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  • richardmitnick 7:25 am on November 14, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ABISS project - deep-sea technologies that could be a model for exploring oceans on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, Harvard Gazette, Peter Girguis professor of organismic and evolutionary biology,   

    From Harvard Gazette: “Launching a space mission from the deepest ocean” 

    Harvard University
    Harvard Gazette

    November 9, 2017
    Alvin Powell

    1
    Peter Girguis, professor of organismic and evolutionary biology, is collaborating with NASA to develop deep-sea technology to search for life on the solar systems’ ocean moons. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

    NASA-backed scientists hope project advances plans to search moons for extraterrestrial life.

    Scientists from Harvard and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution are collaborating on deep-sea technologies that could be a model for exploring oceans on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn.

    The ABISS project aims to create an autonomous ocean-floor observatory equipped to kick into high gear when something interesting happens, switching on cameras and sophisticated sensors and wirelessly alerting researchers hundreds of miles away.

    All that sounds good to NASA. The agency is funding the project as it grapples with the likelihood that the search for extraterrestrial life will lead underwater, from the dry terrain of Mars to ice-encrusted oceans on Jupiter’s Europa, Saturn’s Enceladus, and other moons.

    “One of the things we learn [with] ABISS is how exploration like this can be done remotely,” said Mary Voytek, NASA’s senior scientist for astrobiology. “We’re not going to be sending ships out there. We’re going to be sending something that will be able to penetrate the ice and then, once below the surface of the ice, will be into the ocean and … will have to operate remotely and autonomously.”

    ABISS, which stands for autonomous biogeochemical instrument for in situ studies, is led by Harvard biologist Peter Girguis with Woods Hole colleagues Norman Farr and Clifford Pontbriand. Girguis said the project seeks to harness advances in robotics, big data, and telecommunications to advance ocean exploration, here and out there.

    Earth’s oceans are mysterious, hard to get to, and hostile to sustained exploration. The sea floor is miles below the surface, with temperatures just above freezing, crushing pressure, and total darkness. Communication is difficult because water blocks the radio waves that make surface communications comparatively effortless.

    2
    Girguis and his Woods Hole colleagues are developing a new method to transmit information through ocean waters using light. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

    Just as in space exploration, Girguis noted, terrestrial oceanographers are looking for life. Though some 2 million species of marine animals have been identified, there are an estimated 18 million still to be found, he said. They live in the deep ocean, starting a half-mile below the illuminated surface.

    “We really know so little about our oceans,” Girguis said. “Eighty percent of our planet’s living space is in the deep sea, by volume.”

    Interest in extraterrestrial oceans was piqued by the Cassini spacecraft’s 13-year tour of Saturn’s moons, during which it observed plumes of water vapor shooting from the icy surface of Enceladus. Europa, thought to have an ice-covered ocean, is the focus of the planned Europa Clipper, which would focus instruments on the moon’s surface during dozens of fly-bys sometime after 2020.

    Plenty of work remains for the three-year ABISS project. This past summer, Girguis and Pontbriand spent a week off the California coast aboard the E.V. Nautilus, a research ship run by explorer Robert Ballard’s Ocean Exploration Trust, tackling challenges in communications. Scientists working underwater usually communicate via cumbersome cables to the mother ship or wireless acoustic technology akin to sonar. The acoustic signals can transmit over long distances, but with very limited bandwidth, similar to that offered by dial-up computer modems. (“You can forget pictures,” Girguis said.)

    Girguis and Pontbriand tested an alternative, developed in 2005 at Woods Hole, that uses light to transmit information at broadband speeds. The optical modem’s range is limited by water’s ability to absorb light, but in the clear water of the ocean floor, it can transmit images and video 100 meters. The test sought to integrate the optical modem with cameras and other gear on the ABISS observatory.

    “We’re really excited to have the opportunity to use our technology to get the experiment going,” Pontbriand said.

