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Science Saturday!

by Derek Simon Hope for the Future: Inspiring Young Minds Some disturbing statistics: 46% of Americans deny that evolution is scientific truth (Gallup, 2012) and 29% still refuse to acknowledge that global warming is occurring (Gallup, 2014), despite the overwhelming consensus amongst the professional scientific community confirming the validity of these topics. Despite these trends, the United States remains the economic power of the world and the leader in innovations, discoveries, and scientific research, but how can we maintain this position when we allow some of our citizens to succumb to such unfortunate ignorance? Perhaps scientists themselves are partly to blame? After all, what good is knowledge and discovery unless it can be properly communicated and appreciated by the average American? On Saturday May 3, at the Rockefeller University (RU) on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, a group of over 60 scientists and 40 other volunteers transformed the prestigious research institute into a smorgasbord of scientific delight and a font of inspiration for young minds! With over 25 activity booths, the inaugural Science Saturday, brain-child of RU’s Science Outreach Director Dr. Jeanne Garbarino, was an ambitious and exciting approach to tackling public ignorance towards scientific discovery: preventing it from ever existing.

Geek of the Week: Theodor Svedberg

By Joe Luna You likely use one everyday. For your cells, your Qiagen columns, your sucrose gradients. There’s probably a small one sitting on your bench right now, with its bigger cousin likely not much farther in a neighboring support room. You place your samples in it, it whirs and spins, and some time later you take your pellet or your supernatant without much fuss. I’m writing of course, of the centrifuge, that steady workhorse of a machine whose performance, reliability, and even physical dimensions can thankfully be taken for granted. Today’s GOTW Theodor Svedberg (born 30 August 1884) could not afford to take his centrifuge for granted. The Svedberg in the 1940's. November 4th 1931 was a bit of a bad day for Svedberg. That morning, he had placed samples in Rotor I of his invention: the world’s first analytical ultra-centrifuge. Unlike today’s self-contained cubes, Svedberg’s machine was an oil-turbine driven monster that occupied an entire room, required oil lubrication at 800PSI, and had the rotor safely housed in a steel shell, five inches thick. Years of development with the help of private industry and the Swedish government had gone into its construction. When the centrifuge was

Geek of the Week: Ernest Duchesne

By Joe Luna What do guinea pigs, gorgonzola cheese, and tap water have in common? No, you’re not about to have some bizarre meal. It’s a bit of a trick question, as they don’t really have anything in common. But if you were a French medical student in the mid-1890’s with a thesis to propose, these items would have been your scientific reagents. And if you were a particularly brilliant medical student at the time named Ernest Duchesne (born 30 June 1874), you would have used these reagents to discover antibiotics, a full 35 years before Alexander Fleming. We’ve all heard the apocryphal story of Fleming’s forgotten bacterial cultures, ruined with contaminating mold over a long weekend. And then the great Eureka moment in science, when Fleming, perhaps as he was about to throw the cultures away, noticed that the mold had a halo around it of dead bacteria. It was then, we’re told, that the lightbulb of antibiotics began to flicker. But that’s not the full story. Fleming wasn’t the first to notice the anti-bacterial properties of various molds (we can thank the ancient Egyptians for that). Nor was he the first to demonstrate experimentally that the mold could

Why do half of Americans believe in medical conspiracies?

By Alison Carley All I have on my side is facts and science, and people hate facts and science. –Leslie Knope, Parks and Recreation While I was writing a proposal for my qualifying exam, I hit what felt at the time like an insurmountable roadblock. Articles by important scientists in reputable journals seemed to be making completely contradictory statements. “Protein X is critical to process Z,” or, “Protein X is definitely not involved in process Z,” or my favorite, “Process Z doesn’t even exist!” What was I supposed to think? Just like I had trouble getting to the truth behind process Z, many Americans struggle to understand complex issues in science and medicine. Vaccines cause autism, doctors know this but give them anyway. There is a cure for cancer, but the FDA is preventing its release because of pressure from drug companies. Health officials know that cell phones cause cancer but aren’t doing anything because of pressures from large corporations. Nearly half of all surveyed Americans believe at least one of these conspiracy theories according to a recent article published in JAMA Internal Medicine. Moreover, of the seven medical conspiracy theories included in the survey, 18% of respondents reported that

Geek of the Week: Nettie Maria Stevens

By Joe Luna Now here is a paper title from 1905 – “Studies in Spermatogenesis with Especial Reference to the Accessory Chromosome” published in the 36th publication from the Carnegie Institute of Washington. For all the male readers out there, your father may have given you your Y chromosome, but it was a woman who first discovered it. And her name, the sole author of the above paper, was Nettie Maria Stevens (born July 7, 1861). Nettie Maria Stevens - Image Courtesy of Carnegie Institution of Washington As you might imagine, academic science was a tough shell to crack for a woman growing up after the Civil War. Stevens was lucky enough to attend the Westford Academy for high school, but further educational options for unmarried young women were limited. To make ends meet, Stevens became a school-teacher and that’s where the story would’ve ended for most women. But not for Nettie Stevens. After saving for more than 15 years, she had enough money to enroll in the four-year program at the Westford Normal School; she finished it in two. Her strong academic record earned her at age 35 enrollment at a relatively new university in Palo Alto,

