Saturday, December 20, 2014


Dartmouth scholars across the spectrum of government and diplomacy, history, and economics hail the Obama Administration’s move to restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba as a momentous step forward, but they warn that the president still has to navigate some strident opposition in Congress.

Professor John Carey, chair of the department of government, says he “could not be more pleased” about the change in policy, but says it is important to understand that the policy often referred to as the Cuban embargo “is actually a series of policies that restrict travel, trade, investment, and communications.”

Carey, the John Wentworth Professor in the Social Sciences—whose work focuses on elections, constitutions, and Latin American politics—says unwinding a 50-year patchwork of policy will not be simple. “Some elements are the products of executive action, but others are products of legislation. The president can roll back the former, but the latter will be harder.”

Hours after the Cuban government released American contractor Alan Gross after five years in prison, and reportedly traded three Cuban spies for an unnamed U.S. intelligence agent, President Obama announced from the White House that the United States would open an embassy in Havana and loosen trade, banking, and travel restrictions imposed on the island nation.

In announcing he will overturn the policy imposed in 1961, Obama said, “We will end an outdated approach that has failed to advance our interests. Neither the American nor the Cuban people are well served by a rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.”

The fact that he doesn’t face reelection may have made Obama’s decision easier, says Daniel Benjamin, the Norman E. McCulloch Jr. Director of the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding.

“And it was made possible, in part, by changing attitudes in the Latino community and among Cuban Americans in Florida. There was a time when this was the third rail of American politics,” says Benjamin, who worked at White House when a plane flown by the Miami-based anti-Castro group Brothers to the Rescue was shot down by Cuba. The Cuban spies released in the swap this week were linked to that incident.

“I remember vividly how heated this whole issue was,” he says.

Still, while there may be an opening in the politics around the Cuban embargo, a number of lawmakers with ties to the Cuban-American community are preparing for a battle, Benjamin says, notably Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who is reportedly exploring a run for president, and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the outgoing chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Carey, who has studied Cuban politics and, in 2008, took a Little League-age baseball team from the Upper Valley to play in Cuba, says he is hopeful that Obama’s move will result in real change. “Although the most strident anti-Castro voices in the United States will criticize these changes, there is good reason to think the shift will hasten the opening of the Cuban regime rather than solidify it.”

It was a bipartisan delegation of lawmakers, Vermont’s Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who flew to Havana to bring Gross to freedom. All three have worked for years to win Gross’s release.

William Craig, a visiting professor of English, is the author of Yankee Come Home: On the Road from San Juan Hill to Guantánamo, an account of his travels in Cuba looking for the historical and political links between the Spanish-American War of the 1890s and the U.S. war on terror following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He says he has detected a shift in American views on the Cuban embargo.

“All Americans who pay attention to the news know we can’t find an example of economic sanctions deposing a dictator,” he says. “The embargo in no way resulted in deposition of the Castro regime, but was simply a way of punishing the people of Cuba for not obeying the United States of America.”

As the generation of Cold Warriors and of Cubans who fled Castro’s revolution passes attitudes are changing, Craig says. “So amongst Miami Cubans, and in Congress and on Wall Street, you see a lot more sentiment … from conservatives saying it’s about time we did normal business with Cuba. That’s the best way to engage.”

Economics Professor Douglas Irwin, the John Sloan Dickey Third Century Professor in the Social Sciences, whose work focuses on U.S. trade policy and globalization, writes in the Dec. 18 Wall Street Journal that the trade embargo has been a complete failure. He argues that commerce with Cuba is the best way to bring about change.

“Trade will unleash winds of change that will upset the status quo,” he writes. “As Ronald Reagan understood, there is nothing more unsettling to repressive regimes than allowing the exchange of goods and people, ideas and information, to flow freely between countries. Commerce is a conduit for this exchange and can upend the balance of power in closed societies.”

Carey agrees. “The decades-old policy of isolation has only insulated the Castro regime and provided it with an excuse for its abysmal performance on the economy and on civil liberties. More trade, more investment, more communications, more ideas flooding onto the island will, over the long term, bring change that benefits people on both sides of the straits,” he says.

After five decades, restoring ties to Cuba may be an idea that’s time has come, says Benjamin. “Everyone is waiting for the end of the Castro regime, and an opening in Cuba, and finally I think the politics are catching up with attitudes here.”


By Jihii Jolly

News literacy as a field is officially about eight years old. For four of those eight years, it has been funded by the McCormick Foundation (which has also funded these stories), whose three-year, $6 million initiative, Why News Matters, is just past its halfway point. As Clark Bell, director of McCormick’s Journalism Program, writes in the latest issue of Continuance Magazine, it’s time to figure out how the news literacy movement can gain traction in years to come.

That traction, according to participants of the News Literacy Summit held in Chicago this past September, will come from building alliances with researchers and educators in adjacent fields. In order to deepen the impact of news literacy, the movement is primarily focused on students and tethered to curricula that already exists in schools or journalism programs. On the K-12 level, civic education and language arts naturally lend themselves to news literacy programming, because they seek to foster critical thinking skills. On the undergraduate level, news literacy tends to be introduced within journalism departments.

