Program 696,
  August 28, 2001


A. A Proposed Pollution-Free Power Plant

Narrator: This is Science Today. There's a proposal in the works by scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to build a research facility that would produce a pollution-free, ten Megawatt generation plant using what's called Zero Emissions Steam Technology, otherwise known as ZEST. Ray Smith, of the Lab's Applied Energy Technologies, says the concept is based on rocket engine technology.

Smith: You burn the fossil fuel with oxygen in a ratio such that you produce only CO2 and water - you produce no hydrocarbons.

Narrator: The steam and carbon dioxide then go through high- temperature steam turbines, which generate electricity.

Smith: The major thrust of this facility - the major work - will actually be to improve the steam turbines through materials development work to raise the inlet temperature of these steam turbins, which will increase the efficiency of the whole process. And we think we can get to the 55 to 60% range that combined-cycle plants do today, but without any atmospheric emissions, which is a major, major difference.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.

B.The Effects of Race, Gender and Age on Mental Health Care

Narrator: This is Science Today. A UCLA study evaluating the quality of mental health care found that health insurance coverage had a relatively small effect on whether or not people received treatment. Alexander Young, an assistant professor of psychiatry who led the study, says individual factors such as race, gender and age actually had a larger effect on treatment.

Young: For instance, African Americans were much less likely to get appropriate care. Men were less likely to get appropriate care, people that were younger - for instance in their twenties or older - like in their fifties and sixties - were less likely to get treated.

Narrator: Young says stigma about mental health conditions probably has a lot to do with this lack of treatment - but it's also because most people with mental health conditions go to their primary care physician first.

Young: We looked at rates of care according to whether people were in primary care or in specialty care and we found that rates in primary care were much lower. Those are busy settings in which there's often not a lot of time to do a thorough evaluation of what's going on or to have a lot of treatment resources available in the primary care setting.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.

C. Early Detection of One of the Most Common Forms of Cancer

Narrator: This is Science Today. Colorectal cancer strikes about 130 thousand Americans each year - making it one of the most common forms of cancer in the United States. And even though it's preventable, about half of colon cancer patients eventually die from the disease - partly because it often isn't detected until the later stages. Dr. Charles Theuer, a professor of surgery at the University of California, Irvine says polyps, which can be precursors to cancer, can be easily removed during a colonoscopy.

Theuer: Getting rid of polyps during the procedure of colonoscopy for instance is very painless and easy. So we get rid of anything we see, knowing that only one in ten will eventually become a cancer.

Narrator: The good news, Theuer says, is if no abnormalities are detected, you can wait ten years before your next screening.

Theuer: Even if you have a small polyp, we don't recommend another one for five years. So it's not something that you have to do every year or every month. So if you engage in the program and get going, it's not a huge intrusion in your life.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.

D. Researchers Work to Improve Gene-based Therapies

Narrator: This is Science Today. A team of researchers has developed - and recently patented - a pill that can deliver genes into the bloodstream. Dr. Stephen Rothman, a physiologist at the University of California, San Francisco and one of the inventors of this 'gene pill' says currently genes are delivered therapeutically by injection. So, what's the advantage of a gene pill?

Rothman: Partly expense - but there's another reason too, and that is an often not appreciated fact about taking medication by injection is that the amount that we have to take in is far greater than what would be required to keep a therapeutic level.

Narrator: With a gene-based delivery system, the gene is constantly producing and secreting the product, so blood levels reach a constant level.

Rothman: So that makes for a better therapeutic situation, particularly for something like diabetes where fluctuations in insulin levels are a serious issue.

Narrator: Rothman says the gene pill is not available yet, since more research is necessary. For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.

E. The Meaning of So Called Meaningless Words

Narrator: This is Science Today. When you're speaking, do you tend to use lots of ums, ahs, likes or you knows? Pyscholinguist Jean Fox Tree of the University of California, Santa Cruz, says these common elements of natural speech, often considered undesirable, are actually helpful to listeners.

Fox Tree: People think that people who use ums and ahs are nervous and anxious and all these other kinds of things. But it's not necessarily the case that that's in fact why people use ums and ahs. In fact, ums and ahs are very related to the amount of pausing that's about to happen in speech. So if you're about to pause for a long time, you'll say Um. If you're about to pause for a short time, you'll say Ah.

Narrator: Fox Tree says people also use ums and ahs to let the listener know they're still thinking about an answer and are not just being uncooperative or stupid.

Fox Tree: So there's a real relationship there between when people say it. These words are not ignorable particles of spoken talk. They actually might serve some real function.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm ...ah...Larissa Branin.



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