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May 2004, Vol. 29 No. 2
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May 2004

Research Highlights

Musical snooze is good medicine for insomnia

illustration of a woman sleeping with music on

The typical prescription for insomnia is a potentially habit-forming sedative hypnotic that can, with prolonged use, impair brain function, increasing the risk of car accidents, falls and need for long-term care. Or you can try music.

A recent study in the Journal of Community Health Nursing by Julie Johnson, dean of the University of Hawai'i at Manoa’s School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene, found music to be an effective alternative treatment for elderly women suffering from insomnia. More than half of adults over age 65 have sleep problems; the largest number of sufferers are women.

Study participants who had been frustrated and anxious about sleeplessness noted a remarkable ability to get to sleep sooner and remain asleep when they played soothing bedtime tunes, such as classical, new age or sacred music. Effectiveness increased nightly, peaking on the fifth night and continuing thereafter. Perhaps you’re never too old for a lullaby.


Graduate student studies albatross at Ka'ena Point

graduate student tags an albatross

Laysan albatross have taken up residence at O'ahu’s Ka'ena Point. So University of Hawai'i at Manoa zoology doctoral student Lindsay Cooper has become a frequent visitor, often accompanied by her chief volunteer, husband Jordon, holding the bird.

Cooper is testing an archival leg tag about the size of a Cracker Jacks decoder ring that records data at three-minute intervals, including where the bird is, the amount of daylight and whether the sensor is submerged.

If the pilot project is successful, she plans to tag about 70 birds at Ka'ena and on Midway in a two-year study to see whether the populations are separate colonies or part of one super colony.

Cooper is also doing genetic work. If a genetic difference is found between nesting colonies, it could be used to trace albatross caught as bycatch in the longline fishery, suggesting ways to help mitigate the high mortality from interactions with longliners.

Meanwhile, clad in official state Forestry and Wildlife Division t-shirts lest people think they are just harassing the birds, Cooper monitors the 30 nesting pairs at Ka'ena and their downy brown chicks.

Already observations have suggested an unfortunate research addendum—the long-term impact of a mosquito-borne pox that causes lesions around the chicks’ eyes and beaks, apparently blinding some chicks.


Snowflake coral causes havoc underwater

snowflake coral

Snowflakes aren’t so rare in Hawai'i—unfortunately. Snowflake coral is named for its white polyps, which glow green under blue light in graduate student Samuel Kahng’s photo.

It is killing colonies of native black coral, laying waste to sections of the channel floor between Maui and Lana'i.

Veteran Manoa oceanographer Richard Grigg documented the spread of the Caribbean invader between 1990 and 2001. Kahng returned to the site last December aboard the UH submersible Pisces V.

His data confirm that the prolific soft coral known to scientists as Carijoa riisei is killing deepwater colonies of the economically valuable black coral and replacing plate-like Leptoseris coral in shallower water. While it creates shelter for fish, it also competes for the zooplankton that small fish feed on.


"Flashlight" squid make their own light to fool predators

illustration of squid with light

Hawaiian bobtail squid hunt at night in shallow water. A bright moon overhead casts a shadow that could alert predators below. So the squid use symbiotic bacteria to create a sort of light camouflage.

Researcher Wendy Crookes and colleagues in the Pacific Biomedical Research Center have discovered the squid use reflective plates made from an unusual protein to direct the light.

They report in the Jan. 9 issue of Science that the particular protein, dubbed reflectin, is unique to cephalopods like squid, octopus and cuttlefish.

These reflecting proteins could lead to new microlighting technologies, Crookes speculates.


Faculty make case for bacteria biology studies

Like a few bad apples, a few dozen disease-causing bacteria have dominated the attention of scientists. Meanwhile, the thousands of bacteria that help humans and most other organisms function normally have gone relatively unstudied.

UH scientists Edward Ruby and Margaret McFall-Ngai argue that it’s time to focus on this new biological frontier. Writing in the Feb. 27, 2004 issue of Science, the researchers and a University College in London colleague call for biology instruction to focus on beneficial microbial interactions and the evolutionary pressure we humans exert with our overuse of antibiotics and widespread vaccine programs.


Cell-phone equipped balloon has scientists asking "Can you hurricane me now?"

weather balloon

Prototype hurricane balloons developed by UH researchers will use GPS and satellite cellular telephone signals to relay information about rainfall; air pressure; and ambient, dew point and sea surface temperatures.

Data will be recorded at NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division operations center in Miami for use by scientists seeking to understand the exchange of energy between the ocean surface and the storm.

University of Hawai'i at Manoa meteorologist Steven Businger’s team released its first balloon into Hurricane Kenna in October 2002 from the Pacific coast of Mexico. That region has no storm reconnaissance aircraft. They’re ready for additional launches and hoping for more stormy weather in the 2004 Pacific hurricane season.


Probable planet nursery discovered around nearby star

image of AU Microscopium star

AU Microscopium is a very young, dim red star just 33 light years from Earth. Orbiting the star is a disk of dust grains beginning at a distance comparable to that from our sun to Uranus.

The disk, believed to be a nursery for planets, was detected using sub-millimeter radiation observations from the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope and coronagraphic images taken on the UH 2.2-meter Telescope, both located on Mauna Kea.

