U papers hard to digest

Allison Wickler

Department of Soil, Water, and Climate professor Paul Bloom co-wrote what was recently named the best paper of 2006 by the journal “Environmental Science & Technology.”

The paper explains how mercury is retained and how it moves in the environment.

The research used new tools and will help chemists across the country explain the behavior and binding properties of mercury.

However, the paper, titled “Complexation of Mercury(II) in Soil Organic Matter: EXAFS Evidence for Linear Two-Coordination with Reduced Sulfur Groups,” can be difficult to explain to the general population.

“Unless you were a senior in chemistry,” he said, “you probably wouldn’t even know the tools.”

These types of in-depth research papers, written specifically for academics in the field, often contain a wealth of information, even if many people – including some researchers – can’t fully decipher them.

Papers written or co-written by University researchers, like “Intra-amygdalar injection of DAMGO: Effects on c-Fos levels in brain site associated with feeding behavior” by Allen Levine or “The Sorption of Chlorophenolic Compounds to Primary Clarifier Solids” by Steven Severtson can be interesting, if only in name alone.

That includes a paper co-authored by Ted Labuza called “Cotton Candy Shelf Life.”

Food science and nutrition professor David Smith, who also edits the International Dairy Journal, admits that some of the published work can be difficult even for him to understand.

“In and of itself, people picking up a scientific journal and starting to read it will say, ‘I don’t understand any of it,’ ” Smith said.

The importance of the information, however, can’t be ignored. Smith said corporations can use the research to improve their products, which can have a direct impact on consumers.

For example, some manufacturers used research to prevent a crunchy texture in aged cheddar cheese, which he said improves the taste and encourages consumers to eat cheese, receiving benefits from the calcium.

Britt Erickson, managing editor for Environmental Science & Technology, said top papers are chosen based on their potential to have a “long-lasting impact on the environmental field.”

She said while the journal’s main audience is the academic community, policy-makers can also use the information published to affect change in environmental policy.

Students’ thoughts on the impact of academic research on the general population vary.

Kinesiology senior Katie Anderson said she reads scholarly articles in the kinesiology field because she eventually wants to do research herself.

Another kinesiology senior, Rachel Gammelgaard, said academic research is important, even if nonexperts can’t understand the papers.

“It takes some initiative to look into those and decode them to see where they might apply,” she said. “It’s nice that somebody knows what’s going on.”

Academic research probably doesn’t appeal to most students, especially if it’s not in their discipline said Spanish-Portuguese studies first-year Chelsee Halseth.

“Most people won’t take the time to look at it,” she said. “If it was really important there would be more coverage on it.”

Smith said for many papers, the implications for further research are what matters.

“It puts the ideas out there for people that are in that area to gain insights and information from their colleagues and get the next ‘Aha!’ ” he said.