Geek of the Week: Hideyo Noguchi

by Joe Luna Picture yourself at the entrance of a prestigious laboratory in Philadelphia, where you hope to be a postdoc. You just arrived from a small village in Japan and you never went to medical school; you instead learned from textbooks (in self-taught English, French and German) enough to pass the Japanese M.D. examination with pure hard work. On top of that, you’re without the use of your left hand due to a childhood fire accident. Perhaps you have a letter of introduction in your attaché, but by all measures you’ve shown up out of the blue, and are hoping, no, praying for a job. As you stand at the threshold, you become suddenly aware that you’re thousands of miles from home. Do you enter the building? In 1900, a man named Hideyo Noguchi (born 24 November 1876) must have mulled this over before entering the pathology laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania. He could never know it, but he had just embarked on one of the most exciting and tragic scientific adventures of the last century. Bust of Hideyo Noguchi in the Markus Library at Rockefeller University Noguchi secured a job as a research assistant under

Reference Discovery: Google Scholar, Web of Science, and Beyond

by John Borghi If you are a researcher who commonly uses Google Scholar or Web of Science to collect and discover reference material, you may have noticed some recent additions to the two services. As a result of a recent partnership between Google and Thompson Reuters, Google Scholar and Web of Science now provide reciprocal linking. The results of searches made using Google Scholar now include citation information and full text links offered through Web of Science’s core collection and article records in Web of Science now include links to search for the full text on Google Scholar. Provided you are working at an institution with a Web of Science subscription, moving between the two services is now a matter of just a few mouse clicks. However, despite this integration, the two services have distinct strengths and weaknesses. For this reason, an effective literature search generally requires the use of not just Google Scholar and Web of Science, but possibly also other citation indices including Scopus. Google Scholar and Web of Science now include reciprocal linking, upping your chance to locate the full text of references. Google Scholar and the Open Web Owing to the strength of its

Origins of the Pipette: Why Today’s Scientists Don’t Need to Use Their Mouths

by Meredith Wright My labmates and I recently found ourselves discussing mouth pipetting, an old technique where researchers used glorified straws as measuring tools. For reasons of accuracy, safety, and ‘ick’ factor, this practice has been largely eschewed in favor of hand-held micropipettes. A retired biochemist who consults for our lab told us that she, quite frankly, preferred mouth pipetting to more modern techniques. Her comments sent a shudder down my spine, as I imagined myself accidentally sipping LB media or hydrochloric acid. But, at the same time, I also started to think about how vital pipettes are to the basic functioning of a lab. Biology courses often teach us about great experiments of the past- think Hershey & Chase with their blender- but what about the humble tools that get tossed about on our lab benches? How did scientists transition from mouth pipetting to modern micropipettes? Researchers pipetting by mouth in the late 1960s. Credit: Sarah Harrop, Medical Research Council The earliest pipettes date back to the 18th century, when French chemist, pharmacist, and inventor Francois Descroizilles developed the berthollimetre and alcalimetre, early precursors to the buret and pipette, respectively (Author’s note, I highly recommend reading this

The Battle of the Sexes: Revisited

By Stephanie Agbu The divide between the sexes is attributed to sex hormones, namely estrogen and testosterone. Both hormones are present in men and women, but testosterone predominates in males while estrogen predominates in females. Several organs in the body contain cells whose behavior is modulated by biological sex. For example, female muscle stem cells were found to regenerate muscle cells more efficiently than their male counterparts in a mouse model of muscular dystrophy. Though sex influences cellular behavior in multiple organs, it is generally assumed that cells within organs devoid of sex-specific function behave similarly in both men and women. A recent report in Nature challenges this notion. Researchers working in Sean Morrison’s lab at the University of Texas have examined sex-specific differences in cell populations that are seemingly unresponsive to sex hormones. Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) were among the first such populations to grab the lab’s attention. HSCs reside in the bone marrow and divide to generate red blood cells, which carry oxygen to tissues throughout the body, and immune cells, which recognize and destroy bacteria, viruses, and parasites. These cells often lie dormant until stimulated to divide by external cues, and, at least until recently, there has

Genspace: Your Friendly, Neighborhood Laboratory

by Derek Simon When one first walks under Rockefeller University’s main gates—aged steel tinged with verdigris and infused with scientific history—one word immediately comes to mind: prestige. Indeed, Rockefeller University is a place of great science and great accomplishments. But prestige in the protected world of academic science can be a double-edged sword when it comes to the communication of that science to the public. Walk two blocks over and mention “Rockefeller” and its not “science” that people speak of, but the New York City landmark that is Rockefeller Center.  No one seems to know—or care—that literally down the street lies one of the world’s top scientific institutions. But—to paraphrase an old adage—if a scientist makes a discovery in a forest (RU is almost a forest) and no one knows, is the knowledge no less important? Of course not, but this degree of separation affects how science and scientists are perceived and, ultimately, the value that research contributes to society. If science is not understood and appreciated by non-scientists, than scientific public policy has no basis of support. We live in a world built by science, and people need to know how and why. Take a short 4 or 5

Paths to Communication: Heather Berlin

by Maryam Zaringhalam A quick Google search of “science communication” will return a smattering of results ranging from hit television shows to community-based science outreach and education organizations. But what exactly could a career in science communication look like and how can we pursue one? I’ve become familiar with science communicators and organizations doing really incredible work to get the general public engaged and excited about science. I’ve watched their videos, tuned in to their podcasts, and attended their events. They’ve inspired me with their passion and poise and filled my mind with ideas. With that said, if science has taught me anything, it’s that the process is at least as important as the final product. To learn about their paths, from initial inspirations and lessons learned to plans for the future, I have begun to reach out to the science communicators I so admire. Another valuable lesson, courtesy of science, is that all my research would be for naught if I did not share it with my peers. For this reason, The Incubator has kindly carved out some space to feature Paths to Communication: a regular interview series with some stellar communicators of science. Dr. Heather Berlin Starting us