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Great balls of fire!
Fireballs piercing the atmosphere of a neutron star, shock waves racing across its surface at supersonic speeds, and sheets of lava splashing to heights of nine miles. The computer simulations (below) of the X-ray bursts emitted by exploding neutron stars are the most detailed ever produced and are the work of Michael Zingale, AM'98, a doctoral student in astronomy & astrophysics, and his colleagues at the U of C's Center for Astrophysical Thermonuclear Flashes. At a June meeting of the American Astronomical Society, Zingale said that the studies-motivated by the flickering oscillations discovered by the Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer satellite in 1996-point to specific X-ray emission characteristics that astronomers should be able to find in future observations. Although the Rossi satellite makes extremely precise measurements of a neutron star's X-ray emissions, it can't make direct images of the surface: hence the need for simulations to test researchers' theories.

Meaning, not cause?
Should we care about why some people are gay? In The Course of Gay and Lesbian Lives (University of Chicago Press, 2000), social-sciences professor Bertram Cohler, AB'61, and psychiatry lecturer Robert Galatzer-Levy examine the ways in which social and historical changes across generations have contributed to how humans think about and explain homosexuality. Arguing that there is little support for the notion that homosexuality has a biological basis, the authors instead suggest that there are many pathways leading to same-gender orientation, and that the cause is far less important than understanding the meaning of being homosexual.

Green space to greenbacks
A new study by Harris School professor Don Coursey and Ph.D. candidate Doug Noonan, AM'99, has answers to the question, "Is it possible for economists to put a value on a community's environmental resources?" Looking at two southwest suburban Cook County, IL, communities, Palos Park and Orland Park, the two economists concluded that land preservation that enhances the quality of life also significantly raises home values. Using a ten-year time frame, Coursey and Noonan found that residents would see an average drop of $13,000 in home values, approximately 6.3 percent, if population density grew by 50 percent with a corresponding loss of preserved green space.

Truer to life
In his upcoming book, Happiness, Death, and the Remainder of Life (Harvard University Press), Jonathan Lear, a professor in the Committee on Social Thought and in philosophy, argues that both Aristotle and Sigmund Freud erred in trying to explain human behavior via a single principle. Aristotle attempted to ground ethics in the striving for happiness without giving a tangible definition of that happiness. Likewise, Freud's attempts to source human striving, aggression, and destructiveness in the death drive attributed purpose where none exists. Neither thinkers' overarching principles can guide or govern "the remainder of life," argues Lear, in which our inherently disruptive unconscious moves us toward new directions and possibilities.

A healthy form of destruction
Using experimental techniques rarely applied to biomedical problems, University of Chicago scientists have begun to learn exactly how a promising class of bacteria-destroying agents called protegrins go about their deadly task. The research, conducted in collaboration with medical professors from the University of California, Los Angeles, aims to develop more potent antibiotic drugs. "Clinical studies have shown that protegrins are active against E. coli and other bacteria and viruses, including HIV, but the mechanism of action has been essentially unknown," said David Gidalevitz, a chemistry research associate who presented new details regarding the molecular basis of this action during the American Chemical Society's national meeting last spring -Q.J. & M.R.Y.

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  AUGUST 2000

  > > Volume 92, Number 6

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The joys of summer
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Class actions
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Death in tenure?
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Daylilies of the field

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