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Women’s Health Week Starts May 14

May 4, 2017

Diverse group of smiling womenThis year, the 18th annual National Women’s Health Week starts on Mother’s Day, May 14 and runs through May 20. Led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health (OWH), the annual event empowers women to make their health a priority. According to the OWH web site (womenshealth.gov), women can take steps to improve their health by scheduling a well-woman visit (checkup) each year. OWH also recommends that women undergo screening tests  for diseases such as breast cancer, cervical cancer and osteoporosis, and ensure that their vaccinations are up-to-date. The World Health Organization reports that some of the top issues affecting women’s health are cancer, reproductive health, maternal health, HIV, violence against women and mental health.

According to the National Institutes of Health, many issues affect women differently from men, for example:

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, and women are more likely to die following a heart attack than men are.
  • Stroke affects more women than men, and though the risk factors for both are similar, women have additional factors, such as taking birth control pills, being pregnant, and using hormone replacement therapy.
  • Alcohol abuse and alcoholism are more serious in women than in men, even though men are more likely to become dependent on, or addicted to, alcohol. The health effects include an increased risk for breast cancer and heart disease. Women who drink during pregnancy run the risk of their babies being born with fetal alcohol syndrome, which causes brain damage and learning difficulties.
  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can be more serious in women, causing infertility in at least 24,000 women in the United States each year. STDs/STIs (such as HPV, which can cause cervical cancer) often go untreated in women because symptoms are less obvious than in men. Also, women may mistake an STD/STI for another less serious condition, such as a yeast infection.

Women and cancer

Two of the most common cancers affecting women are breast and cervical cancers, and early detection is key to keeping women alive and healthy. Globally, approximately half a million women die from cervical cancer and half a million from breast cancer each year.

Cervical cancer starts in the cervix, the lower, narrow part of the uterus, and is the easiest gynecological cancer to prevent with regular screening tests and vaccination. It is also curable when found and treated early. A major cause of cervical cancers is the human papillomavirus (HPV). Cervical cancer tends to occur in midlife, with most cases being detected in women between ages 20 and 50.

Breast cancer starts when cells in the breast begin to grow out of control and usually form a tumor. The tumor can often be seen on an x-ray or felt as a lump. If the cells invade surrounding tissues or spread (metastasize) to distant areas of the body, then the tumor is malignant (cancerous). Breast cancer occurs almost entirely in women, but men can get breast cancer, too. Though breast cancers can start from different parts of the breast, most begin in the ducts.

In its “Cancer Facts & Figures 2017” report, the American Cancer Society estimates that about 12,820 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. and about 4,210 women will die from it. The society also estimates about 252,710 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women and that 40,610 women will die from it. Though the statistics are not ideal, the cervical cancer death rate has dropped by more than 50 percent over the last 40 years, due to increased use of the Pap test (also called the Pap smear). As well, the female breast cancer death rate declined by 38 percent from its peak from 1989 to 2014. This is due to improvements in early detection and treatment, translating to 297,300 fewer breast cancer deaths.

UCF efforts to fight cancer

To help improve and speed the diagnosis of cervical cancer, UCF researchers have invented a new all-in-one imaging probe that eliminates the old cervical cancer screening techniques, assuring efficiency and a better chance of recovery for patients, including pregnant patients. The new probe offers a real-time three-dimensional colposcopy diagnosis using low-coherence laser light to conduct spatial imaging and spectral sensing for tissue diagnosis, and the detailed guidance to physically biopsy suspicious lesions. You can learn more about one of the UCF researchers who developed the technology, Peter Delfyett, Ph.D., in this month’s Faculty Feature (coming soon).

Additionally, UCF breast cancer researcher, Annette Khaled, Ph.D. has developed a nanoparticle-based technology for targeted treatment of metastatic breast cancer, for which the current five-year survival rate is just 22 percent. Many of the currently available treatments generally involve chemotherapy, which can have toxic side effects due to a lack of specificity. With her immunology expertise, Khaled is getting closer to transforming metastatic cancer from an inevitable death sentence to a curable disease.

For more information about UCF’s cancer-fighting initiatives, contact Brion Berman.