This systemic approach to news literacy, however, often excludes news consumers outside of schools. As the “formal” field narrows, it’s important to consider what potential more out-of-the-box approaches to news literacy could have and involve players who work in similar spaces. This may require a broader definition of news literacy than the oft-quoted “teach news consumers to be skeptical of the news, learn how to assess and verify sources, and understand bias.”

That broadening includes concepts like how much context is presented, what time of day people read, how they share stories, how algorithms select stories, how trends emerge differently on different social networks, what type of internet access readers have, and how much they spend on subscriptions, apps, or devices—in other words, what’s typically seen in user engagement research could inform news literacy as well.

In that light, here are some questions worth exploring within and beyond the field.

1. How do headlines change the way we process information?

While plenty has been written this year about clickbait and its impact on traffic, there hasn’t been much study of how it impacts our understanding of events. In a recent New Yorker piece, Maria Konnikova discussed a series of studies published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied about how slightly misleading shifts in headlines can affect a reader’s ability to recall the details of an article. The idea falls squarely into the larger question of how news can be designed to encourage understanding, which, considering the rise of explanatory news in 2014, is worth further exploration to figure out just how information design impacts literacy.

2. How do we actually measure understanding of the news?

A report published by Engaging News Project and Solutions Journalism Network earlier this year found that “solutions-based” stories impact reader understanding in a positive way. After presenting readers with news stories that contained a solution to an issue as well as those that didn’t, researchers found that most readers “feel” more informed when reading an article that presents an issue along with a solution. As research on the topic continues, figuring out more precisely what type of story structure can maintain journalistic integrity and be conducive to understanding will be critical.

3. How does news trend differently on different social networks and what should we know about algorithms in order to be savvy news consumers?

Towards the beginning of the Hong Kong protests, data scientist Suman Deb Roy published a fascinating piece on Medium about how five different news items trended (or didn’t trend) on Facebook and what factors influence the attention a news story gets. He found three: time of day, competing stories, and “escape velocity,” that is, how high a story reaches on the trending list and how long it stays there. But most research of this sort is limited to the world of data scientists or curious data literate readers. Just as publishers compete to understand (and game) the algorithms ruling networks, news consumers could benefit from the information to decide which social networks to turn to for breaking news, and when.

4. How do we engage more communities around accessing and understanding the news?

Coming up in 2015 is a series of news literacy roundtables organized by the American Society of News Editors and the News Literacy Project. In collaboration with a local educational partner, media partner, and community partner, each group will identify a local news topic of importance as the basis for a dialogue about news literacy, taking the discipline beyond the classroom.

5. Who is the “liminal press” and how do we hold them accountable?

Over at Nieman Lab, researchers Mike Ananny and Kate Crawford wrote an interesting piece about how designers and app developers shape the news. They call this group a liminal press: people and systems existing outside (but alongside) online news organizations that create the conditions under which mobile news circulates. It’s important, they argue, to develop a new ethics of press responsibility that takes into account the divides between software designers and journalists. Just as awareness of editorial slant helps news consumers choose what to read, knowing the motivations and intentions of this “liminal press” can help readers decide how to construct a media diet. 


Nicolaus Copernicus, the 16th century Polish astronomer and mathematician, wasn’t the first to suggest that the Earth wasn’t the center of the universe—the idea originated with the ancient Greeks—but he was the first to prove it with a mathematical theorem. By doing so he upended the notion that Earth is unique, giving rise to the idea that there might be life on other planets.

Astrobiologist Caleb Scharf tackles this complex topic in his newest book, The Copernicus Complex. “I’ve wondered if we’re alone in the universe since I was a child, and everyone I’ve ever known has thought about it at some point,” said the British-born astronomer and physicist, who is director of the Columbia Astrobiology Center.

His research focuses on the study of exoplanets and exomoons, planets and moons outside our own solar system. The center he founded in 2005 includes Columbia faculty from the departments of astronomy, microbiology, climate science, geophysics and astrophysics, and has partnerships with NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the American Museum of Natural History. Its aim is to investigate phenomena related to the origin of life on Earth and on other planets.

The Sunday Times of London just named Scharf’s book as its Science Book of the Year. His previous book, Gravity’s Engines, about black holes, was listed by New Scientist magazine as one of the 10 books to read in 2012. He is also the author of a popular blog on Scientific American’s website called Life, Unbounded.

Q What do you mean by the “Copernicus Complex?”

    It’s a phrase that’s trying to capture our struggle with one of the biggest questions that we can ask as a species: Are we alone in the universe? Copernican thinking led to the idea that life on Earth, and the Earth itself, aren’t special. It’s an idea known as cosmic mediocrity, and if that’s true, then there has to be lots of other life out there. That was mainstream thinking for a long time.

Q What have scientists learned that has changed this view?

    In the last 20 years we’ve discovered that planets are pretty much everywhere, which opens up a whole new vista of possibilities. But we’ve also learned that certain specific conditions must be necessary for life to exist. The question is, what are those conditions, and what are the implications for life’s cosmic abundance? In the book I try to reconcile the evidence that suggests planetary life might be common versus the evidence supporting the idea that life on Earth is special and unique. Life equally complex could exist on different planets, but it may have turned out very differently.

Q Where do you stand on the idea of life on other planets?