    Other goals of the project, Girguis said, include improving battery life in hopes of an observatory that can operate a year or more without needing service. Another major objective is to make sensors as energy-efficient as possible and get them to communicate with each other. Ultimately, Girguis said, he’d like the ABISS chemical sensor to run all the time, waking the microbial sensor to gather additional data when methane or other life molecules are detected.

    Girguis isn’t certain that life will be found elsewhere in the solar system, but has no trouble imagining plausible scenarios. Some microbes can survive a journey through space’s vacuum, he noted, and Earth’s bombardment by meteors and comets provides a mechanism for rocks carrying them to be blasted into space. Pontbriand, meanwhile, isn’t sold that the devices he’s had a hand in building one day might be deployed in a search for extraterrestrial life.

    “It does seem farfetched, even to me,” Pontbriand said. “But it would be great to see it happen.”

    The ideal ABISS observatory would be able to provide long-term data gathering anywhere, Girguis and Pontbriand said. Information — including bandwidth-gobbling images and video – would be transferred to an untethered robotic sub. The sub would rise to the surface and transmit to a nearby boat, satellite, or spacecraft, which would then convey the data to labs.

    “In order to do exploration of this kind, we need to understand the strategy for exploration or science operations,” said NASA’s Voytek. “Projects like ABISS start teaching us what that’s like: What are the limitations? What are the things we need to further develop?”

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Harvard University campus
    Harvard is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, established in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was named after the College’s first benefactor, the young minister John Harvard of Charlestown, who upon his death in 1638 left his library and half his estate to the institution. A statue of John Harvard stands today in front of University Hall in Harvard Yard, and is perhaps the University’s best known landmark.

    Harvard University has 12 degree-granting Schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The University has grown from nine students with a single master to an enrollment of more than 20,000 degree candidates including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. There are more than 360,000 living alumni in the U.S. and over 190 other countries.

     
    • stewarthoughblog 11:05 pm on November 14, 2017 Permalink | Reply

      While STEM is being promoted at Harvard with a high priority and funding, don’t forget the original motto of the university, “Christo et Ecclesiae,” which the present motto “Veritas” complements.

      The possible exploration of remote moons may reveal some interesting science. Any prospect of fossil or living organisms is only satisfied by Earth based organisms. No non-Earth-based life will be found. Developing better battery and transmitters could be of significant value in many areas and worth the funding.

      Like

  • richardmitnick 8:22 am on November 8, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: da Vinci fused rigorous observation mathematics and scientific experimentation with imagination and endless wonder, Harvard Gazette, , The ultimate Renaissance man, Walter Isaacson   

    From Harvard Gazette: “The incomparable da Vinci “ 

    Harvard University
    Harvard Gazette

    November 7, 2017
    Christina Pazzanese

    1
    Courtesy of Harvard Repository, Harvard Fine Arts Library, Digital Images & Slides Collection d2011.01721
    Leonardo da Vinci, the ultimate Renaissance man, is the subject of Walter Isaacson’s newest book. Pictured is Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic “Vitruvian Man” c.1490.

    Uneducated and his own creation, he still rose to the top ranks in both science and art, author Walter Isaacson recounts.

    After portraying titans of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics such as Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, and Steve Jobs, author Walter Isaacson ’74 has now turned his attention to someone whose intellectual triumphs and artistic brilliance may outpace all of the others: Leonardo da Vinci.

    In a dazzling new biography, Isaacson plumbs da Vinci’s relentlessly curious and creative mind, poring over the to-do lists that da Vinci maintained to hold himself to his intellectual pursuits. Isaacson also digs into da Vinci notebooks crammed with math problems, maps, sketches of “The Last Supper,” doodles, riddles, and notes-to-self in his mirror-image handwriting in an effort to decode what he thought and to retrace how his mind darted between art and science, engineering and the humanities.

