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Jeff Danner

Wheat Belly?

The appeal of fad diets is easy to understand. It is increasingly clear that something has gone horribly awry with our health in the United States.   Obesity is on the rise and everywhere we look people are beset with diseases related to gastrointestinal system such as diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, and an ever-increasing array of food allergies. In the face of these problems, it’s tempting to look for a silver bullet solution to them all. So, we cut carbs or meats or fats from our diets. We consider whether genetically modified foods are to blame and we worry about...

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Can We Start Protecting Jordan Lake Now?

One of my motivations for writing this column is my hope that, at least in some small way, I am helping to inject more science into public policy decisions. Maintaining this hope can be especially challenging at times. The “experiment” to clean up Jordan Lake with larger mixers known as Solar Bees presents one of those challenges. Allow me to walk you through my frustration on this ill-fated and poorly-reasoned project. As local readers will likely know, Jordan Lake provides drinking water for over 300,000 people including the city of Raleigh. In addition, it provides fishing, boating, and swimming...

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Wood Pellets, Bane or Boon for NC?: Part II

Last week in Part I of this series, I discussed the science of wood pellets and the drivers behind the dramatic increase in their production in the southeast United States. The majority of these wood pellets are being shipped to Europe, particularly, the United Kingdom where they are supplanting coal as a fuel source for electricity production. (This situation strikes me as particularly ironic, but in order to not throw of the thread of our discussion, I have included my observations on this as an endnote.) The wood pellet boom is having a noteworthy impact on North Carolina. Our...

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Wood Pellets, Bane or Boon for NC?: Part I

Readers of this column may recall that I own 16 acres of property about 2 miles west of Carrboro that I operate as a hobby farm/pollinator reserve. Approximately 14 of these acres are wooded. Prior to 1992, this land was part of a 50-acre farm. There are stands of pine trees that have grown on the level areas that had been farmed prior to 1992, and there are mixed hardwoods on the sections that were too steep to have been used for crops. For the past several years I have received a steady stream of solicitations from timber companies...

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Sunscreen, A New Threat to Coral?

If you try to stay up to date on science news, you may have notice a number of recent stories about coral reefs being damaged by sunscreen. After seeing several headlines to this effect, I decided to investigate. My initial assumption was that the likely proposed mechanism for this problem would be that dissolved sunscreen in the oceans was preventing sunlight from reaching the coral. It turns out that I was wrong. Before discussing the potential ill effects of sunscreen on coral, let’s review some key features of coral itself. Coral are small invertebrates, similar to clams or oysters,...

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Improving our Local Food Web: Part II

In Part I of this series, I noted that our local farmers, farmers markets, and restaurants in Orange County constitute a vibrant local food web that provides us with a number of important benefits including nutritious foods and a reduced environmental footprint. Nevertheless, we should always be looking for further improvements. My recommendations for an improved local food web draw heavily from the book Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan. Last week, I recommend that we develop the necessary network to allow for making bread from freshly-ground local wheat and that we ferment for vegetables from...

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Improving our Local Food Web: Part I

In Orange County, North Carolina we take well-deserved pride in our local food web. We have innovative local farmers, numerous farmers markets and a host of local restaurants committed to using fresh, local ingredients. But we can, and should, keep striving for improvements. My recommendations for how we might do so, as you might expect, rely on a scientific perspective. To keep to my be-able-to-read-Common-Science-during-one-cup-of-coffee rule, I’ve broken the story into two parts. This week I will review the science and the first half of my recommendations. Next week I will finish my recommendations and conclude with a little...

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Scientific American May 1987

When you are an engineer and the author of a weekly science column, it influences the gifts that you receive. This year for Father’s Day, my family gave me a copy of Scientific American® from May of 1987. What caught their eye was the cover story, Predicting the Earth’s Climate.  They knew I had often written about climate change and figured, correctly, that a comparison between what I had been writing recently and what Scientific American® had to say in 1987 would intrigue me. In addition to the climate story, there were a number of other topics covered in...

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Frozen Shoulder

In the summer of 2010, when I was 44 years old, I was clearing some brush and experienced a sharp and unfamiliar pain in my right shoulder. I have always been quite active, so I am accustomed to a wide variety of aches and pains and consider myself to have a high-degree of pain tolerance. This pain was unusual and too painful to push through. So I put away my tools and headed to the couch. At this point I made a poor decision, one I hope to help you to avoid. I assumed that after several days of...

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Cold Fusion Part III: Conclusion and Implications

This is the conclusion of a three-part series on cold fusion. Part I covered the science and Part II discussed the history of efforts to entice atomic nuclei to fuse a low temperature, a potential pathway to nearly limitless and clean energy. I would be pleased if you followed the links and started at the beginning of the series. However, if you don’t have the time or inclination, below is the nickel summary of Parts I and II. Fusion of smaller nuclei into larger ones is what powers both stars and hydrogen bombs. Since they contain positively-charged protons, repulsive...

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