    There are people out there who really believe in UFOs and humanoid species wandering around in Nevada—if only! I’d put my money on most aliens being microbes, but I think there’s complex life too. When we talk about the possibility of technologically intelligent life out there, we’re imposing our prejudices on the unknown. Our type of intelligence has only happened once in four billion years on Earth, as far as we know. What if life can be extraordinarily diverse? We could miss a lot simply because it doesn’t look familiar. Do I believe there is life on other planets? I’d say yes—we’re probably already staring at the right places, but to know for sure we need better data.

Q How have your research interests changed since you started your career?

    I did research on the Big Bang and cosmology for many years. But the discovery of other planetary systems and our expanding knowledge of terrestrial biology helped convince me to switch my research focus. Looking for life in the universe is not easy. It will require a great deal of luck in the next few years. We’re looking for life markers in the chemical imbalances of small planets around other stars—that’s very difficult. It worries me, and I pace up and down a lot and bite my nails! But it is also exciting, and it pushes our scientific ingenuity to the limits.

Q Do you think there is something special about Earth and its inhabitants?

    At the very end of my book I propose that there is something special about us. We observe, we take notes, but we also have the option to change the equation. We can physically reach beyond our origins. In principle our spacecraft can explore interstellar space, and maybe we can, too. As far as we know, no other species here or elsewhere has had that option—certainly no one’s shown up yet. We can actually extend the reach of our species, change the balance of life in the cosmos.


Stephen Gatesy, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Brown, and his former postdoctoral fellow Peter Falkingham, now at the Royal Veterinary College in the United Kingdom, used measurements from X-ray videos of the 3-D foot movement of a chicken-like bird as an input for a computer simulation of a substrate of poppy seeds. In this way, they could visualize the displacement of seeds through time and study the “birth” of tracks at different depths. The researchers then used the model to clarify previously unexplained features of a Jurassic dinosaur track.

Gatesy described a video summarizing the approach: “On the left, a guineafowl walking through poppy seeds is captured by high-speed (250 fps) video using X-ray and standard light imaging. Three-dimensional bone models have been registered by X-ray Reconstruction of Moving Morphology (XROMM) and overlaid on both videos. On the right are animations of our particle simulation produced using the real foot motion by the discrete element method (DEM). Simulations enable visualization of how footprints form at any depth through interaction among foot shape, foot movement, and substrate properties. In this dry, sand-like material, very clear tracks are preserved below the surface, but these reflect foot entry and exit rather than static anatomy. Relating track features to formation dynamics helps explain the origin of track diversity in the fossil record and aids reconstruction of dinosaur locomotion.”


Fifteen years ago, Northwestern University scientist Marc Walton was turned on to blue when two basic facts struck him: blue was the first man-made pigment, and the word “blue” didn’t come into existence until many years later. Intrigued, Walton set out to learn more about this “most human” color. (And, yes, blue is his favorite color.)

An expert on the history of blue, Walton is a senior scientist at the Northwestern University-Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts (NU-ACCESS). The center is a national model of interdisciplinary scientific research in the arts and was established in 2012 with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

“Blue pigments can’t be readily extracted from the natural environment, so artisans across the millennia have had to use their innovative abilities to manufacture synthetic blue pigments,” said Walton, who studies the ancient world using the physical sciences, including why a magical centuries-old blue pigment recipe works.

Last weekend, as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival, he took a curious crowd at the Art Institute on a journey of blue discovery with his sold-out talk “Sacre Bleu.”

Blue’s story begins with lapis lazuli, a semiprecious stone of intense blue color, found in a remote area of Afghanistan. Very expensive and difficult to get, lapis lazuli has been prized since the beginning of recorded history, Walton said. Starting with the rise of civilization around 4500 B.C. and continuing to this day, people have found creative ways to produce blue for artistic expression.

The blue in the burial mask of Tutankhamun, the Virgin Mary’s robe in Renaissance paintings, Delft pottery, Gustave Caillebotte’s “Paris Street; Rainy Day” and Pablo Picasso’s “The Old Guitarist” -- all the different blues used in these works owe their existence to lapis lazuli and the blue pigments it inspired.

Walton recently spoke to Megan Fellman about the color blue, his blue-related research and NU-ACCESS’ collaboration with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

MF: How does NU-ACCESS relate to your “Sacre Bleu” talk?

MW: One type of project the center does is technical art history, which allows us to understand how a work of art came together. There is an entire historic lineage associated with materials usage, and that’s really what this blue talk is all about -- what raw materials were used, how and why they were used, and how did artisans and artists come up with innovative ways of creating this color to express themselves and the world around them.

MF: Why blue?

MW: I think the story of blue is intertwined with the story of man’s ability to innovate and create. Though it appears to be the most abundant color in our natural world, we can’t readily dig it out of the ground. This forces us to be creative if we are to recreate the color, and that’s what makes it special.

In Anish Kapoor’s popular sculpture “Cloud Gate” (aka, “The Bean”) in Chicago’s Millennium Park, he captures the color blue by reflecting it back to us, from the sky. That’s one approach. But how did this color, so rare in the physical world, end up in countless works of art, from King Tut’s burial mask to Pablo Picasso’s painting “The Old Guitarist”?

My real interest began when I was a graduate student. I was studying Roman development of lead-glazed ceramics, while one of my colleagues was working on a pigment called Egyptian blue. From his work and my subsequent research, I learned two basic facts about the color blue that I have continued to explore ever since. The first is that blue was the first man-made pigment -- the first pigment ever engineered. And the second is that the word for blue didn’t come into existence until after this material was made by man.