    As the ultimate Renaissance man, da Vinci fused rigorous observation, mathematics, and scientific experimentation with imagination and endless wonder. He was a procrastinator who managed to unlock mysteries of the human body, envision flying machines that predated recorded flight by centuries, and create two of the most celebrated paintings in Western art. He was also a perfectionist who could abandon or relentlessly tinker with projects he deemed flawed, including the “Mona Lisa.” Though known for his exceptionally sharp eye for detail, da Vinci is credited with inventing sfumato, a painting technique in which lines and edges are smudged to simulate how things appear in 3-D.

    His personal life was also a study in contrasts. Born out of wedlock and having almost no formal education, da Vinci was a savant and a bon vivant popular among the political, intellectual, and courtly elite in Florence and Milan. He was a stylish, even flamboyant dresser who dated younger men but rarely shared intimate details of his personal life publicly.

    Isaacson spoke with the Gazette about what he learned about da Vinci’s creative process and what his remarkable life still has to teach us.

    GAZETTE: You’ve written about other giants of math, science, and technology. What prompted you to tackle da Vinci, and how did your exploration of his life reshape your understanding of him?

    ISAACSON: In some ways, it began for me at Harvard, where the whole point of a liberal arts education is to connect the arts and the sciences in different disciplines. I realized that whether it was Benjamin Franklin or Steve Jobs or Leonardo, the ability to be interested in all fields helped enrich an appreciation for the patterns of nature and also helped enrich their lives. Leonardo is the ultimate person who connects arts and sciences, who connects the humanities and engineering. “Vitruvian Man” is the ultimate symbol of how do we fit into our earth, our universe, and into spirituality, and he does it by connecting the work of great art with the work of great scientific precision.

    I discovered that he had more than 7,000 pages of notebooks, so I went around the world, from Milan to Seattle, looking at his notebooks and trying to piece together all of the questions he was exploring every day. How his interest in squaring the circle as a mathematical problem tied in with his interest in the flow of water tied in with the way he did “Vitruvian Man” or the “Mona Lisa.” Likewise, I found out that he loved producing theatrical pageants and saw his notes and noticed how they connected to the tricks he used in “The Last Supper.” The purpose was to use the notebooks as a foundation for watching his mind dance back and forth between art and engineering. And that will be the most important recipe for creativity in the future. It’s not just about learning engineering or learning how to code. Nor is it about just learning about literature and poetry. It’s learning about how to stand at the intersection of the humanities and the sciences.

    GAZETTE: I was fascinated by those notebooks and to-do lists. Both are so ordinary and yet seem to have played such a key role in his creative process. Why did he rely on them?

    ISAACSON: Because paper was a little bit expensive, he crammed many things on one page. The opening notebook page at the beginning of my book has a sketch of “The Last Supper,” but it also has some geometry problems he was trying to figure out — how the same mathematical pattern underlies swirling water and curling hairs. So you see a playful and extraordinarily curious mind dancing with nature as he hops across the page.

    2
    A drawing of an elderly bearded man, believed to be a self-portrait of da Vinci. Harvard Fine Arts Library, Digital Images & Slides Collection 1998.00960

    GAZETTE: Da Vinci’s belief in science, observation, and experiential knowledge was unusual for his time. Where did that belief come from?

    ISAACSON: It helped that he was born out of wedlock, so he couldn’t be a notary like his father and grandfather. He became very self-taught just when [Johannes] Gutenberg’s printing press is spreading. He becomes what he calls a “disciple of experience.” So he’d read something in a book and then say, “How would I test that?” Or he’d learn something like the Biblical flood and then he would sketch the layers of fossils in sediments near Florence and say, “Well, that doesn’t make sense because these were laid down over thousands of years.” So he questions received wisdom, and like Steve Jobs and a lot of creative people, he’s a bit of a misfit, a round peg in a square hole. He’s illegitimate, he’s left-handed, he’s gay, he’s vegetarian, he’s somewhat heretical. But Florence in the 1470s celebrated people who were from diverse backgrounds, whether immigrants from the fall of Constantinople or people who liked both engineering the dome of the cathedral but also painting the angels that would adorn the cathedral.

