Why I use video games to teach science.

by Melanie Stegman Everyone knows how to kill zombies. Why don't people know how to kill measles? I think that a few bits of molecular detail are all that stands between our current society and one in which the average person truly appreciates modern biomedical science. It is just the proteins we need to learn about. We don't need to memorize all 50,000 - 100,000 different proteins in and around our cells, just understand protein behavior in general. This way, news stories about proteins will be easier to understand. Proteins are the heroes of stories about vaccinations, genetically modified foods, personalized medicine, evolution, depression, and happiness. I think that most of us got through grade school and high school without learning about proteins. We learn that cells make energy, that proteins are building blocks, that atoms make up everything. We know that viruses invade our cells and that cholesterol is bad , but we don't really have a clear idea of how all this actually happens. I am just hear to say, how all this happens is not that hard to understand. Molecular cell biology is a cute, rule based system that really sticks to its rules. Things work in biology

The successes and limitations of brain-computer interface technology

...and why we don’t all have badass robotic exoskeletons by Claire Warriner Philadelphia, 1999. A thirsty lab rat vigorously presses the lever in its cage. This act causes a swinging robotic arm to deliver a droplet of water to within reach of the rat’s parched tongue. At the same time, an array of electrodes implanted it the animal’s motor cortex records the activity of about 30 neurons, the neural signals that drive the lever-pressing behavior. As this sequence is repeated, researchers in the Nicolelis Lab amass enough information to form a computational model of the signal that drives the movement. They then switch control of the water-delivery arm from depression of the lever to the rat’s neural signals—and the arm still works. As the rat’s brain continues to issue that specific signal pattern, the robotic arm continues to deliver water droplets. After a few trials, the rat doesn’t even bother to press the lever anymore, it instead rests its white, murine* arm casually on the lever. It perhaps realizes that the actual physical manifestation of its intent is unnecessary: it is now controlling the robotic arm with its brain1. And thus was the advent of brain-computer interfaces, or BCIs. A year

Hacking the Life Sciences Classroom

This post is mirrored from The FabLearn Fellows Blog. by Jaymes Dec I recently helped to coordinate a “hackathon” with the Rockefeller University Science Outreach Program in part to address these questions: How can “making” or “STEAM” play out in the Life Sciences classroom? What role can digital design and fabrication tools have in the Life Sciences Classroom? How can physical computing tools and creative coding contribute to the Life Sciences classroom? On a Saturday, we gathered about 30 educators, mostly life sciences teachers, but also technology and art teachers, from the NYC area. We had about 50% public teacher participation. We also invited 30 prominent biologists, biohackers, and engineers to spend the day tinkering, exploring, and prototyping project ideas with an abundance of materials and tools. Here is that list of supplies. The morning started with a few short presentations in an auditorium. I spoke about Digital Design/Fabrication, and Physical/Creative Computing. My slides are here. Then we had Sebastian Kraves and Zeke Alvarez-Saavedra from miniPCR give a presentation about their project to make DNA amplification through the Polymerase Chain Reaction accessible to anyone. Finally, Sarah Weisberg from the BioBus, gave a presentation on their travelling Bio Lab and the MiScope, a portable

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

Podcast: Menopause and Mental Health

This episode we talk with Beth Waters of the McEwen Laboratory about menopause, and how estrogen affects the brain in mice. Beth takes us through her research and its implications, not only in women, but in understanding the brain in general, and how it reacts to stress.   Photo courtesy of Elf Sternberg    

Podcast: Can you hear the shape of a drum?

Can you tell the shape of a drum just by hearing it?  Phil Kidd walks us through this historical physics problem, how it relates to modern quantum physics, and how it can help us get smaller phones and faster electronics.  

