Research News and Notes: Spring 2019

Exploring Sex Risks

Sexual and gender minority adolescents in the United States are at high risk for negative sexual health outcomes like HIV and sexually transmitted infections. Yet their needs are often overlooked by sex education and HIV prevention programs designed for heterosexual adolescents and adults. Kathryn Macapagal, medical social sciences and core faculty at the Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing, conducts innovative research that sheds light on sexual risk and protective factors among these adolescents. In one recent study she found that most gay and bisexual adolescent boys have used smartphone dating applications to find adult men. Although this use is associated with elevated rates of condomless sex, it is also linked with benefits — such as reduced sense of isolation, meeting other gay and bisexual peers, increased rates of HIV testing, and awareness of a once-daily HIV prevention drug called PrEP.

A Road Map to Mental Health, Earlier

Mental disorders are the predominant chronic diseases of youth, and a wealth of evidence demonstrates that the neurodevelopmental roots of common mental health problems are present in early childhood. In
an article published March 27 in the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, faculty at Northwestern’s Institute for Innovations in Developmental Sciences (DevSci) proposed a translational “Mental Health, Earlier” roadmap as a key direction for prevention of mental disorders. DevSci faculty utilized interdisciplinary collaboration for the Mental Health, Earlier strategy that rests on the “science of when to worry,” a concrete methodology for addressing these issues and transforming clinical outlooks. These Mental Health, Earlier strategies hold promise for transforming clinical outlooks and ensuring young children’s mental health and wellbeing in a manner that reverberates throughout the lifespan.

How the Microbiome May React on Mars

During his yearlong stay on the International Space Station (ISS), astronaut Scott Kelly experienced a shift in the ratio of two major categories of bacteria in his gut microbiome. The diversity of bacteria in his microbiome, however, did not change during spaceflight, which the research team, led by Fred Turek and Martha Vitaterna of Northwestern’s Center for Sleep and Circadian Biology, found encouraging. Gut health affects digestion, metabolism and immunity; and, more recently, changes in the microbiome have been linked to changes in bones, muscles, and the brain. The study’s finding could help physicians and researchers pinpoint and implement ways to protect astronauts’ and space tourists’ microbiomes during long bouts of space travel, such as during the much-anticipated mission to Mars. Vitaterna and Turek were recently awarded additional funding from NASA to study “Martian-level gravity in conjunction with a Martian-length day.” A day on Mars is about 41 minutes longer than one on Earth. The conditions will be replicated aboard the ISS using mice.

Materials Science Exhibit Featured at the Harold Washington Library

In collaboration with the Museum of Science and Industry, the city of Chicago, and the Chicago Public Library, Northwestern’s Materials Research Center (MRC) has launched the next iteration of its Materials Science Exhibit at the Harold Washington Library in downtown Chicago. The newly updated exhibit is located in the Grand Promenade on the third floor and will be open to the general public through January 30, 2020. While the original exhibit featured galleries on ubiquitous (ceramics, plastics, and metals) and frontier (silicon, carbon, and magnets) materials, the current iteration also features a microscopy gallery, highlighting the intersection of art and science.

Golden Opportunity

The Block Museum’s Caravans of Gold has provided wonderful visuals, and the content complements many of the Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa’s (ISITA) core interests, such as Africa’s interconnectedness with other parts of the world, the multi-directional flows of Islamic knowledge, and the importance of the Arabic language and script in Africa. The collaborative dimension of the exhibit’s planning and execution has been exemplary; ISITA and its partners have built creative programming around the exhibit, including a conference on “Saharan Futures” and the launch of a new Arts of Islam in Africa initiative.

July 9, 2019
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