Intercom Online......December 3, 1998


Chao-Yang Wang, associate director of the Graduate Automotive
Technology Education Center of Excellence, left, and Donald Streit,
director of the center, show off the Electric Lion.
Photo: Greg Grieco

Center working to make
electric cars practical

Electric cars are gaining converts, but they're expensive, and they can't go too far or too fast without draining their batteries. A new center at Penn State might help make electric cars cheaper, and go farther and faster without having to recharge their batteries every day for 12-15 hours.

The center will focus its research on improved batteries and other energy storage technologies, such as flywheels and super capacitors -- devices that reduce the energy loss that naturally occurs when a car accelerates and slows down.

The center's research is expected to enhance the development of electric cars and other clean, fuel-efficient vehicles, such as those that use compressed natural gas to generate electricity for traveling the long distances achieved by conventional automobiles.

Funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, the center at University Park is being established by Penn State's Pennsylvania Transportation Institute (PTI) and will be known as the Graduate Automotive Technology Education (GATE) Center of Excellence.

Penn State is one of only nine universities nationwide selected for the grant and designation as a center of excellence. Through the award program, Penn State and each of the other eight centers will receive a maximum of $200,000 over two years to develop a curriculum and laboratory projects. In addition, each school will receive approximately $100,000 per year starting in September 1999 to fund graduate engineering fellowships.

Donald Streit, professor of mechanical engineering and PTI research affiliate, is director of the new center. Chao-Yang Wang, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and PTI research affiliate, is associate director.

Working with Streit and Wang to secure the interdisciplinary initiative were Clive Randall, director of Penn State's Center for Dielectric Studies, and Charles Bakis, associate professor of engineering science and mechanics and director of the Composite Manufacturing Technology Center.

The new center will draw on Penn State teaching and laboratory resources from PTI and the College of Engineering, including the Department of Mechanical Engineering; the Department of Materials Science and Engineering in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences; and the Center for Dielectric Studies at the Materials Research Laboratory.

Combined with these resources, a core curriculum of new and existing interdisciplinary courses will provide a comprehensive, hands-on education and research environment for Penn State undergraduate and graduate students and for automotive industry participants.

Researchers identify cholesterol
inhibiting substance in garlic

By Barbara Hale
Public Information

Nutrition researchers have identified a group of chemicals in garlic that decreases cholesterol production by liver cells 40 percent to 60 percent in laboratory tests.

The study is among the first to pinpoint the specific garlic constituents that may be responsible for the cholesterol-lowering effects observed by researchers earlier in both animal and human feeding studies.

Yu-Yan Yeh, professor of nutrition, conducted the research on fresh garlic extracts with Lijuan Liu, doctoral candidate in nutrition.

Yeh and Liu identified a group of three water-soluble, sulfur-containing, garlic constituents (S-allyl cysteine, S-ethyl-cysteine and S-propyl cysteine) that decreased cholesterol production in cultured rat liver cells by 40 percent to 60 percent.

Deodorized, aged garlic extract consists mostly of the same water soluble, sulfur-containing chemicals, Yeh said.

In Yeh's earlier feeding studies with rats, aged garlic extract reduced blood cholesterol by 15 percent. In the human studies, 34 men who took deodorized garlic capsules for five months showed a 7 percent drop in total blood cholesterol levels and a 12 percent drop in LDL or so-called "bad cholesterol" levels. High blood levels of total cholesterol and "bad cholesterol" have both been associated with artery and heart disease.

In the current liver cell studies, Yeh and Liu also identified a second group of water-soluble compounds, that depressed cholesterol synthesis by 20 percent to 35 percent. A third group of water soluble chemicals had no inhibitory effect. A group of fat-soluble, sulfur-containing, garlic constituents depressed cholesterol synthesis only slightly (10 percent to 15 percent) at low concentrations and at high concentrations, killed the cells. None of the water-soluble chemicals killed the cells.

"Our current results indicate that the cholesterol-lowering effects of garlic are likely to be from inhibition of cholesterol synthesis in the liver by a combination of the water-soluble, sulfur-containing compounds," Yeh said. "It's not likely that the fat-soluble, sulfur-containing compounds play a major role."

He plans to conduct further research in order to try to identify the specific ways in which the water soluble garlic constituents he identified interfere with the liver's synthesis of cholesterol.

Chopping, cooking affect
garlic's anti-cancer activity

Researchers have shown that microwave heating or roasting garlic can diminish or destroy its anti-cancer activity -- unless the herb is chopped or crushed, and allowed to "stand" for at least 10 minutes before cooking.

Kun Song, doctoral candidate in nutrition, and John A. Milner, professor and head of the Department of Nutrition, conducted the study.

The research was the first to show that as little as one minute of microwaving or 45 minutes of oven roasting can completely block garlic's ability to retard the action of a known cancer-causing agent in rats. Garlic's anti-cancer activity was retained, however, if the herb was first chopped or crushed and allowed to stand for 10 minutes before being heated. In the case of roasted whole garlic, anti-cancer activity was partially retained if the top of the bulb was sliced off before heating.

Song said that the 10-minute "standing period" after chopping or crushing the garlic enables an enzyme naturally present in certain garlic cells to come in contact with and act on chemicals in other cells. Chopping or crushing the garlic opens the cells and enables the enzyme to start a reaction that produces chemicals called allyl sulfur compounds that possess anti-cancer properties.

"The allyl sulfur compounds produced from the enzyme's reaction are critical to garlic's anti-cancer effects," Song said. "If garlic was heated or roasted immediately after crushing, the enzyme was de-activated by the heating process and garlic's anti-cancer effects were blocked."

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