Dr. Erickson tests an application system to read cholesterol levels in about a minute in 2013. (Courtesy Cornell Chronicle)

Ithaca, N.Y. — Today we present our second installment of an Ithaca Voice series highlighting just a handful of the crazy cool things Cornell University professors are researching, writing, designing, discovering, or (insert verb here) at any given time.

We have no doctrinal preferences and no academic prejudices. Our sole criteria is that the professor’s work be, as the headline suggests, “crazy cool.” And, no, we don’t have a precise definition of “crazy cool.”

(Got a professor we should highlight? Email jstein@ithacavoice.com.)

Without further ado…


1 – Discovering how sounds inspire religious imagination

Cornell professor Kim Haines-Eitzen has been at the forefront of studying how the sounds of the desert were “imagined and experienced in the literature of late ancient monasticism from Egypt and Palestine.”

Haines-Eitzen. (Courtesy http://kimhaineseitzen.wordpress.com)

The project, tentatively-titled Acoustic Encounters in the Late Ancient Desert, focuses on how sounds such as those from wind, birds and humans work “dynamically to shape religious thought, literature, and practice,” according to Haines-Eitzen’s website.

Click here to listen to sounds of the Israeli desert recorded by Haines-Eitzen.

2 – Cornell professor receives grant to adapt smartphones for health monitoring

David Erickson, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, has received a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to adapt smart phones to monitor HIV, stress and nutrition.

Dr. Erickson tests an application system to read cholesterol levels in about a minute in 2013. (Courtesy Cornell Chronicle)

Erickson will lead a team of investigators that includes professors from Cornell, the University of Maryland and UCLA.

The program, PHeNoM, which stands for Public Health, Nanotechnology, and Mobility, has a goal of deploying three systems that have an instant impact on healthcare.

Erickson is working to develop programs that manage stress, raise nutritional awareness, and “monitor viral loading in HIV-positive patients.”

3 – Cornell Dairy makes yogurt for NYS Fair

The New York State Fair’s first yogurt bar will feature vanilla and Greek yogurt from none other than Cornell Dairy.

(Courtesy of Cornell Chronicle)

The yogurt, made from 100 percent from the Cornell Dairy cow milk, will be served with a variety of fruits, granola, and chocolate.

To supply yogurt for the fair, which runs from August 21 to September 1, Cornell Dairy has had to supply two tons of yogurt.

New York State leads the nation in yogurt production, said Kathryn Boor, Cornell’s Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“We encourage everyone to enjoy this healthy and delicious snack,” she said in a press release.

4 – Workers perform better when they’re full, study suggests

When workers are assigned a task, odds are that they will complete it in a more sufficient manner if they aren’t hungry, according to research by Emily Zitek, ILR School assistant professor.

Zitek. (Courtesy Cornell ILR School)

“Hungry people think about themselves instead of others and focus on their own needs, which leads them to feel and act entitled,” according to a release by Cornell University on the study, which was completed in conjunction with Alex Jordan of Dartmouth College.

The study states that hunger causes workers to focus more on themselves, rather than the task at hand.

Cornell’s release outlined one of the experiments used in the study:

Participants indicated whether they had eaten lunch or not and how hungry they were. Also, through the Psychological Entitlement Scale, they were asked how much they agreed with such statements as “Great things should come to me,” “If I were on the Titanic, I would deserve to be on the first lifeboat” and “I demand the best because I’m worth it.”

Hungrier participants scored higher on the entitlement scale.

In addition, since entitled individuals are less likely to help others, subjects were asked if they would help the researchers by filling out an additional survey; 78 percent of those who had eaten lunch agreed compared with 60 percent who had not eaten.

5 – Understanding the desire of young pregnant women to eat things that aren’t food

A Cornell study has found that pregnant teens with low iron engage in “pica,” the craving and intentional consumption of nonfood items.

Sera Young in 2013. (Courtesy Cornell Chronicle)

Research scientist Sera Young, nutritional sciences professor Kimberly O’Brien, and student Rachel Lumish studied 158 pregnant teenagers in Rochester over the course of the study.

The study found that teens that engaged in pica had significantly lower iron levels in comparison to teens that did not engage in the practice of eating nonfood items such as vacuum dust, ice, baby powder, and soap.

An excerpt from the Cornell Chronicle states:

Of the nearly 47 percent of adolescents who reported pica behaviors, most – 82 percent – craved ice, followed by starches (flour, cornstarch), powders (dust, vacuum powder, baby powder), soap (bar, laundry and powdered), paper (sheet paper, toilet paper, tissues), plastic/foam (pillow stuffing, sponges), baking soda, and a few other items.

Texture appears to be very important to those engaged in pica and is one commonality among the types of substances consumed, said Young.

“The public health importance of pica really needs to be acknowledged,” said Young. “My hope is that these studies put pica on the radar as a legitimate public health issue.”

Kyle Friend

A senior at Cornell University, Kyle covers the affordable housing crisis for the Ithaca Voice. Reach him through e-mail: kyleafriend@gmail.com.