    GAZETTE: Da Vinci is sometimes criticized for his willingness to be distracted and go off on tangents, leaving behind many unfinished works or abandoned pursuits. You say that shouldn’t be viewed as negative. Why not?

    ISAACSON: There are critics who say that if Leonardo had not spent so much time studying anatomy or squaring the circle or figuring out how to divert rivers or engineering flying machines or dissecting the human eye and studying optics that he would’ve ended up painting more masterpieces and that all of these passions were a waste of time. It may be true he would have painted more masterpieces, but he would not have painted “The Last Supper” or the “Mona Lisa” had he not been deeply interested in all of the patterns across all of the arts and humanities and sciences and engineering, had he not been obsessed with squaring the circle or dissecting every muscle and nerve of the human face or knowing how light strikes the center of the retina differently from its edge. He would not have been Leonardo da Vinci; he would have been a master craftsman, but not a genius.

    GAZETTE: Did the scientist inform the art, or did the artist inform the science?

    ISAACSON: At first, the science was used in service of the art, like how do birds fly or how do the muscles of the neck look? But Leonardo, literally as well as figuratively, started dissecting the muscles of the neck and soon he’s dissecting every organ and doing layered drawings of all parts of the body for curiosity for its own sake. He can’t help himself. When he explores a piece of science he needs to know for his paintings, soon he’s geeking out to square the circle or do a cross-section of the human heart, which is not going to help him paint “The Last Supper” but it is going to help make him Leonardo. One of the things we learn is that the pursuit of useful knowledge should be allowed to flow into the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake.

    GAZETTE: You write that what separates da Vinci from other super-intellects and super-talents was his ability to bring imagination to intellect. Can you explain?

    ISAACSON: Part of his imagination comes from just being so observant about things we forget to study after we outgrow our wonder years, like why is the sky blue or what does the tongue of a woodpecker look like? And then his imagination was honed by his love of theater, and so he would build a prop, say an aerial screw to bring angels down from the rafters in a play. But then he would go on to try and make a real flying machine like the helicopter he drew, because he had the talent of letting his imagination blur into reality.

    3
    “… He’s a bit of a misfit, a round peg in a square hole. He’s illegitimate, he’s left-handed, he’s gay, he’s vegetarian, he’s somewhat heretical,” says Walter Isaacson ’74 of Leonardo da Vinci. File photo by Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer

    GAZETTE: He comes across as a brilliant visionary, of course, but also as a complicated, thoroughly modern man. How did someone who was such a singular figure and a misfit, as you call him, find so much success and acceptance in his day? He was certainly no outcast despite his unusual talents and qualities.

    ISAACSON: Both in Florence and in parts of Renaissance Italy, for certain periods, there was not only a tolerance of diversity but a joy and celebration of diversity. And that’s what made Florence in the late 1400s so creative. That people of diverse talents, personalities, and lifestyles all worked together and a person like Leonardo — who wore short pink-and-purple tunics and had a young male companion and who indulged in fantasy — was beloved by both the Medicis and, later, other rulers in Italy. He had a very collegial, friendly, and kind personality. In his notebooks, there were more people referred to as “my close friend” than almost any person you can imagine. He loved Donato Bramante the architect, Luca Pacioli the mathematician, and the list goes on and on of the people he would have dinner with so he could ask them questions. He loved other people. In college or at a university, you end up being in the most diverse environment you’ve ever been in, diverse in terms of people’s backgrounds and lifestyles and diverse in terms of their interests. Leonardo loved to be around such enlivening and stimulating diversity.

    GAZETTE: What lessons does da Vinci’s life offer the rest of us?

    ISAACSON: We should retain the child-like curiosity that we outgrow sometimes when we leave our wonder years. And we should make sure that both our students and our children are curious about the most ordinary things, like why is the sky blue or why does water swirl when it flows into a bowl. We will never be able to push ourselves to understand the tensor calculus that Einstein used to describe the curvature of space and time, but we can all push ourselves to be like Leonardo and observe whether a bird’s wing goes up faster or down faster when it is flying or observe how the pattern of a hair curl matches the pattern of a swirl of water. That’s a combination of curiosity and observation for its own sake, not because we can make something useful out of it.

