Since at least the 1920s, anecdotes and some studies have suggested that chimpanzees are “super strong” compared to humans, with muscle fibers—the cells that make up muscles—greatly superior to ours. Not so fast, says a research team, including UMass Amherst biomechanist Brian Umberger of the School of Public Health and Health Sciences, an expert in musculoskeletal biomechanics. The team reports that the maximum dynamic force and power output of chimp muscles are only about 1.35 times greater than those of human muscles of similar size—a difference the team calls modest and in no way supportive of the mythical claims of chimps being many times stronger than humans. The researchers found that the chimps’ performance advantage was due not to stronger muscle fibers, but to the different mixes of muscle fibers found in chimpanzees and humans.
Taking Cues from Nature
UMass Amherst chemist Sankaran “Thai” Thayumanavan has received a three-year, $1.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation to create a multiuniversity center in an exciting new research area—autonomous chemistry. There, he and colleagues, including UMass chemist Vince Rotello, will seek to design artificial self-activating systems, or, as Thayumanavan says, “automatic control as nature does it. We’ll be looking to nature for mechanisms and techniques—looking into biomimicry—to try to understand how biological systems accomplish autonomous responses to subtle changes in their environment.
“If, for example, we had a system that could sense an individual’s response to a prescribed drug, that would be beneficial. Some people hyperreact to medication, some respond just fine, some don’t respond at all. A quick test, an autonomous biomarker without the need for heavy diagnostic testing, would enhance medicine for many, many people,” Thayumanavan says.
Tackling Youth Suicide
Lisa Wexler, associate professor of health policy and promotion in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences and a veteran researcher in Alaska Native youth suicide prevention, is leading part of a new, five-year, $4.25 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to identify the most effective ways of preventing suicide among Alaska Native youth. The grant creating the Alaska Native Collaborative Hub for Resilience Research was one of just three awarded nationwide.
“The job is huge,” says Wexler. “It aims to bring people together from all of the state’s 16 tribal health regions—which has never been done before—to talk about what people in the trenches on the tribal level and the clinical level know about suicide prevention.”