Starting with the rise of civilization to present day, I am tracing how there have been different solutions for producing this omnipresent color throughout history. The natural blue we see in abundance in our sky and water is a physical phenomenon having to do with light scattering instead of it being a tangible color we can wrap our hands around. So I’ve been trying to understand how early man harnessed his environment to artificially produce this color that forms a vital part of our material culture today.

MF: What was the first tangible blue?

MW: The first blue material used by man is a mined one, a semiprecious stone called lapis lazuli. It is a really intense blue color and only came from one specific place on Earth -- the northeastern corner of Afghanistan, a very remote area. It was exploited from the beginnings of civilization around 5000 to 4000 B.C. until the present day. The fact that this single source of lapis has been used for such an extended period is one of the success stories of human history. But the key here is that lapis lazuli is a rare commodity -- difficult to mine and transport (especially in antiquity), so it’s expensive.

MF: Such a vivid blue must have really stood out from the earth colors in use long ago, the oranges, yellows, reds and whites.

MW: Blue was highly desirable but given its rarity, different solutions were needed to produce the prized color. These solutions include the birth of glass. The earliest glasses were designed to mimic semiprecious stones and were used to decorate coffins, for jewelry and as eye inlays in sculpture. All these were synthetic versions of lapis lazuli.

Blue is the first and most dominant synthetic pigment of the ancient world. And it is entirely a human invention, which is why I agree with the singer Regina Spektor when she calls blue the “most human” color.

As soon as you start to synthesize something it becomes part of the economy. The know-how spreads and you can trace trade patterns using chemical analysis of materials and artworks.

MF: What was the first man-made pigment?

MW: Egyptian blue. It is related to glass and inspired by lapis lazuli, the true blue. It was even called that. The first glasses were glazed materials to which artisans added colorants. They pushed the chemistry and engineering of these materials to produce something that was a synthetic equivalent of lapis lazuli with its deep blue color.

Egyptian blue is the first blue pigment to be used extensively. Ancient Egyptians painted their walls with it, they painted the ceilings of their tombs to mimic the night sky -- this was almost the common man’s blue. And it was used for an extended period of time -- from the late Bronze Age (approximately 1300 B.C.) all the way through the Roman period (5th century A.D.).

But then the Romans move away from using blue as a primary color in their painting. The technology of how to make Egyptian blue dies out in the Dark Ages.

MF: What happens next?

MW: Around the 6th century A.D., all of a sudden we start to see the first sustained use of lapis lazuli as a pigment. Artisans begin crushing up this rock, which was not previously used as a pigment, into a powder to produce Buddhist wall paintings in the caves of Bamiyan, Afghanistan, not far from the original source of lapis.

It then takes about 300 years for that technology to travel 4,000 miles and reach the Mediterranean Sea and beyond. The technology is picked up in Venice around the 10th century A.D., and the pigment is called ultramarine, which literally means “over the seas.”

To make ultramarine, Venetians crushed the lapis lazuli stone, which is a mixture of blues, whites and even some yellow, and used a complex separation process to extract the blue coloring.

This processing was labor intensive, which meant that ultramarine was expensive. This could explain why it remained the primary pigment during the Renaissance for depicting such holy icons as the Virgin Mary and her robe.

Naturally, artisans were interested in finding cheaper alternatives for making the color blue.  At first they started using azurite, a cheaper alternative of ultramarine blue, as an underlayer to extend the effect of the more expensive top layer. After that, cobalt blue colorants, Prussian blue -- used by such artists as Canaletto, Van Gogh and Picasso during his Blue Period -- and modern synthetic pigments were produced. Today, a plethora of organic and inorganic compounds can be used to make blue -- the color’s production has skyrocketed in the last 100 years.

MF: When was the word “blue” first used?

MW: There is tantalizing evidence for the earliest Egyptian blue material (called a frit) dating back to Dynasty Zero, or 3100 B.C. We don’t see the word for blue appearing in the literature for another several hundred years. This is really intriguing -- the idea of developing a material without a designation -- and it opens up the question of how material discovery relates to linguistic development.

MF: How does your NU-ACCESS research fit with blue?

MW: We are currently investigating the process I mentioned earlier, where artisans during the Renaissance reinvented the 6th-century process of creating the pigment ultramarine from lapis lazuli by removing all the constituents except the mineral lazurite. To date, nobody has been able to explain this process from a scientific perspective.

The recipe for manufacturing ultramarine using the Venetian method was recorded in the 15th century A.D. by an Italian workman named Cennino Cennini in “The Craftman’s Handbook.” A lye solution was used to extract the blue-colored mineral lazurite from a waxy resin ball in which all the unwanted minerals remained. We’ve recreated this technique at NU-ACCESS, and it works beautifully, but we now want to understand why it works from a chemical perspective.

MF: I understand that one of NU-ACCESS’ first two collaborations with outside institutions includes a blue work. What is it?

MW: We are analyzing “Tp 2” a painting by László Moholy-Nagy, from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. It is a great example of synthetic ultramarine in modern art. While the artist knew his artwork was blue, he may not have been aware that the colorant was ultramarine as we have discovered from our analysis. This material had found its way into all manner of industrial products by this time (1930).

