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Why I (probably) Won’t Catch Ebola

This post is mirrored from the author's blog The Frawlicking Rambler. by Robert Frawley There is a lot of concern about Ebola and rightfully so. It is a terrible disease, spreading exponentially in three West African countries, and to contain the spread we must bring aid to West Africa. The threat is less imminent here in the US though, even with a handful of cases. The virus is deadly, but you can survive with good medical treatment. Regarding transmission, you hear the chances are very low of incidental contact; the things you hear are reassuring but might not make total sense. The virus is different than AIDS, than measles, than Herpes and to understand where to allocate our fear and our resources I thought, why not put some time this week into discussing the virus and how it works. Where does Ebola come from? Fruit bats, we think.  Bats are not affected by the virus but they can carry it.  Humans can contract it from the bats, animals infected by the bats, or other humans.  Before 2014 less than 2,000 cases had ever been documented.  Typically, interspecies transmission is rare.  Most animals do not present with Ebola symptoms though some may

Ebola: A Crisis in Science Literacy

By Meredith Wright A few weeks ago, an alarming link appeared on my Facebook newsfeed: “BREAKING NEWS: CDC confirms first case of Ebola in Paramus, NJ.” Considering that my hometown is only thirty minutes away from Paramus, I was quite shocked and clicked the link, eager to learn more about the circumstances around this confirmed Ebola case. But instead of an informative article, I was met with this: Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate a practical joke as much as anyone. But jokes making light of Ebola, as well as shoddy journalistic practices on display in much of the reporting on Ebola, have no place in the fight to quell this outbreak (and don’t get me started on this Halloween costume). In case you haven’t been paying attention to the news, the worst Ebola outbreak in history is currently raging in West Africa. The Ebola virus is a negative-stranded, membrane-enveloped filovirus- the name is derived from the Latin word filum, inspired by the thread-like shape of this family of viruses- that causes a severe hemorrhagic fever in both humans and non-human primates. This means that upon infection, the Ebola virus enters a cell and lose its envelope. Subsequently, host cell machinery is used

The Science of Empathy

By Danielle Sonnenberg Ever since I can remember I have been very aware of the suffering of the people around me. I am cognizant of their facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice. The first time I remember being empathetic was when my parents paid a stranger ten dollars to thank him for getting their car keys after they fell in a grate below the street. I remember this man looking back at my parents and saying in a really grateful tone, “Thanks, I really needed that.” I began to imagine what his life was like—was he homeless, did he have a family, why did this $10 mean so mean to him? As I grew older, I became more aware of the emotional reactions of people around me including family members, friends, and even strangers. The sadness of other people would have a large impact on me. I started to ask myself why I was so affected by the suffering of people around me. Was I really being altruistic or was I simply trying to relieve my own discomfort? The word empathy comes from the Greek word einfullung meaning “feeling into.” Essentially, it means putting yourself in the position

Geek of the Week: Theobald Smith

By Joe Luna Imagine that you’re a Texas rancher in 1887 and your cattle are dying of a strange fever. Not all of them, you notice, only those recently brought from the north of the country (weak yankee bovines!) Your southern cattle are otherwise fine. As you closely observe your southern cattle and the bugs that feed on them, you have the hunch that as southern bugs feed on northern cattle, that this might cause the disease. Among you cattle ranchers, you nickname these bugs “ticks.” Theobald Smith (1859 – 1934) One slight problem: every vet and scientist who hears your theory laughs at it. Why? Because every microbiologist in the U.S. worth his culture media trained with Robert Koch in Germany, who was demonstrating the microbial basis of disease vividly in the 1880s (Anthrax in 1877, Tuberculosis in 1882, Cholera in 1883; Pasteur at this point was already legend). There were as many theories as scientists. But generally, everyone knew that microbes cause disease, not insects. Everyone, that is, except Theobald Smith. This isn’t to say that Smith was the consummate outsider. He was a trained M.D., loved philosophy, was handy with a microscope and read all

Geek of the Week: Friedrich Wöhler

By Joe Luna IN THE BEGINNING, there was Jons Jacob Berzelius. Discoverer of silicon, scribe of the Law of Constant Proportions, coiner of the word “protein”, we need not add to the tomes outlining his greatness as a father of modern chemistry (plus he was born in 1779). Instead, and perhaps fittingly, we will focus on one of his trainees, Friedrich Wöhler, born 31 July, 1800. Wöhler graduated with a medical degree from the University of Heidelberg in 1823, and with the help of his advisor Leopold Gmelin, secured a position to study with Berzelius in Stockholm where he remained until 1826 (“postdoc” would not be an out of place term). It’s easy to imagine the Berzelius lab in the mid-1820’s as a busy place for a young scientist. The boss is away giving lectures on newly discovered selenium to the academy or an early version of stoichiometry to medical students, meanwhile you’re in the throes of the first mad dashes in science by trying to discover a new element with nothing more than dirt and a voltaic pile. Friedrich Wöhler (1800 - 1882) Relating chemistry to biology, the atmosphere in these early days must have been electric