    Isaacson will be in Cambridge on Nov. 15 for a reading at First Parish Church at 7 p.m.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Harvard University campus
    Harvard is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, established in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was named after the College’s first benefactor, the young minister John Harvard of Charlestown, who upon his death in 1638 left his library and half his estate to the institution. A statue of John Harvard stands today in front of University Hall in Harvard Yard, and is perhaps the University’s best known landmark.

    Harvard University has 12 degree-granting Schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The University has grown from nine students with a single master to an enrollment of more than 20,000 degree candidates including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. There are more than 360,000 living alumni in the U.S. and over 190 other countries.

     
  • richardmitnick 8:27 am on September 14, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Brian Greene, Cosmology- origins of the universe, Harvard Gazette, , , , , , Unified theory of physics,   

    From Harvard Gazette: “A master of explaining the universe” 

    Harvard University
    Harvard University

    September 13, 2017
    Colleen Walsh

    1
    Brian Greene ’84, a Columbia University theoretical physicist and mathematician, has made it his mission to illuminate the wonders of the universe for non-scientists. Photo by Greg Kessler/World Science Festival

    Harvard Overseer and Columbia physicist Brian Greene seeks wider audience for the wonders of science.

    He is the founder of the World Science Festival, the author of numerous best-selling books, including the Pulitzer Prize finalist “The Elegant Universe,” and an expert at explaining knotty concepts. Now he’s back at Harvard. On Sept. 19, Brian Greene ’84, Harvard Overseer and Columbia University theoretical physicist and mathematician, will explore shifting ideas of space, time, and reality in a talk at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The Gazette caught up with Greene to ask him about his years at Harvard, his passion for science, and how he defines superstring theory in a tweet.

    GAZETTE: Where did your initial interest in math and physics come from?

    GREENE: When I was a kid growing up in Manhattan I was deeply fascinated with mathematics, and at a young age my dad taught me the basics of arithmetic. I was captivated from then on by the ability to use a few simple rules to undertake calculations that no one had ever done before. Now, most of these calculations weren’t ever done because they weren’t interesting, but for a kid to be able to do something new is deeply thrilling. Later on, when I learned in high school and most forcefully when I got to college at Harvard that math isn’t merely a game but it’s something that can help you understand what happens out there in the real universe, then I was kind of hooked for life.

    GAZETTE: Were there any classes or professors that had a big impact on you at Harvard?

    GREENE: Oh, huge. Howard Georgi was my freshman physics professor, and he had a deep impact on my love of the subject. There’s now a mathematician who wasn’t at Harvard when I was an undergrad but whom I worked with extensively as a graduate student and then he moved to Harvard, Shing-Tung Yau in the Mathematics Department. He had a deep impact on me. The Harvard faculty had quite a formative impact on me across the years.

    GAZETTE: I know you are famous for being able to explain awesome scientific concepts. In the age of social media, can you define superstring theory in a tweet?

    GREENE: Superstring theory is our best attempt to realize Einstein’s dream of the unified theory. #unification.

    GAZETTE: So break that down for me, and this doesn’t have to be in a tweet format. What is the unified theory of physics and why is it so important?

    GREENE: Einstein envisioned that there might be a master law of physics, perhaps captured by a single mathematical equation that would be so powerful that in principle it could describe every physical process in the universe — the big stuff, the small stuff, and everything in between. And he believed it so deeply that he pursued it relentlessly for the last 30 years of his life. On various occasions Einstein announced that he had the unified theory, always, however, to have to retract that sometime later when he realized that his latest proposal didn’t quite work. In the end it was a very frustrating experience for him. And when he died, that dream of unification died with him. But about 10 or 15 years later some scientist stumbled upon a new approach — this approach called superstring theory — and over the course of decades realized that this may in fact be the unified theory that Einstein was looking for. And that’s what we have been developing ever since.

