with physiology, which are emotions or mood, things of that nature.
Steve: How is Iraq different from previous experiences for American forces?
Moore: As far as non-healthy means?
Steve: Yes! Absolutely, in terms of combat operational stress.
Moore: Sure. Greg and I talked about in the article, the operations here soldiers are required to take—soldiers I include marines as well—are required to take somewhat of a defensive and reactive posture [in] combat operations. Much of their time is spent in going through villages, patrolling different villages, searching for weapon caches, and you never know when or if you might become part of an attack. Ambush can happen at any time and it creates what we call anticipatory anxiety – not knowing when or if it's going to happen, and that can cause a lot of stress anxiety for soldiers out there.
Steve: So, what kind of techniques are you using? What kind of specific techniques you're using with the people who are actually involved on a daily basis with this kind of stress?
Moore: Well! There
is[are] a couple of levels. Something that… ideas that I can operate, or my framework, is based [on] that of is, there is an acronym called PIE and it's related to combat operational stress. The P stands for proximity, which means you treat as close to the front and work out a front-line roundabout, sort of, if possible. That's the first part. Immediacy is where we intervene as quickly as possible. Expectancy is where we install a sense of recovery and return to duty. We don't classify and diagnose. We let the soldier know that what you are experiencing is normal and then we have to ask them, which is simplicity, and we stick to the basics: food, rest, recovery, recuperation, and somewhat evidence-based treatment approaches, like, I talk in the article about cognitive behavioral therapy, which is something that we use quite often out here.
Steve: The Oregonian newspaper on Sunday, March 19th, did a major story there about post-traumatic stress among returning Iraq veterans and we are not talking about post-traumatic stress, but is there a relationship between combat operational stress now and post-traumatic stress disorder down the line.
Moore: Well! There can be. With post-traumatic stress there has to be some traumatic event and I think one of the misperceptions in this conception out here or back home in [the] media [is] that, just someone who was in a combat environment is going to develop, or is exposed to a traumatic event, which is actually not true. Humans, we're very resilient, were able to deal with a lot of stresses and most soldiers returning home are going to be fine, but soldiers are absolutely
are at increased risk out here because there is a possibility of numerous traumatic events and multiple combat stresses, but I think it is important for people to realize that post-traumatic stress is always actually not a huge part of what soldiers deal with when they go home. Depression, anxiety are also just as common.
Steve: Just as common. Is there anything else that they deal with more that maybe people don't know about?
Moore: Well! Relationship problems are a huge thing and I would say most of the problems handled out here have been related to relationship problems back home, maybe with the spouse or a family member, and personally, I wish people would focus on that as opposed to PTSD because that is really a significant stressor for soldiers out here.
Steve: Very interesting. Can you tell me, I am sure this is outside of your area, but it occurs to me that if we are talking about combat operational stress as just being in the theater, there are a lot of Iraqi civilians who must be under enormous stress. Any idea what is going on with their mental health?
Moore: Actually, I can't speak much to... I saw something in an article the other day about having a greater need for psychologists, actually Iraqi psychologists, but you know, personally I don't know much what that's like, what the levels are like, what the main issues are. I mean, I will assume, I think I must sincerely tell you that the stress involved is not just for American troops, but for Iraqi people as well. But yeah! I certainly can't speak intelligently about that.
Steve: Can you talk a little bit about, in the article in Scientific American Mind in the February/March issue that you and your colleague wrote, you talk about one incident in a sidebar. You talk about an incident where you were in an armed confrontation, and can you talk about whether that experience gave you any kind of an insight that you have been able to bring to your treatment of combat soldiers and marines?
Moore: Sure. What it did is, it certainly gave me a deeper appreciation for what these soldiers and marines go through. One of the reasons why, in the first part of my tenure out here I made an effort to go out on convoys and try to go on as many patrols
in[as] my command would let me do, and what it did is it really gave me a sense of what these soldiers go through from within a year's time frame, may go outside the wire. When I say outside the wire I mean going on a combat mission, leaving the base. It's amazing how they cope with the stress and my little glimpse of what they go through, it could help me come back with a lot of soldiers after that, as far as helping them get through some of their combat stress and their traumatic experiences.
Steve: How much longer are you going to be there?
Moore: I am on the last phase. I am going home pretty soon. Can't give the exact date, but it's pretty close.
Steve: Well! Safe travels and I thank you very much for talking to us today.
Moore: You are welcome.
Steve: Captain Moore's article, "Combating Stress in Iraq," appeared in the February/March issue of Scientific American Mind. That's a new bimonthly publication from the editors of Scientific American magazine concentrating on psychology, neuroscience, and related fields. It's available at newsstands, by subscription or at www.sciammind.com. That's s-c-i-a-m-m-i-n-d.com.
Now it's time to play TOTALL…….Y BOGUS. Here are four science stories and in honor of the recently celebrated Saint Patrick's Day, all four stories are about beer, but only three are true. See if you know which story is TOTALL…….Y BOGUS.