At NU-ACCESS, we are interested in determining who had access to various technologies at different time periods and how they innovated to achieve alternatives or improve on existing processes. We can then use this knowledge for devising conservation treatments, for determining the provenance of objects and sometimes for authentication. But it ultimately comes back to this idea of how do people innovate and evolve, which has been a lifelong interest of mine.

Today we are surrounded by technological innovations, and yet we continue to seek out the latest, greatest technology to make things better, faster, cheaper. This same impulse is evident throughout antiquity even if the timescale of change and innovation was much longer then. But it’s the same process -- ancient innovators inspired by the natural but rare source of blue (lapis lazuli) were driven by the desire to develop practical solutions to a once impractical process of creating a synthetic blue (glass). By tracing such processes in antiquity, we hope to gain a better understanding of technical innovation in our contemporary world.


Sparks literally fly when a sperm and an egg hit it off. The fertilized mammalian egg releases from its surface billions of zinc atoms in “zinc sparks,” one wave after another, a Northwestern University-led interdisciplinary research team has found.

Using cutting-edge technology they developed, the team is the first to capture images of these molecular fireworks and pinpoint the origin of the zinc sparks: tiny zinc-rich packages just below the egg’s surface.

Zinc fluctuations play a central role in regulating the biochemical processes that ensure a healthy egg-to-embryo transition, and this new unprecedented quantitative information should be useful in improving in vitro fertilization methods.

“The amount of zinc released by an egg could be a great marker for identifying a high-quality fertilized egg, something we can’t do now,” said Teresa K. Woodruff, an expert in ovarian biology and one of two corresponding authors of the study. “If we can identify the best eggs, fewer embryos would need to be transferred during fertility treatments. Our findings will help move us toward this goal.”

Woodruff is a Thomas J. Watkins Memorial Professor in Obstetrics and Gynecology and director of the Women’s Health Research Institute at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

The study is published today (Dec. 15) by the journal Nature Chemistry, provides the first quantitative physical measurements of zinc localization in single cells in a mammal.

The research team, including experts from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Photon Source (APS), developed a suite of four physical methods to determine how much zinc there is in an egg and where it is located at the time of fertilization and in the two hours just after. Sensitive imaging methods allowed the researchers to see and count individual zinc atoms in egg cells and visualize zinc spark waves in three dimensions. 

After inventing a novel vital fluorescent sensor for live-cell zinc tracking, scientists discovered close to 8,000 compartments in the egg, each containing approximately one million zinc atoms. These packages release their zinc cargo simultaneously in a concerted process, akin to neurotransmitter release in the brain or insulin release in the pancreas.

These findings were further confirmed with chemical methods that trap cellular zinc stores and enable zinc mapping on the nanometer scale in a custom-designed electron microscope developed for this project with funding from the W.M. Keck Foundation. Additional high-energy X-ray imaging experiments at the APS synchrotron at Argonne National Laboratory enabled the scientists to precisely map the location of zinc atoms in two and three dimensions.

“On cue, at the time of fertilization, we see the egg release thousands of packages, each dumping a million zinc atoms, and then it’s quiet,” said Thomas V. O’Halloran, the other corresponding author. “Then there is another burst of zinc release. Each egg has four or five of these periodic sparks. It is beautiful to see, orchestrated much like a symphony. We knew zinc was released by the egg in huge amounts, but we had no idea how the egg did this.”

O’Halloran is a Charles E. and Emma H. Morrison Professor in Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and director of Northwestern’s Chemistry of Life Processes Institute.

The study establishes how eggs compartmentalize and distribute zinc to control the developmental processes that allow the egg to become a healthy embryo. Zinc is part of a master switch that controls the decision to grow and change into a completely new genetic organism.

The studies reported in Nature Chemistry are the culmination of six years of work and build on prior discoveries made by the Woodruff and O’Halloran labs using data from work performed at Northwestern and the APS. In previous studies in mouse eggs, this research team discovered the egg’s tremendous zinc requirement for reaching maturity. In addition, the researchers determined that an egg loses 10 billion of its 60 billion zinc atoms upon fertilization in a series of four or five waves called “zinc sparks.” Release of zinc sparks from the egg is essential for embryo formation in the two hours following fertilization.

“The egg first has to stockpile zinc and then must release some of the zinc to successfully navigate maturation, fertilization and the start of embryogenesis,” O’Halloran said. “But exactly how much zinc is involved in this remarkable process and where is it in the cell? We needed data to better understand the molecular mechanisms at work as an egg becomes a new organism.”

One major hurdle O’Halloran and Woodruff faced was the lack of sensitive methods for measuring zinc in single cells. To address this problem, they formed a collaborative team with other researchers in Northwestern’s Chemistry of Life Processes Institute to develop the tools they needed.

Key members of the team were Vinayak P. Dravid, the Abraham Harris Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, and Stefan Vogt, a physicist and group leader of microscopy at the Advanced Photon Source. Dravid and Vogt are co-authors of the paper.

“We had to develop a slew of methods to be convinced we were seeing the right thing,” O’Halloran said. “Science is about testing and retesting ideas. All of our complementary results point to the same conclusion: the zinc originates in packages called vesicles near the cell’s surface.”

The researchers currently are working to see if they can correlate zinc sparks with egg quality, information that would be key to improving fertility treatments.

