Devon Collins

“It’s pretty hokey and sentimental, my favorite thing about being a scientist is getting to act in the service of humanity. Like, it’s pretty amazing knowing that my work contributes in some way to solving humans’ problems. I actually did always want to be a scientist. I always pretended to be a scientist working in a lab, curing diseases or building technologies that would save the world from some huge problem. I was a huge Star Trek nerd growing up, and despite the hilariously bad TV technobabble, I always liked how Gene Roddenberry and co. recognized science as being a huge part of human advancement. That really resonated with me.”

What science diplomacy taught me about science

by Maryam Zaringhalam   With the Rio Olympic games around the corner, I am reminded of the unifying power of sports. At the risk of playing into the stereotype of a scientist, I must admit I am by no means a sports fan. But I cannot help but admire that for the last 120 years, nations have set aside their differences to congregate in competition. Of course, this year’s Olympics have also been surrounded by a darker cloud: the looming global threat of Zika virus. With a coalition of scientists around the world mobilizing to address this danger, the epidemic underscores the unifying power of yet another more unsung global endeavor: science. International scientific cooperation is nothing new. From the threat of epidemics to the mysteries of our origins, the questions and challenges scientists tackle are universal. The language we use to discuss them, a common tongue. Despite this international view of science, the term “Science Diplomacy (SD)” still sounded strange to my ear. The concept of scientist as diplomat struck me as paradoxical — a stark contrast between the archetypes of the antisocial, hyperintellectual scientist and the sleek, socially savvy diplomat. That is, until I took Rockefeller University’s Science

Using music as a medium to teach science: what Rebecca Black and Lin-Manuel Miranda can teach us about science education

by Anna Zeidman In 2013, I diligently, eagerly learned the complete anatomy of the human skeleton. Today, I can barely recall the parts of the hip bone, much less identify their features. In 2011, Rebecca Black released her now infamous music video, "Friday." Five years later, I still can’t get through a Friday without thinking of Rebecca Black “kickin’ in the front seat.” Whether we like it or not, pop music is powerful. We describe pop music as “catchy” and call songs “earworms." Often against our wishes, music sticks with us.  But for every cringe-worthy teeny bopper hit we can’t get out of our heads, there is a musical gem that resonates with us so deeply that we can’t help but listen to it on repeat for days. Broadway sensation Hamilton won a record-breaking 16 Tony nominations by “changing the language of musicals” and “insisting that the forms of song most frequently heard on pop radio stations in recent years — rap, hip-hop, R&B ballads — have both the narrative force and the emotional interiority to propel a hefty musical about long-dead white men whose solemn faces glower from the green bills in our wallets (Ben Brantley, NYTimes)." Going further, Hamilton creator

Wiley Schubert Reed’s argument for the arts

by Wiley Schubert Reed Credit: Bill McConkey, Wellcome Images This is part of an ongoing series that aims to introduce young, aspiring scientists to topics that spark their curiosity. New York City high school student Wildman S. R. explored how art drives the creation of technologies that improve people's lives. More than 2,500 of the world’s leading business, government, academic and cultural influencers gathered this past January in Davos, Switzerland to discuss how new and emerging technologies will revolutionize humanity. World Economic Forum (WEF) Founder Klaus Schwab describes this Fourth Industrial Revolution as “a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.” Moreover, Schwab asserts, “there has never been a time of greater promise, or greater potential peril.” New technologies have the power to change the world for the better, but also for the worse. Gene editing technologies like CRISPR have the potential to cure genetic diseases, but also create the possibility for bio engineered eugenics (The CRISPR Quandary). As digital networks expand and intertwine, the chance for cataclysmic systems failure expands as well: a single hack or act of cyber terror could shut down the power or crash the markets of

One step forward, two steps back….?

by Judith M. Reichel One step forward, two steps back By Judith M. Reichel, PhD The Status Quo So much has been said and written about the “special kind of hell” that often describes the daily life of a postdoctoral research fellow. There have been objections against the poor pay and horrid hours, advice on how to combine a young family with the demands of a prosperous career, and many other more or less specific issues regarding the career choices and trajectories of postdocs. But after all this reporting, writing, and the discussions – what has actually been achieved? Small steps Unfortunately, not much has really changed. While there have been some isolated improvements for more pay, they are limited to a select few universities. In January 2016, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) released guidelines announcing slightly augmented postdoc stipends and yearly stipend increases. However, until each institute where postdocs are employed enforces these guidelines, postdoc stipends remain at the discretion of all-too-powerful PIs. The National Postdoctoral Association (NPA), established in 2003, is trying to rectify this situation. Yet, the NPA is still a fairly young organization, struggling with its own organization and without a big enough budget to put some well-deserved

Ella Epstein on genome editing with CRISPR

by Ella Epstein This is part of an ongoing series that aims to introduce young, aspiring scientists to topics that spark their curiosity. New York City high school student Ella E. spoke with Dr. Kivanc Birsoy, Head of the Rockefeller University Laboratory of Metabolic Regulation and Genetics, to learn more about the CRISPR DNA editing system and its implications for the future. If you have kept an eye on the news lately, you have probably heard of a breakthrough discovery called CRISPR. Scientists are hailing this bacterial immunity system as the biggest step in genome editing since PCR, and it has been the topic of an international debate over the ethics of human genome editing. (For a quick primer on CRISPR and how it works, check out this great video by science writer Carl Zimmer). Dr. Kivanc Birsoy, Head of the Rockefeller University Laboratory of Metabolic Regulation and Genetics, uses CRISPR to study cancer and cellular metabolism. Specifically, his lab uses CRISPR to identify what metabolic pathways are best to target for therapy. “We basically design ways to knock out all the metabolic genes in the genome at once using CRISPR,” explained Dr. Birsoy. “We ask the question of which of these genes is important to