Story number 1: Researchers in Austria and the Czech Republic report that beer is an anti-inflammatory and can slow the aging process.
Story number 2: In most places, so-called 3.2 beer is 3.2 percent alcohol, but in Utah 3.2 beer is actually 4 percent alcohol.
Story number 3: Microbiologists at the University of Heidelberg genetically modified the beer-making yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae so that it produces a beer that looks and tastes almost exactly like cola, although with about a 10 percent alcohol content.
Story number 4: Norway resident Haldis Gundersen was recently amazed to find that when she turned on her kitchen faucet beer flowed forth.
We will be back with the answer. But first, on March 14th the Intel Corporation announced the winners of their big high school science talent search, and the grand prize went to Shannon Babb of Highland, Utah. The 18 year old studied the water quality in the Spanish Fork River and developed plants to make the river healthier. I called her at her home in Highland.
Steve: Hi, Shannon. Thanks for talking to us today.
Shannon: Hi, my pleasure.
Steve: So, you are the big winner. Tell us what you did. What did you do to win the Intel?
Shannon: I did a six-month longitudinal study of the Spanish Fork River system and then figured out ways to fix the problems I found.
Steve: What kind of problems did you find, first of all?
Shannon: Well! There are several human pollution problems I found. There was E coli in one of the sites. There was nitrogen and phosphorous contamination – turbidity, which is how much dirt is in the water, well-dissolved oxygen, so the fish couldn't breathe, and I also found that there
was[were] not as many species after human beings had come in contact with the river.
Steve: What did you use to measure the levels of E coli?
Shannon: E coli, I did a swab test. So, you take the sample of water and then you swab, chalk out others and you put them in the incubator and as it comes out with the metallic sheen, then you know that you have E coli.
Steve: And, I understand that you have been researching water quality for a quite a bit longer than the past six months.
Steve: How did you get interested in that and for how long have you been looking at that?
Shannon: I have always been interested in science and nature and when I was younger, water quality was always in [the] news because we were in a drought; there wasn't much water. We had to protect what we had and yet they kept on saying it's polluted, but I couldn't find any data that said yes, it is polluted or no, it really isn't. So, I created a study to test that. Five years later, here I am and my studies are getting national recognition.
Steve: So, the study that you won the Intel [competition] with is actually the same study that you started when you were 13?
Shannon: Yes, it's the third phase of a much larger project called, "The Ins and Outs of Utah Lake."
Steve: What remediation plan did you come up with? Can you summarize that?
Shannon: I split it into three major sections. We have the education of the community, telling people that what they put on their land does end up falling directly into the river. That is the phase were I talked with local politicians and the state water quality board explaining the problems and trying to get them to repair things like design structure and improve the structure of both drainage system, and the last phase is trying to repair the riparian zone because that helps prevent pollutants from entering the river.
Steve: You took home [a] $100,000 scholarship. So, what was your reaction when you learned that you had actually won it?
Shannon: My first reaction was, "What?" I was amazed. I had no clue that I even had a chance. I thought, maybe if I was lucky I could get the 10th, but not first.
Steve: And, what was the reaction of your friends and family?
Shannon: Oh! My friends never had a doubt. My family was also kind of surprised because they knew about this competition, how prestigious and how hard it is to win it.
Steve: I think six people who have won this have gone on to win Nobel Prizes, in fact.
Shannon: Yeah! It's very prestigious.
Steve: And your school, they must be just going crazy.
Shannon: I am a hot topic. I made it onto the announcement, which doesn't usually happen for the academic.
Steve: You made it onto your school announcements, I see, and that doesn't happen for an academic, while it usually happens for the sports people?
Shannon: Usually happens for sports or drama club, but not for pure academics.
Steve: Yeah! Well, this is really a big deal. And do you know what college you are going to in the fall?
Shannon: Utah State.
Steve: And they must be beside themselves as well. Have you heard from them?
Shannon: They are already e-mailing me, all excited and already telling ways they can help me out with the transition at the Utah State. It's exciting.
Steve: That’s great, and do you know what you want to do ultimately?
Shannon: I want to continue studying water quality.
Steve: So, you are actually very serious about making that your career.
Shannon: I have explored other channels of science and hydrology is great because it allows you to study chemistry, physics, geology, biology, entomology, all at the same time.
Steve: That's great. Well! Thank you very much, Shannon. I really appreciate you coming on.
Shannon: You are welcome.
Steve: Second prize in the Intel Science Talent Search went to 17-year-old Yi Sun of San Jose California. He won a $75,000 scholarship for studying the mathematics of random motion. The third prize winner was Chelsea Zhang from Silver Spring, Maryland. She showed that by-products of low-density lipoproteins contribute to blocked arteries, and she got a $50,000 scholarship. Another $305,000 went to the 37 other finalists and all finalists got a laptop computer.
Now it's time to see which story was TOTALL…….Y BOGUS. Here are the four stories again.
Story number 1: Austrian and Czech researchers say beer decreases inflammation and slows aging.