Hard Paste Problems

By Nadia Jaber Picture courtesy Paul Townsend I was 18 when I found out that I was one of millions on the path to cardiovascular disease. My high cholesterol levels left me to begrudgingly curb my cheese addiction and, even worse, work out. We all know that eating right and exercising regularly can protect our bodies, but what happens when that isn’t enough? I learned that for people like me, nature is just as big of a contributor to heart health as nurture. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a collection of diseases in which clogged blood vessels cause damage to the heart, brain, arms, legs, or lungs. CVD begins with atherosclerosis, a medical term for hardened arteries (it literally means hard paste in Greek). Cigarette smoke, high blood pressure, or elevated levels of cholesterol can cause damage to the inner lining of blood vessels. More cholesterol and other fats, as well as cells and cellular debris, become stuck at the injury site and form a mass called a plaque. The plaque will continue to grow in thickness and in area over many years, and may grow so large as to completely block blood flow through the artery. In other cases,

Tiny, parasitic wasps are really cool. (5 reasons why I spent two years watching wasp sex)

In college, I spent two years of my life asking: when two species of wasps mate, why do their hybrid offspring die? To try and figure this out, I watched wasps have sex, counted the eggs they laid after mating, counted any adults that survived from those eggs, mated the survivors to other wasps, ground them up, and checked one of their genes to see if it was more like one of their parents or the other. After two years, I left the project and lab behind, and still had no idea why hybrid offspring die... until now. A new Science paper demonstrates that I spent my two years looking in entirely the wrong place. It isn’t the wasps’ genes that cause their hybrid offspring to die: it’s their microbiome. Specifically, it is the types of bacteria that the mothers leave behind when they lay their eggs. When the authors added a few specific types of bacteria to hybrid eggs, almost all of the offspring survived. It’s incredibly satisfying to see this question finally answered, and the authors have also done a great job translating their work and putting out lots of resources like the original research paper in Science,

Podcast: Vitamin D

Photo courtesy Robin Danehav Vitamin D. We can get this essential compound by eating vitamin D-rich foods, or by exposing our skin to sunlight.  But most of us don't have enough of it, and the reasons for this vary. Is it necessary to supplement when we are vitamin D deficient? Is vitamin D deficiency really a sign of poor health? Researchers are still working to figure out what vitamin D does, how different levels affect our bodies, and what we can do about it. Dr. Manish Ponda, vitamin D expert, discusses the current state of the field and how he uses Big Data to study vitamin D deficiency across large groups.    

ArtLab: In Translation

by Maryam Zaringhalam, @thisisartlab Given that artists + scientists employ similar approaches to developing their work and that this work is often presented in very similar mediums, it has eluded me for quite some time why art and science are generally thought of as being incompatible. As a result, in December 2012 I launched ArtLab :: The Series to provide a physical space for artists + scientists to come together to talk about their respective crafts, using art as a lens to focus a conversation about science. The ultimate goal is to spark collaborations between these two traditionally disparate communities, using the strengths of each to inform and compliment the other. To get us thinking about our work in a different context with a different set of tools at our disposal. On May 24, 2013, ArtLab presented In Translation: an inside look at the practice of art and science featuring insights from the insightful Gabrielle Rabinowitz, a molecular neurobiologist at the Rockefeller University + senior editor // regular contributor for The Incubator, and Dylan Zavagno, a Brooklyn-based poet. With the much-appreciated help of co-moderator Rachel Broderick [co-founder // creative director of Brooklyn-based mixed-media arts company Our Ladies] and our ever-enthusiastic

Podcast: Symmetry

If you place a ball on the top of a perfectly symmetric hill, it shouldn't move. At least, not if you're a theoretical physicist. In practice, we all know the ball will 'choose' a side. So, nature breaks symmetry. How do physicists deal with symmetry breaking in nature and what does this mean for biologists? In this episode we talk with scientist Philip Kidd, visiting student in Dr. Eric D. Sigga's Laboratory of Theoretical Condensed Matter Physics. He tells us about the symmetry of physics, and how it translates to the natural world (or doesn't). Further reading a review of biological symmetry breaking from NCBI a video of a hydra cut in half and then regenerating our first podcast, on DEET and mosquitoes Image courtesy of DOE joint genome institute.