Could FUMES Raise American Boys’ IQ?

by Bill Chameides | April 1st, 2010
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

Permalink | 1 comment

The DEEP capture and delivery system could help bridge the gap between today’s and tomorrow’s boys while clearing the air.

A new tech startup says it can kill two birds with one stone: remove air pollution and improve male test scores.

It all started with Japanese mice.

Eno Lirpa, the 20-year-old upstart of the startup FUMES, LLC, short for Fossil Fuels Upping Male Education Standards, says he first struck upon the idea when he heard of a study published in the journal Particle and Fibre Toxicology. “I thought, what a gas,” he told The Green Grok. “This could be the missing link between clean air and crummy test scores.”

Lirpa studied the new research, conducted by Ken Takeda of the Tokyo University of Science and colleagues, in which male mice pups exposed in utero to diesel exhaust “showed significantly less spontaneous motor activity and that this inactivity was associated with alterations in brain metabolism of neurotransmitters.”

If diesel-fumes exposure in the womb helped produced lethargic mice, this could maybe solve a vexing problem brewing in the United States, Lirpa thought: low test scores among hyperactive, young American males. It was an idea that hit close to home: Lirpa was both an air polluter and a poor test scorer.

“It’s amazing,” Lirpa wistfully recalls, “how a few mice can change a man’s life.”

The Gender Gap

There’s a growing gender gap that’s unlike the other gender gap, in which women lag behind men in things such as pay and opportunity and often, as in the science world, resulting from stubborn  biases. But in education, chromosomatically XY youngsters are increasingly falling behind their XX counterparts.

New data, from research conducted by the Center for Education Policy and discussed in Nicholas Kristof’s column last Friday, are astounding:

  • “Boys are lagging behind girls in all states with adequate data, and these gaps are greater than 10 percentage points in some states” in reading.
  • 64 percent of the members of the National Honor Society are girls.
  • Boys are three times more likely to be expelled from school.

That’s the K-12 stuff. But it doesn’t stop there. Women now outnumber men in college admissions and at graduation.

There are lots of theories for this completely fixable gender gap, but seemingly gaining favor is the “jittery boy” theory: with the preponderance of computers and gadgetry, schoolwork has become more sedentary, resulting in boys who are just too jittery to sit and concentrate.

“The upshot,” writes Kristof, “is that boys get frustrated, act out, and learn to dislike school.” And the whole thing snowballs into an educational gender gap.

One thing is clear — with growing international competition, we cannot afford to have this kind of gender gap. We must figure out a way to make boys less jittery so they can concentrate and succeed in the 21st century classroom. (Good thing women still only make 80 cents to men’s dollar, or things would be really unfair.)

FUMES Connects the Dots

“It was one of those eureka moments when I put it all together, the mice study with the gender gap thing,” said Lirpa, who doubles as his company’s chief scientist. “I myself as a boy struggled in school. I was a good kid but there always something to do — a new text, an e-mail message, a Facebook update, then a tweet. Made me kind of fidgety.”

After a brief interrupting phone call, he finished his thought: “Now I had a solution — make boys less fidgety using fumes from trucks! I knew in theory it should work, but could I put it into practice?”

The answer appears to be yes. Less than two months after his eureka moment, Lirpa and his FUMES team, which consists for now of his parents and sister, had formed a limited liability corporation and won a patent on their aptly named Diesel Exhaust-Energy Purger or DEEP system.

DEEP captures diesel air pollution from roadways (freeing our air of noxious fumes), then delivers it in small doses to pregnant women in iPod-equipped, fume-inhalation chambers. The diesel-delivery time lasts on average about as long as it takes to listen to Rihann’s “Rude Boy,” Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” or Train’s “Hey, Soul Sister.” (In other words, dosing takes far less time than delivering a baby.)

Can DEEP really work? It remains to be seen, but in its application for government approval of the device, FUMES reports an average 10-point increase in IQ scores of boys born from pregnant mothers treated with DEEP. And as Lirpa points out, “even if the IQ part is over-estimated, it’s got to be good for the environment. Now, I never took any environment courses in school, but come on, think of all that air pollution snagged by DEEP.”

DEEP Thoughts and Criticisms

Of course, there are always wet blankets and opposition to FUMES’s methodology is building. A number of outraged organizations cite the likelihood of unintended consequences. But Paul Ushun, a third-party verifier, dismisses such objections. “In the first place any pollution exposure by lab techs can be prevented with gas masks. Secondly, Takeda et al. didn’t report any damage to their laboratory mice,” said Ushun, noting that when they were killed after exhaust exposure so their brains could be examined, they seemed fine.

“Finally,” Ushun concluded, ”in the United States, we only ban technologies after they go on the market and can be shown to do harm. Since DEEP is not yet available beyond our own test labs, it’s a little premature to talk about safety and regulation.”

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1 Comment

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  1. Jim
    Apr 2, 2010

    and I’ve got a study that says if the configuration of the molecules released from coal burning power plants conform to the golden ratio it will not contribute to global warming…

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