On Using a Makerspace for STEM Education

The Maker Movement has proved itself to be a valuable component of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education ecosystem. The underlying philosophy of this movement involves open-ended creativity, development of critical thinking and intellectual flexibility, as well as instill confidence and a sense of accomplishment. The blueprints for building a makerspace are fairly straightforward, and usually incorporates a few key items like 3D printers, sewing machines, power tools, soldering gear, and maybe a laser cutter. But is it as simple as “build it and they will come?” To help answer the question of “So you have a makerspace, now what?” Jaymes Dec, middle school technology teacher and founder of NYC Makery, served up some valuable advice at our recent SOWING Circle Meetup (SOWING stands for Science Outreach Working to Inspire the Next Generation, and is a gathering for anyone who works as a STEM educator to share resources and brainstorm ideas). In his talk, Jaymes outlined a series of questions to help educators maximize the impact of making in STEM. What is a makerspace? According to Jaymes, a makerspace is simply a space where people use a set of shared tools for making things. There is usually a facilitator

For NYC High Schoolers, STEM Career Day Outranks Watching Netflix

"My friends are watching Netflix, I get to be here!" @NYCSchools #STEMmatters Career Day @RockefellerUniv #RockEdu — Science Outreach (@rockedu_) November 3, 2015 Over fifty NYC public high school students made the trek to The Rockefeller University for the Fourth Annual STEM Matters NYC Career Day on Tuesday, November 3. The NYC Department of Education (DOE) sponsors this unique opportunity to give high schoolers an inside peek into careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Students could register for both a morning and an afternoon session, choosing from a diverse list of 23 companies including the American Museum of Natural History, CVS Health, and Murray’s Cheese. The Rockefeller University Collaborative Research Center (CRC) Along with a representative from the NYC DOE, I greeted students as they arrived at Rockefeller’s 66th Street gates. We spoke with students about their interests and goals related to STEM. The students’ eyes danced with wonder as they walked up towards the glass facade of the Collaborative Research Center (CRC). “All my friends are watching Netflix, and I get to be here!” one student beamed. Wasting no time, students signed in, took off their backpacks, and separated into lab tour groups. Scientists

From Bench to Policy

by Avital Percher and Devon Collins Rockefeller attracts people who are passionate about science. It is therefore no surprise that many researchers here move from behind their workbenches to get involved in projects that bring science beyond York Avenue. From art projects to public outreach, these endeavors demonstrate an interest in establishing ties between scientific and public communities. One aspect of this public engagement is science diplomacy, which focuses on the use of diplomatic efforts for the furtherance of science and vice versa (a more detailed description was made in last year’s article1). While science diplomacy might seem an esoteric concept, best left to political science majors and bureaucracy lovers, we posit that the general scientific community's involvement in this field is critical. Unfortunately, among scientists, the importance of science diplomacy is often poorly appreciated and afforded little priority. For those who are less familiar with this topic, we strongly encourage taking the Science and Diplomacy class being taught on campus for the past few years (and being taught again this spring through the generosity of the Hurford Foundation). The class goes on for roughly six weeks, and brings in a wide variety of speakers from different fields and organizations.

Four Things I Learned by Starting a Science Podcast

By John Borghi Last week, I released the first official episode of Bold Signals- a podcast where I attempt to capture the human side of science. In each episode, I interview either a scientist about the lived experience of doing science or a non-scientist about how they experience science in their everyday life. If this sounds interesting, you can stream the podcast on SoundCloud or download it through iTunes. A new episode will come out every Wednesday this summer, with a second season starting sometime in the Fall. I started the podcast because I wanted to reveal the struggles and frustrations that exist between the lines of the results and discussion sections of scientific articles. But, even in the short time I've been working on Bold Signals, I've learned a whole lot about how science is produced, applied, and communicated. Here are the bullet points: 1. Making a podcast isn’t so difficult (except when it is) On some level, recording a podcast is as simple as plugging in some microphones and talking with some neat people for about an hour. Before I conducted the first interview, I spent a long time researching recording equipment, editing software, and hosting options. I interrogated experienced

RockU Friday: Painting with Light

by Meredith Wright Materials: Digital SLR (or any camera that allows for adjustment of exposure time) Tripod or sturdy surface A room that is very dark Flashlights or other materials that emit light Kids or kids at heart I watched with amusement as students filed into the Carson Family Auditorium at Rockefeller University. Their tiny heads bobbing barely above the chair backs, their toes not touching the floor. The excitement that these small students displayed, far exceeding their physical size. A few weeks ago, the Science Outreach Program (SOP) at Rockefeller hosted the final Friday night science session for children of Rockefeller employees. The program, dubbed RockU Fridays, caters to K-8 children and aims to teach about science through hands-on activities. This last session focused on the principles of bioluminescence--that is, when organisms give off light. The Lead Scientist of the SOP, Beth Waters, first took the children through an overview of bioluminescence. She explained that organisms create light for a variety of purposes, from attracting their prey to communicating with other organisms. Beth gave some examples of bioluminescent animals (I was surprised how well the children could identify the anglerfish, which made a cameo in “Finding Nemo”), and emphasized