This Week in Research: Surprising HIV Rates; A Baby Crystal

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Johns Hopkins researchers birth tiny crystal
(The actual crystal is way, way tinier than this.)

Even the AIDS experts were shocked at the news: rates of HIV among black women in Baltimore and other urban “hotspots” turned out to be higher than expected. And not just one or two times higher. According to recent research, the actual infection rate among urban black women was five times higher than experts had predicted.

“This study clearly shows that the HIV epidemic is not over, especially in urban areas of the United States, like Baltimore, where HIV and poverty are more common, and sexually active African-American men and women are especially susceptible to infection,” said Johns Hopkins infectious disease expert Charles Flexner. Although black women make up 14 percent of the U.S.’s female population, they account for two-thirds of the nation’s new HIV cases — and the vast majority of infected women live in urban areas.

Thanks to these results, experts are finally admitting that they didn’t realize the scope of the problem. “We, as care providers and policymakers, have our job cut out for us in devising HIV prevention programs targeted to sexually active men and women in Baltimore and other cities,” Flexner said.
Don’t expect any adorable nursery photos of the brand-new “baby” crystal birthed by Johns Hopkins scientists in a recent project. For one, it’s way too small — we’re talking microscopic — which was, after all, part of the whole point.

The researchers were hoping to find the teeniest lead sulfite cluster that would have the same crystalline structure as its macroscopic counterparts. These tiny quantum dots of lead sulfide could potentially be used as photovoltaics; they may also help scientists understand how solids are formed.

And just how tiny are they?  After calculations seemed to show that a mere 32 units of lead sulfide were necessary for the crystalline structure, researchers tested their hypothesis. Using scanning tunneling microscope images to take a closer look, the chemists found that their supposition was right, and they had birthed the smallest possible baby crystal. We hope someone gave each of them a cigar.



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