An ongoing series that aims to introduce young, aspiring scientists to topics that spark their curiosity. High school students interview scientists, challenge misconceptions about science and scientists, and explore connections between science, technology, art, and society.

Dr. Rick Lifton on genes, genomes, and the future of medicine

by Ella Epstein Over the summer, Rockefeller University president Dr. Lifton gave a lecture on the impact of genetics on human health and disease. Interested to learn more, I reached out to Dr. Lifton to ask him more about his work.

Shai Shaham on creativity in science and music

Steven Lewis sat down with Dr. Shai Shaham, head of the Laboratory of Developmental Genetics at Rockefeller University, to discuss how growing up surrounded by both science and music has shaped Dr. Shaham's perspective on creativity. Research in the Shaham lab uses the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans to study both programmed cell death during animal development and the roles of glial cells in nervous system development and function. Shai Shaham outside his laboratory with one of two C. elegans created by Coco 144 What attracted you to science and who have been your biggest influences? "The biggest influence for me going into science was probably my dad, who was an astrophysicist. Growing up, I heard about the science of celestial bodies and was always fascinated by it. I started out pretty sure I would become an astronomer or physicist." Your sister and brother, Orli and Gil Shaham, are professional musicians and I understand you play and perform as well. What was it like growing up in such a musical household? "My parents were both musical. My mom is a human cytogeneticist and my dad was an astrophysicist and they both played. My mom played piano and my dad violin. I remember, growing up, they would play

#FeeltheMath: finding a balance between passion and data

By Wiley Schubert Reed Photo: Bernie Sanders Rally @ RFK Stadium in Washington D.C., by Johnathan Comer Gravitational waves exist, climate change is real, and Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for President of the United States. Last fall, nearly all polling suggested that Donald Trump would win the Republican nomination. But political leaders and pundits trusted their guts instead of the math. Few believed his run would succeed, and the Republican establishment did little to stop it. Today, Trump is preparing for the General Election, just as the polls predicted. In his article, How I Acted Like A Pundit And Screwed Up On Donald Trump, data expert Nate Silver admits making a “big mistake” by “selectively interpreting the evidence” and using “subjective odds” rather than basing estimates on a statistical model. Had he stuck to a data-driven approach, he concedes, he would have predicted Trump’s upsurge far earlier (he went back and ran data from the fall and winter to confirm). Similarly, this spring, New York Times columnist and Hillary Clinton supporter Paul Krugman wrote an OpEd piece advising Bernie Sanders supporters who were “Feeling the Bern” to instead “Feel the math.” The data clearly forecasted Clinton as

#microbiome: unraveling truth from hype

by Ella Epstein Almost every day, new research emerges on how the microbiome* will help us address obesity, protect us from disease, or shape our behavior. Recent research ties the microbial communities inside us to everything from digestive disorders to autism. Scientists are looking to harness and manipulate the microbiome to treat diabetes, malnutrition, obesity, asthma, colon cancer, and more. If that sounds like an ambitious goal, it is--scientists have not yet developed any FDA-approved drugs that alter the microbiome. Last month, The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced their National Microbiome Initiative, investing over $121 million to “to foster the integrated study of microbiomes across different ecosystems.” As with any sweeping initiative (see the 2013 BRAIN Initiative designed to advance technologies for neuroscience research), hype and truth can often become dangerously intertwined, breeding misconceptions about science that can do serious damage to people’s health. Some people, feeling like they've exhausted the possibilities of modern science, try to hack their microbiome to improve their health. In fact, as we learn more and more about the ecosystem inside us, the number of ways to “cleanse,” “detox,” and “restore” balance in our bodies grows and grows. Take the booming,

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

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