Volume 76
Number 3

The Romance of the West

Home Away from Home

Burden of Proof

The Moviegoer

CASE Editor’s Forum

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WATCH OUT for those red-hot jalapenos or cabaneros–they might be hazardous to more than your taste buds.

For people with contact lenses, particularly soft lenses, handling spicy foods like cut-up peppers could result in eye irritation and even corneal damage, says Buddy Russell, of the Emory Eye Center.

An invisible residue of pepper oil can stay on the fingers and contaminate lenses when the wearer takes them out or cleans them. When the lenses are put back in the eye, they can cause corneal damage through cyto-toxic surface changes, Russell warns.

Since many at-home cooks are experimenting with exotic cuisines and their incendiary ingredients, the chance of contaminating lenses is increasing. “I’ve seen many patients who have unwittingly ‘poisoned’ their corneas with pepper oils,” Russell says.

Contaminated lenses should be thrown away and the affected eyes allowed to heal for several days before using new contacts, Russell says. The case the lenses were stored in should be thrown out as well.

There’s a simple way to cut the risk: “Buy a box of powderless latex gloves and use them whenever preparing the peppers. . . . When in doubt, simply use them. They’re cheap and disposable.”–Mary J. Loftus

FROM SHAVING CREAM TO SEA FROTH, foam seems a temporal topping meant to scoop off or wade through. But while gazing at the frothy top of his morning cappuccino a few years ago, Emory physicist Sidney Perkowitz saw the possibilities bubbling inside this mysterious blend of air and liquid.

So, after a three-year study of the subject, he wrote the book, Universal Foam: From Cappuccino to the Cosmos.

“It’s just great to have some meringue or drink a beer and think it represents some kind of cosmic pattern,” says Perkowitz, the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Physics.

Foam, he says, is something we “take for granted, but [it’s] really a complicated system.” The not-quite-solid, not-quite-liquid appears in all corners of the globe and all areas of our daily lives, but “it’s not entirely understood why it has the mechanical properties it does.”

Perkowitz’s writings delve into the mathematics of bubbles, foam in history and art, the difficulties of whipping up a perfect soufflé, and the genesis of plastic packing peanuts and shaving-cream dispensers. Perkowitz also reveals that an aerosol bug bomb used in World War II to wipe out mosquitoes was adapted to become the modern whipped-cream dispenser.

Perkowitz researched exotic foams, such as a metallic one used in spy satellites and a glass foam used by NASA’s Project StarDust to capture materials during the spacecraft’s three-billion-mile journey.

The surprisingly intricate properties of foam, Perkowitz finds, provide clues to the origin of the earth’s atmosphere, describe how galaxies are distributed in space, and suggest a model for the birth of the cosmos.

Not bad for a substance that soon dissipates into a fizzy staccato of popping bubbles.–Mary J. Loftus

A SMALL COLLECTION of previously lost papers of the American poet and novelist Robert Penn Warren (1905—1989) was recently acquired by Emory’s Special Collections Department in the Woodruff Library. The papers, which date from 1927 to 1948, include correspondence with novelist Katherine Anne Porter, poet Allen Tate, and novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald (postcard below). The papers were discovered in the basement of the library at Mitchell College in New London, Connecticut, thirty years after they were placed there by the widower of Emma Brescia Gardner, Warren’s first wife. The acquisition now forms part of the Floyd C. Watkins American Literary Manuscripts Collection, which also contains papers of Southern authors James Dickey, Carson McCullers, and Flannery O’Connor. Watkins, long-time Candler Professor of American Literature who died May 7, was a great fan of “Red” Warren, whose childhood in Guthrie, Kentucky, was a subject for Watkins’ scholarly work.

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