Our First High School Workshop at Rockefeller University

This post is mirrored from Software Carpentry. By Daniel Chen Camille Avestruz, Ivan Gonzalez, Timothy Cerino, and Daniel Chen all had the great opportunity to teach Software Carpentry's first zero-entry workshop to high school students. We were able to teach at Rockefeller thanks to the scientific foresight by Jeanne Garbarino and the rest of the Rockefeller team along with Arliss Collins, Greg Wilson and the SWC team. Lastly, thanks to Gabriel Perez-Giz for volunteering his time to help during thw workshop. The main goal of this workshop was to expose tomorrow's scientists to scientific computing as early as possible. For example, as genomics data for biology continues to grow, we are beginning to see a shift of biologists from the pipetter to the data scientist. Our goal was not to teach everyone all the skills needed so they can dive into retrieving, cleaning, and analyzing genomics or astronomy data the next day, but rather show them what is possible with computers, and expose them for the first time that the GUI may not always be the best tool for the job; and give some foundation of knowledge and concepts for perpetual self learning. We followed the traditional SWC workshop materials,

The Future of the Library

By John Borghi I work in an academic library, the Rita and Frits Markus Library at Rockefeller University, but I am not a librarian. I attend weekly lab meets, keep track of the latest developments in research methodology, and read academic journals; I am a scientist, but I am also part of the latest transformation of the academic library. According to my business cards I am a science informationist. It is my job to both proactively bring the information tools available through my library out the research community and using my experience in science to translate the information needs of the research community back to the library. In my own small way, I am thus contributing to the latest transformation of the library- from a repository of books and periodicals to an active partner in the research process. The Rockefeller University Library in 1954. I started as informationist the week after I completed a PhD in neuroscience. However, though this is my first job out of graduate school, it is not my first in a library. When I was fifteen years old, I worked as a page in The Morse Institute Library- the public library of my hometown.

Early fetal phase linked to cardiac risk factors

By Ilaria Ceglia Occasionally here at The Incubator, we like review an empirical article from the scientific literature that is openly accessible to all of our readers. This post reviews the following article: Jaddoe, V. W., de Jonge, L. L., Hofman, A., Franco, O. H., Steegers, E. A., & Gaillard, R. (2014). First trimester fetal growth restriction and cardiovascular risk factors in school age children: population based cohort study. BMJ: British Medical Journal, 348. The first trimester of pregnancy is critical for the development of fetal cardiovascular and metabolic organs including the heart, and may also permanently affect their structure and function throughout childhood and adulthood. However, despite a large amount of research, questions remain regarding the link between early fetal life and later development of cardiac risk factors. Fetal Crown-to-Rump Length Vincent Jaddoe and colleagues conducted a nested prospective cohort study that included 1,184 children, followed from just after conception to age six. Crown-to-rump length (a common way to measure the size of a fetus, equal to the length from the top of the head to the bottom of the buttocks) was used as a first trimester growth outcome measure in all children whose mothers had a known

Geeks of the Week: Harlow Shapley & Heber Curtis

By Joe Luna A century or so ago, the Milky Way was considered the extent of the universe, though astronomers concerned with the size of the universe faced a puzzle. They had seen clouds (“nebulae”), and observed that these nebulae had unusual properties. For one thing, the nebulae displayed line spectra that matched those of star clusters, not interstellar dust. There were more stellar explosions (“novae”) observed in these clusters as well. Reasonable explanations were given for these and other observations that still fit these nebulae within the Milky Way, but some astronomers doubted the basic premise and proposed something altogether much larger: that these nebulae were entirely OTHER galaxies far beyond our own. Harlow Shapley (1885-1971) Astronomers took sides and argued. They made observations for and against multiple galaxies. It all came to a head in 1920, when the National Academy of Sciences sponsored a debate on the size of the universe between two pre-eminent astronomers: Harlow Shapley (born 2 November 1885) and Heber Curtis (born 27 June 1872). Shapley believed that the universe was solely the Milky Way and that the Sun was in the outer arms of this giant galaxy. Curtis disagreed, and contended that

Podcast: First Year in Grad School

Image from PhD Comics   Emily Lorenzen and Bennett Ferris talk with us as they embark on a long journey through graduate school at The Rockefeller University.

Science Saturday Stories

By Derek Simon Approximately 100 volunteers devoted their time to making Science Saturday a reality. The group was comprised of over 60 scientists (including RU laboratory heads, RU postdoctoral fellows and graduate students, and scientists from neighboring Weill Cornell Medical College and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center as well as other institutions around New York) and nearly 40 volunteers from the RU staff, Summer Science Research Program students, and outside vendors. By 3pm this exhausted yet passionate group gathered together for a photographic memory of all those that made the day possible. As could be expected, not every child was enthusiastic about spending their Saturday at a science fair, but it was impressive to see the amount of focus and joy most of the kids displayed. I, myself, ran a booth, along with Cornell graduate student Aisha Abdullah called “Natural Selection in Action!” which involved a game using legos and a colorful spin wheel to teach how a random trait can be beneficial or harmful depending on the particular environment. It was awe-inspiring for me to see most of the kids make serious attempts to understand what I was teaching them, intently paying attention in addition to having fun with