Not only are these new imaging techniques important for describing the zinc spark, they can be applied to other cells that likely use zinc in a similar way, but whose workings remain elusive due to the lack of sensitive and specific tools. This study lays the groundwork for understanding how zinc fluxes can regulate events in multiple biological systems beyond the egg, including neurotransmission from zinc-enriched neurons in the brain and insulin-release in the pancreas.



New Kleptocracy (ND) buys each extra MP vote for three million euros! The coalition government of New Kleptocracy and socialist Pasok is desperate to garner the 180 votes needed in the 300-seat parliament to elect a new president, in order to avoid a snap election as mandated in the stupid constitution of Greece. 

ANEL (Independent Greeks party) president Panos Kammenos, having MP Pavlos Chaikalis by his side, has presented the corruption case, denouncing it as an attempt to bribe Pavlos Chaikalis in order to vote positive for the election of the President of the Republic. Kammenos showed CDs and other material, with recorded conversations between Chaikalis and middle-man George Apostolopoulos, the latter being named as the man who tried to bribe Chaikalis.

Kammenos urged the government to publish the material themselves, through the Minister of Justice who already has it in their possession, otherwise he will do so himself, regardless of the legal consequences. Kammenos also sent this material to House Speaker Evangelos Meimarakis to inform the parties.

As described by Kammenos and Chaikalis, the case began a few days ago: We had a friendly relationship with the intermediary, at first we thought he was kidding, and then he began to get serious.

The first critical meeting, lasting one hour and 14 minutes, held in Plaza hotel was recorded by a camera watch worn by Chaikalis, which shows Apostolopoulos’ face clearly.  Immediately after, the MP briefed Kammenos and prosecutor Panagiotopoulos, as well as the head of the Prosecutor’s office, Ntogiakos. The latter urged Chaikalis to continue his meetings in order to get evidence and a full record of illegal acts.

The second meeting lasted 15 minutes, with the promise of a third. The middle-man promised the MP 700,000 euros, a bank debt settlement, and an amount of gold. The transcripts of the conversation were handed over to the Prosecutor, and also sent to a foreign notary for safekeeping.

“The dialogues are shocking and beyond imagination” says MP Pavlos Chaikalis.

Read word by word what was said in the audio recording between Pavlos Chaikalis and George Apostolopoulos at their second meeting.


 I expect you to tell me.

I’ll tell you.

I’ m listening.

When you say that we’re ready I’ll bring a bag with a six hundred. I can bring it even now, is not a problem, just let me know until noon, is no problem at all.

( Chaikalis tries to interrupt)

Can i  finish first ? (continues)

Am waiting for you to tell me.

You go to the Parliament to vote and then your loan from January, February… .. ten fifteen twenty years ……. what do you think?

And how am I patented?

The Contract with promotions, from there we do not say anything more, because it could get bad as hell. We are the ones that pay the promotional, so is no problem.

Am just saying that once the money are removed from the fund is nothing to worry about.

Will I be patented?

I can’t do anything more. I can do the loan now cause later it can get messy, believe me.

I can stretch it as much as you like. How many years do you want? Until you die? Even further? I can’t do anything else. I can give you the money literally now.

Yes I know.

I could bring you 6-7 hundreds to bring you right now. Take the money now. But my problem is that I check them (the notes) one by one in case they are marked. Because if they are and you pass them on, you will get in trouble. In case they are for any criminal actions and the police has marked them. Because is not just you, there are many packages.

Truly, I checked ten stacks last night and six of them were f…. Not fake but marked.

Since the kidnapping of Panagopoulos the numbers are specific. If you give any of the marked once and you get caught, we will be doom. Firstly I want you to be safe, secondly you should not spend the money for a while and thirdly when all fuss comes to an end after February we will convert the money to gold. But little by little, ten – twenty and everything else you want. Within Greece and abroad, but the two of us together.

You mean that you will go …  open an account abroad and then send them away?

In Gold bars?

No, in Gold plates.

That is what I mean you fool, gold plates.

But Slowly

The 6-7haundred is ok


Is  bullshit, but..

Is good

In the third meeting, which would have happened in the MP’s home, there was a police sting operation set up to arrest the middle-man in person. However, two minutes prior to the meeting, Apostolopoulos phoned Chaikalis and told him he will not be attending, wishing him Happy Holidays. Prior to that, the MP had sent him a text message asking him if the reason he was late was because he was lost.

Apostolopoulos never showed up, because he was told he was going to be caught, or realized it himself.  Chaikalis went to actor and TV presenter and friend, Lakis Lazopoulos, and told him about the material. He chose Lazopoulos, because he is a close friend and because he has the studio equipment required to clean up the audio in the recording.

As far as the mix-up in the beginning on whether Chaikalis had given authorities the name of the middle-man, the MP said that he had stated Apostolopoulos’ name since the first moment, but there was nothing in official documents, in order to ensure confidentiality and catch him in the act. The recorded talks include shocking revelations of other attempted briberies of MPs for the election of the President of the Republic.

Kammenos met Apostolopoulos when he was in Samaras’ office while he was a MP for New Kleptocracy (ND). Then, the middle-man joined ANEL for a short period of time and was then hired by Deutsche Bank.