    GAZETTE: What has been the main focus of your work for the last several years?

    GREENE: I have been working on issues of cosmology, origins of the universe. I’ve been working on the possibility of a multiverse — that we might live in a reality that comprises more than one universe. I’ve been working on some strange features of quantum mechanics called quantum entanglement, where distant objects can somehow act as though they are sitting right next to each other. Again this is a discovery that sort of goes back to Einstein himself, so things in that domain have been my main focus of late.

    GAZETTE: Tell me more about multiple universes.

    GREENE: Well, it’s a curious idea because for most people the word universe means everything: all that there is. But developments over the past couple of decades have convinced many of us that there is at least a possibility that what we have long thought to be everything is actually perhaps just a small part of a much bigger reality. And that bigger reality might have other realms that would rightly be called universes of their own, and if that’s the case then the grand picture of reality involves a whole collection of universes, and that’s why we no longer use the word universe to describe all there is … we speak of “multi” — there are multiverses because of this multiplicity of universes.

    GAZETTE: Is there current or future research that you could see really changing the nature of how we see the universe?

    GREENE: My own feeling, and it’s shared by colleagues, is that the next breakthrough will come when we deeply understand the fundamental ingredients of space and time themselves. And this is an open question. Just like matter is made up of atoms and molecules, could it be that space and time are themselves made up of more fundamental constituents? In fact, this is what I will be talking about at Radcliffe, recent work that at least hints at an answer to what the ingredients of space and time might actually be.

    GAZETTE: What has inspired you to work to make science understandable?

    GREENE: My view of science is not that it’s merely an effort to unearth the basic laws of physics, but I view it more as a very human undertaking to see how we fit into the grand scheme of things and to answer the questions that have been asked since the time we could ask questions: Where did we come from? What are we made of? How did the universe come to be? What is time? What will happen in the distant future? All these questions I think speak deeply to who we are as a species, and for the vast majority of people to be cut off from the most up-to-date thinking on these deep questions because they don’t speak mathematics, they don’t have a graduate degree in physics, I think that’s tragic. So for decades now I’ve felt that part of my charge is to bring these ideas to a wider audience, to make them available to anyone who has a curiosity and a little bit of stick-to-itiveness to push through some deep, difficult, but ultimately gratifying ideas.

    GAZETTE: If you weren’t a physicist what would you be?

    GREENE: Well, if I was starting out today I think I would probably go into neuroscience. I like to think of the big questions. Where did the universe come from? Where did life come from? And where does mind come from? And for those I think the time is really ripe to understand the nature of intelligence and thought. I think there are going to be great, great breakthroughs in that area in the next couple of decades.

    GAZETTE: Favorite physicist?

    GREENE: There’s nobody who compares with Isaac Newton in terms of the leap that he pushed humanity through from the way we understood the world before he began to think about it until after he existed.

    GAZETTE: What is your take on Voyager?

    GREENE: The “Star Trek” version or the real version?

    GAZETTE: The real version.

    GREENE: I think it’s a great symbol of who we are as a species. We are explorers. We are deeply committed to understanding the universe, and to envision these little spacecraft that have left the solar system and they are floating out there in the great unknown as harbingers, if you will, of human life back on the planet is a deeply moving picture and one that really captures who we are.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Harvard University campus
    Harvard is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, established in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was named after the College’s first benefactor, the young minister John Harvard of Charlestown, who upon his death in 1638 left his library and half his estate to the institution. A statue of John Harvard stands today in front of University Hall in Harvard Yard, and is perhaps the University’s best known landmark.

    Harvard University has 12 degree-granting Schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The University has grown from nine students with a single master to an enrollment of more than 20,000 degree candidates including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. There are more than 360,000 living alumni in the U.S. and over 190 other countries.

