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Nobel laureates ask Congress not to cut research funding

A group of Nobel laureates, including Professor of Physics Leon Cooper, signed a letter to Congress urging its members not to cut research funding as part of the budget sequester, the New York Times reported.

The letter, which will be made public today, was sent in advance of today’s announcement of the Obama administration’s budget plan.

Funding for research and development has dropped by nearly $32 billion since 2009, the Times reported. The government provides most funding for research through organizations such as the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and NASA.

“We urge you, even in these financially troubled times, to keep the budgets of the agencies that support science at a level that will keep the pipelines full of the younger generation upon whom our economic vitality will rest in future years,” the group wrote in the letter.


Forced withdrawal in prison discourages methadone therapy

The fact that many prisons mandate methadone withdrawal means drug users requiring methadone treatment may not seek this therapy, according to a study co-authored by University researchers.

The study was published online last month in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment.

Methadone is often used as a treatment for addiction to opioids like heroin, according to a press release from the Miriam Hospital.

But methadone, an opioid, is not allowed in most prisons. If imprisoned, patients who are on methadone therapy may experience withdrawal symptoms worse than withdrawal symptoms from drugs like heroin, the authors wrote in the study. When they surveyed patients in drug treatment programs in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, the researchers found that many users felt discouraged from entering methadone treatment because of the risk of worsened withdrawal symptoms if they were ever incarcerated.

Addressing this barrier to treatment is a “health and human rights imperative,” the authors wrote in the study.


Carbon analysis provides clues to history of Moon, Mars

A study by University researchers analyzed the release of carbon into the atmosphere on different terrestrial bodies. The findings, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could help scientists better understand the history of bodies such as Mars and the Moon.

Under Earth’s crust is the mantle, a solid layer containing carbon compounds. The mantle can melt into magma that flows toward Earth’s crust, transporting the carbon and then releasing it into the atmosphere as a gas. On Earth, the atmospheric carbon takes the form of carbon dioxide, but scientists were unsure about the form of atmospheric carbon released on other terrestrial bodies, according to a University press release.

In the study, the researchers analyzed volcanic rock similar to that found on Mars and the Moon. They discovered that carbon is released from this rock in the forms of carbon monoxide and methane gas, according to the release. As a result, planets like Mars may historically have been warmer than they are today — perhaps warm enough to support liquid water, according to the release.


Chemists identify cheaper way to synthesize acrylate 

A new way of synthesizing the chemical compound acrylate could facilitate the production of materials like disposable diapers and polyester cloth. The synthesis was described in a study by Brown and Yale researchers published online last month in the journal Organometallics.

Historically, acrylate has been synthesized from propylene, an expensive derivative of crude oil, according to a University press release. In working to identify a cheaper alternative, scientists have long theorized that carbon dioxide and propylene could be used in the production of acrylate.

The roadblock to achieving this synthesis was figuring out how to break open a five-membered ring containing carbon, nickel and oxygen. The researchers hypothesized that a Lewis acid, which accepts electrons, could take the electrons in the bond between oxygen and nickel and allow the acrylate synthesis to be completed.

In the study, the researchers used a strong Lewis acid derived from boron and found that it broke open the ring and allowed the acrylate formation, according to the release. In future studies, the researchers will work to see if there is a weaker, more efficient Lewis acid that can also work.


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