Issued 12/20/96


Upton, NY - Discover magazine has named two scientific discoveries made at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory to its list of the "Top 100 Science Stories of 1996." They are featured in a January 1997 special issue.

The magazine's editors independently chose a study on how smoking affects brain chemistry, and a new ceramic that shrinks instead of expanding when heated. "It's been a great year in science," wrote editor Paul Hoffman in his introduction. "To keep these discoveries coming at a whirlwind pace, the decline in science funding must be reversed."

· Smoking Gun

The smoking discovery was made at BNL's Center for Imaging and Neurosciences, using the brain scanning technique positron emission tomography, or PET. Chemist Joanna Fowler and her colleagues found that smokers had an average of 40 percent less of a crucial brain enzyme called MAO B, which breaks down the brain chemical called dopamine.

The discovery ties into the strange fact that smokers have half the risk that nonsmokers have of developing Parkinson's disease. Parkinson's symptoms of tremors and difficulty moving are related to unusually low levels of dopamine. The study suggests that something in cigarette smoke inhibits MAO B, keeping dopamine levels up, but the active compound has not been found.

· Amazing Material

A discovery made at one of BNL's two research reactors by researchers from Oregon State University and Brookhaven was also included in the Discover compilation. As reported in Science in April, BNL physicist Tom Vogt collaborated with Oregon's Arthur Sleight and his colleagues to examine a ceramic called zirconium tungstate using a sophisticated instrument at the reactor, suspecting that the ceramic might behave strangely.

It did. Vogt bombarded the sample with neutrons from the reactor, allowing him to observe its atomic structure. As he raised the temperature from 0.3 to 1050 degrees Kelvin, the zirconium tungstate shrank - exactly the opposite of what nearly all natural and manmade materials do under similar conditions. As the first material that shrinks over such a wide temperature range, the researchers expect it to be useful in electronics manufacturing, where temperature changes can cause warping and damage.

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