     
  • richardmitnick 7:46 am on June 27, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Atrial fibrillation, , , Especially dark chocolate, Flavanols, Harvard Gazette, , , Study strengthens case for heart benefit in chocolate   

    From Harvard: “Study strengthens case for heart benefit in chocolate” 

    Harvard University
    Harvard University

    1
    The study of more than 55,000 men and women “adds to the accumulating evidence on the health benefits of moderate chocolate intake,” said Elizabeth Mostofsky of the Harvard Chan School. No image credit.

    Harvard-led research notes lower risk of atrial fibrillation

    Consuming moderate amounts of chocolate was associated with significantly lower risk of being diagnosed with atrial fibrillation — a common and dangerous type of irregular heartbeat — in a large study of men and women in Denmark led by researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and in Denmark.

    The research was published last month in the journal Heart.

    “Our study adds to the accumulating evidence on the health benefits of moderate chocolate intake and highlights the importance of behavioral factors for potentially lowering the risk of arrhythmias,” said lead author Elizabeth Mostofsky, an instructor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Chan School and a postdoctoral fellow at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

    Previous studies have suggested that cocoa and cocoa-containing foods — in particular dark chocolate, which has a higher cocoa content than milk chocolate — confer cardiovascular benefits, perhaps because of their high content of flavanols, which may promote healthy blood vessel function. But there has been only limited research on the association between consuming chocolate and the occurrence of atrial fibrillation, which affects millions of people around the world and is linked with higher risk of stroke, heart failure, cognitive decline, dementia, and death.

    The study included 55,502 men and women participating in the Danish Diet, Cancer, and Health Study. Researchers considered body mass index, blood pressure, and cholesterol, which were measured at the time participants were recruited, between December 1993 and May 1997. They also looked at participants’ health conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes, or cardiovascular disease, and data on their diets and lifestyles, from questionnaires.

    Diagnoses of atrial fibrillation were identified from the Danish National Patient Register. There were 3,346 cases among the study participants over a 13.5-year follow-up period. Compared with those who ate a one-ounce serving of chocolate less than once per month, men and women who ate one to three servings per month had a 10 percent lower rate of atrial fibrillation; those who ate one serving per week had a 17 percent lower rate; and those who ate two to six servings per week had a 20 percent lower rate. The benefit leveled off slightly with greater amounts of chocolate consumption, with those eating one or more servings per day having a 16 percent lower rate. Results were similar for men and women.

    “Despite the fact that most of the chocolate consumed by the study participants likely had relatively low concentrations of potentially protective ingredients, we still observed a significant association between eating chocolate and a lower risk of atrial fibrillation — suggesting that even small amounts of cocoa consumption can have a positive health impact,” Mostofsky said. “Eating excessive amounts of chocolate is not recommended because many chocolate products are high in calories from sugar and fat and could lead to weight gain and other metabolic problems. But moderate intake of chocolate with high cocoa content may be a healthy choice.”

    The senior author of the study was Kim Overdad of Aalborg University Hospital in Denmark. Murray Mittleman, professor of epidemiology at the Chan School, was a co-author. Read more on the research here.

    Funding for the study came from grants from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (HL-115623), the European Research Council (ERC), EU 7th Research Framework Program (281760), a KL2/Catalyst Medical Research Investigator Training award (an appointed KL2 award) from Harvard Catalyst | The Harvard Clinical and Translational Science Center (National Center for Research Resources and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, National Institutes of Health Award KL2 TR001100) and the Danish Cancer Society and the Danish Council for Strategic Research (Aalborg AF-Study Group).

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Harvard University campus
    Harvard is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, established in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was named after the College’s first benefactor, the young minister John Harvard of Charlestown, who upon his death in 1638 left his library and half his estate to the institution. A statue of John Harvard stands today in front of University Hall in Harvard Yard, and is perhaps the University’s best known landmark.

    Harvard University has 12 degree-granting Schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The University has grown from nine students with a single master to an enrollment of more than 20,000 degree candidates including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. There are more than 360,000 living alumni in the U.S. and over 190 other countries.

     
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