By: Kathleen Snoeblen


Clean Hydrogen: An Abundant Alternative to Fossil Fuels

April 7, 2017

water molecule splitting

Long known to be a finite source of energy, fossil fuels have not really “peaked” and dried up as once predicted in the 1970s. The development of shale oil and newly found sources of natural gas in recent years promise an extended period of abundant, cheap fossil fuels, and experts predict that North America might be energy independent by the next decade.

Yet, the world’s continued use of fossil fuels will only vent more greenhouse gases (GHGs) like carbon dioxide (CO2) into earth’s atmosphere. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), GHGs pose “significant risks to humans and the environment.” In its report, “Climate Change in the United States: Benefits of Global Action,” the EPA estimates that in the U.S. alone, billions of dollars and thousands of lives can be saved with GHG mitigation efforts. Mitigation examples include phasing out fossil fuels and replacing them with alternative fuels (such as hydrogen and biomass sources) and renewable energy (solar, geothermal and wind for example). Other mitigation actions include expanding forests to remove greater amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or using production methods that reduce emissions.

One alternative fuel that has gained worldwide support is hydrogen. NASA has used hydrogen to power the space program since 1958, and giant carmakers Toyota and Honda are already marketing cars that run on hydrogen fuel cells.

The most abundant element in the universe, hydrogen makes up more than 90 percent of all known matter. Odorless, colorless and non-toxic, hydrogen is the lightest and smallest element. Hydrogen is also non-corrosive, but it can make some metals brittle. It becomes a gas under atmospheric conditions and is about 14 times lighter than air and 57 times lighter than gasoline vapor. When released into an open area, hydrogen quickly rises and disperses.

Why hydrogen? According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), hydrogen holds promise for growth in both the stationary and transportation energy sectors. It can be produced from diverse domestic resources. A hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicle produces zero GHG emissions; the only byproducts are water vapor and warm air.

Hydrogen is not an energy source, but an energy carrier like electricity, and it only exists in combination with other elements. For example, hydrogen combines with oxygen to form water; it combines with hydrocarbon chains to form fossil fuels. The energy in 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) of hydrogen gas is equivalent to the energy in 1 gallon (3.79 liters) of gasoline.

Scientists have developed different methods to separate hydrogen from its combined forms (such as water and natural gas) using solar power, fossil fuels or nuclear energy. Hydrogen can be rejoined with oxygen to run an internal combustion engine or (more popularly) used in a fuel cell to generate electric power for devices such as computers or electric cars.

Currently, the most widely used hydrogen production process is steam methane reformation (SMR), but the process also produces a lot of CO2, known to contribute to the global rise in temperature more than all other greenhouse gases combined. The atmospheric lifetime of CO2 is also longer (hundreds to thousands of years), and in high concentrations, it is deadly. With the SMR process, about 10 tons of CO2 results from the production of 1 ton of hydrogen.

In comparison to SMR, an invention developed by researchers at UCF’s Florida Solar Energy Center offers a cleaner way to produce hydrogen. The invention introduces a new type of solar thermochemical water splitting cycles method. In principal, water can be split into a hydrogen part and an oxygen part. However, the process requires a very high temperature—more than 2,000 C, or electricity, like plasma or electrolysis. One way around the high temperature requirement is to use water-splitting cycles. “So instead of splitting water in one step, you are splitting water in several steps, usually in about three or four steps,” said Nazim Muradov, Ph.D., one of the inventors. Each step uses a lower temperature. For example, the first step only requires ambient temperature; the second step requires about 800 or 900 C, and the third step requires the same. The process is analogous to climbing a flight of stairs. A person can exert a lot of energy to jump to the top step or use less energy by walking up several steps to get to the top.

In the cycles, both solar photonic energy and solar thermal energy are used to ensure higher cycle efficiencies. The cycles match the energy content of the solar spectrum to the energy requirements of these cycles. For more details about the invention, refer to the technology sheet: Produce hydrogen fuel from water using solar energy.

Muradov is a well-known and well-respected pioneer in hydrogen research and was recently selected to be a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI). For more information about Muradov and his current research, see this month’s faculty feature: FSEC Researcher Recognized for Inventions and Advances in Hydrogen Energy Research.