Kammenos declare he will not be threatened by anyone, and has nothing to fear: Neither companies, nor off-shore, not anything. I call them to release anything they may have on me. If they can take it, let them.

MP Stavroula Xoulidou was contacted by an official of ruling New Kleptocracy (ND), who offered to solve her financial problem with three million euros, if she voted for the coalition’s presidential candidate! Xoulidou’s bribery revelation was backed by the leader of Independent Greeks, Panos Kammenos, who revealed that the individual that offered the bribe was a close associate of a government minister.

Syriza revealed that businessmen, linked to the government, had created a special fund to bribe lawmakers to vote for the coalition’s nominee for president.  Che Pras discovered that business friends of Samaras have already brought out their piggy banks to raise money for that purpose.

Samaras hoodwinks:  Many warned me that I’d been given a hand grenade that could go off in my hands. I was aware of that. But I held on and I defused that grenade. I did not let it go off. Someone had to do it and it was I.

Panos Kammenos says: The prime minister broke all 18 of his pre-election promises and now makes new ones. The man who handed over the country’s national sovereignty now speaks of a duty to the country. The ruler that plunged Greece’s middle class into misery now speaks of dignity. The hand grenade went off! The damage is done.

Pattakos and Papadopoulos were much better than Graecokleptocrats. The corrupt Graecokleptocrats who have enriched themselves by stealing the country blind and who are still in power make it very hard to live in Greece. The very rich are immune, but the middle class has been wiped out.

Nine democratically elected MPs have been jailed by the crooks of the ruling coalition of Türkoğlu mafia and New Kleptocracy in an illegal step that undermines the rule of law and increases the power of the executive. The third most popular party in Greece, Golden Dawn, has been declared a neo-Nazi party by the very crooks that have brought the country to its knees, and with only a majority vote in parliament a ukase was issued bypassing the judiciary and imprisoning democratically elected members on trumped-up charges.

Golden Dawn’s Ilias Kasidiaris has accused Samaras of personally intervening in the justice system by ordering a judge, codenamed the Tall Panathinaikos Supporter, to fuck  leading party figures of Golden Dawn and ensure they were jailed. Kasidiaris presented an audio recording to parliament with a conversation between Samaras and a judiciary official.  In the audio, Samaras orders the justice official to tell the tall Panathinaikos fan that he must fuck the three of them.  After that order, three senior party members, Stathis Boukouras, Giorgos Germenis, and Panagiotis Iliopoulos, were jailed.

“This is the disgusting punk prime minister that gives orders to judges. He should be cuffed and held accountable,” he exclaimed in parliament, where he been transferred from Korydallos prison to attend a transparency hearing on the lifting of his immunity, so he can face charges of breaching privacy laws.

Kasidiairis is now in prison along with other senior party members awaiting trial. Golden Dawn is under attack but remains unfazed. “On election night, Samaras and Venizelos will collapse, but we will be elected as MPs from jail,” he said.

The Greek parliament will not be able to elect a new president of the republic in February, and Greece will then have national elections.  Marxist Syriza will win, but there is no way Uncle Sam would allow Che Pras to become premier.  There is going to be a coup d’etat in February, pure and simple.  Most Greeks are fed up with all politicians, and a military coup will be considered a manifestation of God’s benevolence. 

Samaras and Türkoğlu suffer from the Xenogiannakopoulou Syndrome, using the kangaroo justice of Greece as a political tool to gag their political opponents.  Samaras’s chief assistant revealed that the Samaras-Turkoglu government manipulates justice to persecute Golden Dawn which attracts many right-wing voters away from New Kleptocracy!  Michaloliakos and Kasidiaris, leaders of Golden Dawn, are imprisoned on stupid false charges.

The political system of Greece needs a creative destruction.  The impunity of Graecokleptocrats has to be abolished.  Church and state should separate.  The loot of Graecokleptocrats should return to the Treasury.  Everything should be privatized, including schools, streets, forests, mountains, beaches, and islets.  The state should not be allowed to own any property.  The huge influx of criminal Pakistani must be stopped now.

The Grand Brothel of Kleptocracy on Syntagma Square operates on a staff of two thousand drones of society, doing nothing. Fourteen hundred are regular employees.  An additional six hundred people are working as expensive consultants who do nothing, raising the overall number to two thousand staffers.

In Greece, there are no real political parties, but political mafias!  There are no political leaders, but political godfathers.  Any MP who does not kowtow to the godfather automatically is expelled from the mafia.  The two main political mafias, Pasok and New Kleptocracy, have destroyed Greece and debased the Greek soul. Pasok is the most infamous political mafia on Earth!

I cannot understand the stupidity of Greek voters who bring to power political mafias again and again.  It looks like Greeks have been brainwashed with socialist propaganda through media parrots and public schools.  The cancer of Greek socialism is at an advanced terminal phase.

The Türkoğlu mafia and New Kleptocracy, the two major political mafias of Greece, rely on omerta to cover up their huge corruption. Having no real alternatives to New Kleptocracy and the Turkoglu mafia, Greeks move to extreme leftist Syriza and chauvinist Golden Dawn.  Mickey Mouse extreme leftist party Syriza overturned four decades of political dominance by New Kleptocracy and the Türkoğlu mafia to become the second party in the Greek parliament and the first Greek party in the European parliament.  Jingoist Golden Dawn is now the third party.

