Believing in angels

"At Christmas time, we are more open to a belief in mysteries and miracles and that is a good thing. It is not something to dismiss as irrational," says Lisa Capps, assistant professor of psychology.

Capps has found that normal, healthy children have an optimistic bias in believing they will be protected from harm that others encounter. They think they have control over negative events in life, rating themselves less likely to be affected by danger than the "typical kid," she has found.

"It's important for parents to provide this illusory faith," says Capps. "It gives an extra buffer against fear, anxiety, and depression."

Capps' study comparing children of normal parents with those of very anxious parents is among the first to explore the benefits of optimistic bias in children.

The presence of protective illusions was identified among mentally healthy adults several years ago, giving rise to "health psychology," which has recognized the importance of such "illusions" in recovering from illness, whether mental or physical or the result of trauma.

But children are more difficult to study and the evidence that they also benefit from wearing rose-colored glasses has been harder to gather.

"It appears to be adaptive, to think you have more control over negative influences than you do," says Capps. "People who think they are going to do better actually do better. Now we have evidence that these same illusions benefit children."

Health insurance crisis deepens

Health insurance remains too expensive for many California residents and cost is the primary reason many employers do not provide health benefits, according to the first comprehensive examination of health insurance in California by researchers from UC Berkeley's School of Public Health and the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

They found that the number of California residents with no health insurance continues to increase, and that just 57 percent of California residents have job-based health insurance, compared to 66 percent of all Americans.

Nearly a quarter of the state's non-elderly residents - a total of 6.6 million people, including 1.8 million children - have no health insurance. About 84 percent of the uninsured come from working families.

The analysis, funded by The California Wellness Foundation, also found that insurance companies exclude certain individuals from coverage and refuse insurance to many types of companies.

The report found that many people are foregoing needed medical care because they can't afford it.

The UC researchers propose the following reforms:

Subsidies to low- and moderate-income residents who must buy insurance on their own;

Tax incentives or direct subsidies to make insurance more affordable to small employers;

Regulation of all health plans in a single state agency with consistent grievance procedures for consumers and health professionals;

Promotion of public health programs, such as injury prevention on the job and tobacco control.

Track your team on the Web

Computer-savvy fans of baseball and basketball can now track their favorite teams' daily standings on the World Wide Web at RIOT (Remote Interactive Optimization Testbed) at - thanks to an algorithm developed by professors Ilan Adler and Dorit Hochbaum with graduate students Eli Olinick and Alan Erera of industrial engineering and operations research.

The group has created a software program that analyzes results of each day's games - fed into the system nightly via e-mail from the San Jose Mercury News - and automatically recalculates each team's standings.

The algorithm determines the number of games each team must win to clinch playoff spots and avoid elimination from the race. It also takes into account games remaining in the season - a tactic not used in conventional ranking methods.

Other algorithm applications featured on the RIOT site are more industrial in nature, including an interactive simulation of open-pit mining design.

Exploding molecule = buckymaterials

Making chemicals explode is commonly perceived as a destructive process, and rightly so. But chemists at UC Berkeley have discovered that sometimes an explosion can actually be a method for building useful chemical compounds.

After observing a molecule they had made in the lab go up in smoke, graduate student Adam Matzger and chemistry professor Peter Vollhardt decided to take a closer look. At first they noticed nothing interesting in the black powder that remained, but after using a special electron microscope to peer into the soot, the scientists discovered amazingly intricate structures composed of carbon.

The highly-ordered compounds, known as buckymaterials, are larger cousins of the buckyball - a geometric carbon sphere resembling a soccer ball whose discoverers earned the Nobel prize in chemistry last year.

Buckymaterials have potential uses as high-tech lubricants, superconductors, and incredibly strong and flexible carbon composites.

[ More Discoveries ]

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