Optical Fibers: Light Guiding on a String of Glass

March 2, 2017

optical fiber

New Coherent, Spatial Mode Multiplexing Apparatus Significantly Enhances Fiber Laser Output

About 176 years ago in Geneva, Swiss physicist Jean-Daniel Colladon inadvertently demonstrated one of the core principles of fiber optics: total internal reflection (TIR). TIR is a phenomenon that helps us to purposely move and manipulate light, so that we can use its energy in lighting, remote sensing, communications, and laser technology.

Colladon intended only to help his audience see his experiment on fluid flow through various holes and the breaking up of water jets. He used a tank of water with a small hole that allowed a jet to stream out the side. His audience, however, could not see the results, so he piped sunlight into the tank and used a lens to focus the light on the hole. The setup not only lit up the experiment, but it also caused the light rays in the water to strike the edge of the jet at a glancing angle, allowing TIR to trap the rays in the liquid. Thus, instead of traveling in a straight line, the light rays bounced along the curve of the water jet as it poured out the side of the tank, forming what Colladon called a “light pipe.”

He later wrote: “I managed to illuminate the interior of a stream in a dark space. I have discovered that this strange arrangement offers in results one of the most beautiful, and most curious experiments that one can perform in a course on optics.”

Since Colladon’s time, a host of other scientists and researchers have contributed to the discovery and science of guiding light through fiber optics, revolutionizing the way we view and use light. Optical fibers are hair-thin filaments, typically drawn or extruded from clear, ultra-pure glass, polymers, or a combination of the two. Each fiber consists of a central transparent core through which light travels. The core is surrounded by cladding, which may be the same or other material, but has a lower refractive index to promote TIR and prevent energy loss. A buffer layer protects the fiber from moisture and damage.

There are different fibers for different applications. Single-mode fibers, which are about 8-10 microns in diameter, carry only one mode (ray) of light directly down the fiber—the transverse mode. The multi-mode optical fiber has a much larger core (usually 62.5 microns or larger) and can handle multiple modes. The design and the wavelength of the light propagating in a fiber specify whether the fiber will be multi-mode or single-mode. Yet all optical fibers still do the same thing: guide light.

Remarkably, this fine flexible “string” is so versatile that it lets us use the power of light in so many different ways. Fiber optics technology enables surgeons to detect and destroy cancerous tumors, astronomers to determine the elements of distant stars, engineers to identify structural weaknesses, and soldiers to communicate securely in hostile environments. With fiber optics, lasers can bore through rock and steel or precision cut gemstones and ceramics. Moreover, thanks to fiber optics, anyone with a phone or computer can connect with others around the world, anytime, anywhere.

Even after decades of using fiber optics, there is still a lot to discover. Today, UCF has teams of scientists dedicated to advancing the science of fiber optics. The Center for Research and Education in Optics and Lasers (CREOL) supports research in fiber fabrication, multimaterial fibers, nano-structured fibers, mid-infrared fibers and fiber lasers.

One of those research teams is finding novel methods of fabricating and using fiber optic materials and devices. The Microstructured Fibers and Devices research group, led by Rodrigo Amezcua Correa, Ph.D., is developing both new materials and new structures for fibers.  Two areas that the team is working on are the development of new fibers for high-power lasers and for new light sources. The team is also working on increasing the capacity of optical communications. To learn more about Amezcua’s team and their accomplishments, see this month’s faculty feature.

Amezcua’s expertise in fiber optic fabrication has also led to a new invention that can operate in harsh environments. Together with Axel Schülzgen, Ph.D., head of the Fiber Optics research group, and scientist Jose Enrique Antonio-Lopez, Amezcua developed a new class of fiber optic sensors that are ideal for use in harsh environments. The technology, which has been licensed for commercialization by Multicore Photonics, can be used to sense temperature, pressure, strain, acoustic vibration, mechanical vibration or a combination of sensing applications. For more information about the invention, see the technology sheet.

UCF has several other fiber optic technologies available for licensing. For more information, contact John Miner.

 

By: Kathleen Snoeblen