Che Pras of Syriza is a Hugo Chavez rabble-rouser who does not understand economics. He wants to criminalize the privatization of public enterprises. He has been labeled the most dangerous man in Europe, and he has been pressuring successive governments to abandon austerity measures that underpin Greece's continued access to international aid. Marxist Che Pras is banking on the fact that Eurozone treaties don't permit a country to be evicted from Eurozone; so he has opted for uncompromising opposition.

The Türkoğlu mafia and New Kleptocracy must be abolished now, because they have robbed the Greek treasury and the pension funds, received myriad bribes and kickbacks, exchanged sinecures for votes, spread the cancer of socialism, destroyed the Greek economy, robbed the banks at gunpoint, imposed kangaroo justice, persecuted dissident bloggers, established the impunity and immunity of Graecokleptocrats, framed a ridiculous constitution, enslaved Greece to Fourth Reich, debased the Greek soul, transformed the cradle of democracy to the cradle of kleptocracy, and deteriorated the national character of Greece. 

EU might deteriorate to the miserable level of extremely corrupt Greece. Your government is your #1 enemy.  Brutal police and kangaroo courts are tools to enslave you to your government.  But badges and benches do not grant extra rights. It’s your duty as a citizen to become a popopaparazzo, recording police misconduct. Use your smartphone to unmask cops and kleptocrats. 

The political philosopher Edmund Burke once remarked that all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good folks to do nothing. A glaring example is my persecution by the government of Greece, which grossly violates my civil rights.

Martin Niemöller said:  First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Socialist.  Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Trade Unionist.  Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me!

EU practices double standards on civil rights.  It’s freakish for EU to interfere in the civil rights of foreigners, but condone the abuse of my civil rights, a citizen of EU!  EU should get its own house in order before lecturing others. EU should rein in barbaric Greece, the most corrupt country of Europe with prisoners of conscience, testilying police, malevolent prosecutors, perjurers, and stupidest jurists.   Basil Venitis,,

Greece is an incivil nation with kangaroo justice, overcriminalization, brutal police, huge political corruption, persecution of dissident bloggers, huge bureaucracy, huge taxation, and 23% VAT.  Freakish Graecokleptocrats use the kangaroo justice as a political tool to gag political opponents. 

Every year, Graecokleptocrats receive myriad bribes and kickbacks. Many trains bought from Germany do not fit the rails, but they were bought just to generate bribes!   In 2009, investigators of the Munich Prosecution Department uncovered a corruption affair, in which MAN has given huge bribes to Greek politicians to get large orders for overpriced trolleys.  A streetcar named desire!  These trolleys with huge markups are named bribes!  But Greek prosecutors have started investigating this scandal just in September of 2012!   One of those investigated is Mariliza Xenogiannakopoulou, the minister who destroyed my life.

I accuse the government of Greece for:

·        Persecuting me for more than four years

·        Stealing my life

·        Stealing my computer and files

·        Spreading lies about me on all Greek media

·        Using the kangaroo justice as a political tool

·        Postponing my trial nine times

·        Locking me in jail without toilet and pillow for a night

·        Taking away my hypertension pills

·        Making me urinate in a bottle

·        Humiliating me with handcuffs, fingerprints, and mug shots

On October 18, 2010, a gang of six brutal cops of the violent Greek Cyber-Crime Unit (CCU), a real godzilla, supervised by a dishonest prosecutor, a pathologic liar, a disgusting motherfucker, raided my home in Athens and stole my computer, software, files, documents, and personal data. The brutal policemen locked me in jail for a night, they humiliated me with handcuffs, fingerprints, mug shots, and lies, leaked false information to the media parrots, and the corrupt Greek government initiated sham court proceedings for a stack of freakish trumped-up charges! There was neither pillow nor toilet facility in my jail cell. I had to urinate in a bottle!  I, a 69-years-old man with high blood pressure, was not allowed to keep my hypertension pills with me. There was neither toilet paper nor soap in the whole CCU jail.

It’s been now four years since the government of Greece stole my life, my computer, and my files.  I have done absolutely nothing, and I am being persecuted by the Greek government without any real reason.  My ordeal is against all rules of civil society and treaties that Greece has signed.  Greece, a corrupt country without a functioning justice system, has gone bananas.  Graecokleptocrats use the kangaroo justice as a political tool to gag political opponents.   Graecokleptocrats think the laws exist to give them whatever they want!   This is psoriasis of democracy, pure and simple.

Mariliza Xenogiannakopoulou, Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs, sued me, and she wouldn’t show up in court!  As a result, my trial has been postponed nine times so far.  Xenogiannakopoulou, or, continues to destroy my life without reason whatsoever.  I could understand the vengeance, if I did something wrong.  But I did absolutely nothing, and vindictive Xenogiannakopoulou barks at the wrong tree. If this is not kangaroo justice, what is it?  Has a harmglad sadist socialist the right to destroy a libertarian in cold blood?  For God’s sake what kind of harmjoy is this tragedy anyhow?  Basil Venitis,,

Please email appeals to

·        Calling for the immediate stop of the persecution of Basil Venitis.

·        Stating that you believe these trumped-up charges to be politically motivated and intended to prevent him exercising his right to freedom of expression against political corruption.

·        Seeking assurances that the civil rights of Basil Venitis will always be respected.