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Science: Congrats, Caltech! Now get back to work

February 24, 2011 |  9:27 am

It's been a week of lines, vines and twine, at least in the scientific world.

In rapid succession, The Times reported on how cellphones are doing something funny to our brains and vines are taking over our forests. But then came the real shocker: Caltech finally won a basketball game. 

Sure, it probably worries you that, as the Times story said: "According to a study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Assn., the electromagnetic radiation emitted by a cellular phone's antenna appears to activate nearby regions of the brain to unusually high levels.

"The preliminary study, led by a respected neuroscientist at the National Institutes of Health, raises many more questions than it answers. But by providing solid evidence that cellphone use has measurable effects on brain activity, it suggests that the nation's passionate attachment to its 300 million cellphones may be altering the way we think and behave in subtle ways."

That thud you heard is the sound of stock in mobile phone companies hitting the floor.

And, as an environmentally aware person (and perhaps someone with a green thumb), you might have paused at this news:

"Vines may be proliferating at the expense of trees in tropical forests across the Americas, scientists have found. This shift in abundance could affect the water in the ecosystem and how carbon is stored in the plants, potentially drying out forests and resulting in more carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere."

That whooshing you heard is the sound of stock in Weed Whackers going through the roof.

Caltech But what really rocked the scientific establishment came from an expected place -- Caltech -- but an unexpected source: its basketball team.

When senior Ryan Elmquist (perfect ACT score; graduating this spring with a computer science degree; interned at Apple; has a job waiting at -- where else? -- Google) sank a free throw Tuesday night against Occidental College, it gave the Beavers their first conference win since 1985, breaking a streak of 310 straight losses.  

This being a college, the fans rushed the court. This being Caltech, those fans included school President Dr. Jean-Lou Chameau and Nobel laureate Robert Grubbs.

Of course, being somewhat unaccustomed to winning, there were some missteps. Sophomore guard Collin Murphy (hometown: Wasilla, Alaska; spent time last year at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory working with instruments for Mars missions) went all Super Bowl and dumped a cooler of water on Coach Oliver Eslinger.

As Times columnist Bill Plaschke wrote

"Said Murphy: 'I wondered why I was the only one doing it.'

"Said Elmquist: 'I thought, man, who is going to clean up that mess?'

"The partying continued long into the night, with players failing to return to their homework after a weeknight game for the first time in many years."

Which is great. But fellas, when the partying is over, one request:

Could you take a look at those cellphones, and those vines?


Technology: James Bond's hummingbird

Why we must reinvigorate our interest in science -- and how DJ Scientific could help us

-- Paul Whitefield

Photo: Ryan Elmquist makes the winning free throw to give Caltech a one-point victory over Occidental College at Braun Auditorium on Tuesday. Credit: Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times

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