Story number 2: In Shannon Babb's Utah, 3.2 beer is really 4 percent alcohol.
Story number 3: German microbiologists genetically modified yeast to make beer that tastes like cola with a kick.
Story number 4: A woman in Norway had hot and cold running beer faucets.
Story number 1 is true. In a study published in the March issue of International Immunopharmacology, Austrian and Czech researchers say that beer hops decrease levels of chemical compounds associated with inflammation. A grain of salt in the beer, though – Fortune magazine points out that the study was paid for by a group of breweries and that an earlier Czech study reported that two beers a day for impotence (unclear)—because after two beers...
Story number 2 is true. Salt Lake City's KUTV reports that Utah measures beer's alcohol content by weight, while most places measure alcohol content by volume. When Utah beer's alcohol was measured the way everyone else measures their 3.2 percent beer, it's actually 4 percent alcohol. Most beer, by the way, is about 5 percent alcohol by volume.
And story number 4 is true. Norway's Haldis Gundersen did have beer coming from her kitchen faucet while the big teller bar downstairs from Ms. Gundersen had water coming from their beer taps. The Associated Press reports that some appallingly poor plumber had connected the bar's beer hoses to the house's water pipes and the incoming water pipes to the bar taps. It's a Saint Patrick's Day miracle explained, which means that the story about the genetically engineered yeast that produces high-alcohol content cola-flavored beer is TOTALL…….Y BOGUS, for now. Next up, Stephen Pompea. He is an astronomer and the manager of science education at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson. The observatory is part of a program called GLOBE, and a collaboration called GLOBE at Night, that's a worldwide science project that takes place all this week from March 22nd to March 29th. Anybody, even little kids, can take part by doing just a minute of star gazing and noting down what they see. To find out more about GLOBE at Night, I called Dr. Pompea at his office in Tucson.
Steve: Dr. Pompea, thanks for talking to us today.
Pompea: My pleasure to be here.
Steve: Tell us about GLOBE and about GLOBE at Night.
Pompea: Well! The GLOBE project is a worldwide education project to have students around the world gather scientific data, and the GLOBE at Night project is our attempt to gather information about the brightness of the night sky around the world.
Steve: What age group of students are we looking at here?
Pompea: Well! This project is appropriate for any age that can go outside. They just have to be able to find the constellation of
the Orion and be able to observe how bright the constellation looks from their location.
Steve: So, this is a great thing for little kids to do with their parents or for a school group to do.
Pompea: Yes, it would work for any age. The only thing is, it would be best to be done with some supervision.
Steve: So, we are actually going to look at Orion. How are little kids going to judge the intensity of the stars that they are looking at?
Pompea: Well! Through the Web we provide a map of Orion as it would look from different locations. So, from a very dark sky location, they would see a lot of stars in Orion. From a big city, they would just see a few stars. So, they are really asked to compare what they see with one of these pictures that we have taken and give to them.
Steve: Is the intent of the GLOBE at Night project just to get kids involved or you actually trying to generate real data here?
Pompea: We are trying to generate real data. We have a tremendous resource in these kids across the world and they can give us an insight into how the sky looks from their location and also how much energy is being wasted from that location.
Steve: We want to look at the relative intensities that people can appreciate from around the world in different spots because light pollution is such a problem for astronomy now?
Pompea: Light pollution is a big problem for astronomy. Even the stars are now an endangered species. If you want to go out and enjoy the wonders of the night sky, you really need an automobile with a full tank of gas. So, we're hoping that this will build the awareness of the fact that the wonders of the night sky are really not possible for many people in the world.
Steve: Is it really necessary for us to be using as much light at night, especially in big cities, as we are currently?
Pompea: No, not at all. Most of the light is wasted. It's not directed where it needs to go. It's going up into the sky and interfering with our view of the sky. We could save a tremendous amount of energy if we could shield our streetlights properly. Before, you would look down at the Earth from space or even from an airplane, then we see how the lights that are coming up at us. It's basically like a big billboard that says. "We like to waste energy," sort of the advertisers have the ability to throw away electricity, which is something we can't do.
Steve: Do you want to talk at all about what you think the aesthetic value is of star gazing, especially for kids?
Pompea: I think kids really can benefit from a view at the night sky. Many of us who are older have seen the Milky Way and know the great beauty of the Milky Way, but most kids today have never been in a situation where they can see a dark night sky or see the Milky Way and that's really a sad situation.
Steve: Dr. Pompea, thank you very much for your time.
Pompea: Thank you. It's my pleasure.
Steve: The GLOBE program is managed by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research and Colorado State University with support from NASA, the National Science Foundation and the State Department. To take part in the GLOBE at Night project, go to www.globe.gov/globeatnight, all one word—"globeatnight."
Well! That's it for this edition of the Scientific American podcast. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. That's email@example.com. And also remember that science news is updated daily on the Scientific American Web site, www.sciam.com. I am Steve Mirsky. Thanks for clicking on us.