This Week in Research: Beautiful Diseases & DIY Earthquakes

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Cirrhosis of the liver, stained blue. Courtesy Norman Barker
Cirrhosis of the liver, stained blue. Courtesy Norman Barker

Strictly speaking, cirrhosis of the liver isn’t pretty. Neither are brain tumors. But, as Johns Hopkins pathologist/oncologist/surgeon Christine Iacobuzio-Donahue notes, “sometimes the worse the disease, the prettier it is under the microscope.”

Iacobuzio-Donahue teamed up with art photographer Norman Barker, who works in the university’s Art as Applied to Medicine department to create a book of medical images that are like nothing you’ve seen before. Hidden Beauty:  Exploring the Aesthetics of Medical Science is a “behind-the-scenes tour of the human body that the layperson doesn’t necessarily get to see,” according to Barker.

The photographs defamiliarize well-known diseases, including ones that many of us fear, like HIV or cancer. “The whole point with art is to make someone think or feel something they haven’t before,” Iacobuzio-Donahue told the Johns Hopkins Hub. “Diseases are part of the natural world, and they themselves could have elements that are very beautiful. It’s hard to see that when you have these preconceived notions about them.”

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Earthquakes don’t happen on command, which makes it tricky to be a scientist studying them. You could just wait around for one to happen — or you could spend six years and $1 million to build your own earthquake machine. Which is exactly what some Johns Hopkins scientists (and researchers from other institutions) have done.

The earthquake building will be able to replicate a quake in three directions; the tremor will begin below the structure, which is 50 feet long, 20 feet wide, and 20 feet tall. The quake lab hopes to replicate the 1994 Los Angeles Northridge earthquake later this month.

While creating an earthquake sounds fun, it also has broad implications for building safety. “The results are expected to lead to improved nationwide building codes that will make future cold-formed steel buildings less expensive to construct than current ones,” according to the Hopkins Hub. “Also, the new codes could, in certain cases, make lightweight cold-formed steel buildings less costly to construct than those made of materials such as timber, concrete, or hot-rolled steel. In earthquake-prone regions, these code updates should help structural designers and builders reduce the likelihood of a costly and life-threatening building collapse.”



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  1. I found the cold forming steel portion of this very interesting. I never knew there were other alternatives. Seems like the versatility and strength of the cold forming steel just stack up better then traditional steel. Next time I have a major project that requires steel I will definitely keep this article in mind. Thanks for the post.

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