The Institute for Astronomy’s Michael Liu and Jonathan Williams and California colleagues reported the discovery in Science and Astrophysical Journal. Follow up work may help scientists understand how planets form.

Read more: IfA news release


Latest additions bring Jupiter moon count to 63

Astronomer David Jewitt and graduate student Scott Sheppard have discovered two more moons orbiting Jupiter.

Among the giant planet’s smallest satellites—just 1.2 miles across—the pair bring the Jovian moon count to 63, 46 of them discovered by Jewitt’s team at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa’s Institute for Astronomy.

Read more: IfA Jupiter satellite page


Supernova explosion mystery solved

starry sky

The 1993 explosion of supernova SN1993J produced a bizarre light show that differed from the usual pattern produced when massive stars burn up their energy and collapse under their own weight.

Ten years later, Institute for Astronomy Director Rolf Kudritzki and a team of European astronomers located the companion star long suspected of having caused the deviation by shredding the outer layers of the exploding star in a fast moving shock wave.

Their findings are reported in the Jan. 8 issue of Nature. Binary systems, in which two stars orbit each other, account for about half of all stars.

Read more: IfA news release


UH Astronomer charts skies in Hawaiian

Like many prospective parents in Hawai'i seeking names for their offspring, Paul Coleman found inspiration in the stars. But, being an astronomer, he wanted to know not just the Hawaiian name, but the specific star it represented.

Using detailed descriptions of Hinali'i’s movement, documented in the out-of-print Na Inoa Hoku by Kawena Johnson and Kaipo Mahelona, Coleman determined the star is known to Western gazers as Alpha Persei (Mirfac).

Since then, the Institute for Astronomy associate astronomer has quizzed kupuna (elders), pestered traditional navigators, unearthed additional texts and listened to anyone willing to talk about Native Hawaiian astronomy.

His sources include Manoa master’s degree candidate Kealoha Kaliko and NOAA’s Bill Thomas (BA ’74, MA ’79 Manoa).

"This is a body of knowledge that needs to be assembled," Coleman insists. To add to his information, call (808)956-9843 or e-mail


New Hawaiian dictionary addresses modern language needs

Living languages must evolve to incorporate new words and meanings. Mamaka Kaiao: A Modern Hawaiian Vocabulary does that for ka 'olelo Hawai'i, the language of Hawai'i.

The 2003 edition adds 1,000 new entries to the resource based on five years of research and discussion by Komike Hua'olelo, the Hawaiian Lexicon Committee chaired by Hilo Assistant Professor Larry Kimura.

For example, "physical" translates as paku, a scientific term relating to matter, as na 'anopili paku for properties and kalaiaopaku for the scientific discipline.

Mamaka Kaiao is designed as a companion to the venerable Hawaiian Dictionary by Pukui and Elbert. Both are available in Hawai'i bookstores or from University of Hawai'i Press.


Cancer Research Center partners with University of Guam

The University of Hawai'i at Manoa’s Cancer Research Center of Hawai'i and the University of Guam are partners in a five-year, $3.6-million National Cancer Institute grant to develop joint programs in research, training and outreach.

The project seeks to improve UG’s cancer research capabilities, increase the number of minority scientists pursuing cancer research and expand CRCH research related to Pacific Island populations.

Also proposed are development of a cancer registry to generate research data and pilot programs in nutrition and tobacco control.


Advocates hired to protect research subjects

Joining a national trend, the John A. Burns School of Medicine has hired its first research subject advocates to ensure medical research involving humans is conducted in a relevant, appropriate and safe manner.

Complementing the work of existing institutional review boards, physician/researcher and UH Associate Professor Venkataraman Balaraman and certified review board professional Kari Kim (BA ’82 Manoa) hope to foster communication among investigators and strengthen public trust in clinical research.


Journal explores the true state of teacher ed

For two decades, teacher training programs have been a favorite target of education critics.

The old complaints no longer apply, University of Hawai'i at Manoa College of Education Dean Randy Hitz argues in the latest issue of Educational Perspectives. The UH journal documents changes in six teacher education programs across the United States.

Responding to professional calls for reform, universities, including Manoa, have raised admission standards, improved subject matter instruction, increased hours spent in P­12 classrooms and established closer working relationships with arts and sciences faculty.

For a copy of the journal, write to Educational Perspectives, Wist Hall 113, 1776 University Ave., Honolulu, HI 96822.


Bioreactors may provide alternative water treatment

The University of Hawai'i at Manoa’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering is testing membrane bioreactors as a water-conserving alternative to traditional wastewater treatment.

The membrane bioreactors, or MBRs, use microfiltration or ultrafiltration membranes as a physical barrier to remove pathogens commonly found in wastewater, producing high quality recycled water for non-potable use.

The study, conducted for the City and County of Honolulu and Board of Water Supply, will evaluate MBRs from four manufacturers and provide data to the state Department of Health, which must approve MBR systems.


Protein block may help enhancing meat production

starry sky

Ranchers want fast-growing livestock. Consumers want lean meat.

Animal scientists in the University of Hawai'i at Manoa’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources are working with a naturally occurring protein that may help satisfy both.

Myostatin inhibits the growth of skeletal muscle. When it is blocked, animal metabolism appears to shift from fat accumulation to muscle production.

Researchers are exploring myostatin inhibitors as a way to bring animals to market sooner. Besides lowering costs, that would reduce the amount of animal waste that must be treated.


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