Maryam Zaringhalam

“I have a small confession: I actually hate bench work. Pipetting is really not for me. The part I love about being a scientist is hanging around with my labmates and just letting our imaginations run wild with what could be going on in the organisms we study. That’s the most fun for me. People often don’t appreciate how valuable an active imagination is for doing science. But imagination is essential when you’re constantly trying to come up with hypotheses and explanations for the weird, unexpected things we see in the lab. Then the scientific method comes in to check those hypotheses and keep us honest.

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

Spotlight on Kadiatou Dao: tackling biological nonproliferation in Mali

by Maryam Zaringhalam   CRDF Global Robin Copeland Memorial Fellow Kadiatou Dao shares her journey to becoming a leader in biological nonproliferation in Mali and why women are so critical to the field. Kadiatou Dao “Women are the key to peace,” Kadiatou Dao declared to an eager audience at CRDF Global headquarters in April. Founded in 1995, CRDF Global is a nonprofit organization that promotes international scientific and technical collaboration through a number of incredible programs including the Robin Copeland Memorial Fellowship. The award recognizes a woman leader working to promote nonproliferation in emerging countries. So as the 2015 fellow, Dao is uniquely qualified to make such a bold and inspiring statement. With funding through the U.S. Department of State, she has spent the last year gaining the expertise to tackle biological nonproliferation of infectious disease in her mother country of Mali. I had the great fortune of meeting Dao when Rockefeller University’s Science Diplomacy class visited CRDF Global. There, she shared her experiences — which include working in the bacterial meningitis diagnostics at Mali’s National Institute of Research in Public Health and studying malaria’s resistance to drugs at the University Pierre et Marie CURIE in Paris —

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

Living in 3D // Real-D

by Maryam Zaringhalam, @thisisartlab The most outrageous-seeming science fiction constructions have a rather amazing longstanding habit of becoming reality. It’s actually almost impossible [for me at least] to imagine that in the not-so distant past space travel // robots // the Internet existed solely in the imaginations of sci-fi writers + consumers. Despite being a Millennial, well-versed + up-to-date in the latest-and-greatest innovations and gadgetry, I can't help but have my mind utterly blown each time science fiction becomes fact. My latest obsession? 3D PRINTING. 3D printing blood vessel networks out of sugar using the Rep Rap at University of Pennsylvania. As its name suggests, 3D printing creates an object from a three-dimensional digital model, known as a CAD [Computer-Aided Design] file. To print a 3D product out of this virtual blueprint, the CAD file is sliced into a series of 2D cross-sections. Successive slices are printed, stacked, and fused one on top of the other much like a standard inkjet printer, but instead of ink, 3D printer cartridges deposit drops of materials like rubber, plastics, metals, and more. Because 3D objects are printed + stacked layer by layer from the ground up, 3D printing is often referred to as

Aesthetically Speaking

By Maryam Zaringhalam, @thisisartlab A couple weeks ago, I sat in on a lecture at Columbia University that addressed four open questions in computer science. To be perfectly honest, due to a rather severe case of jet lag and a certain rustiness where math is concerned, I quickly lost interest as the professor began to delve deeper into the mathematics behind each problem. What struck me most about his talk, however, was what brought him to these problems in the first place. For him, these computational conundrums are quite simply “beautiful questions." The winner of Northwestern University's "Capturing the Beauty of Science" competition. Graphene oxide. Image by Andrea Towers. Science-speak is laden with the language of aesthetics. We evaluate our hypotheses + theories in terms of their simplicity // symmetry // unity—by any criteria that distills the chaotic nature of the world around us into a simple assertion—and call them elegant [e=mc2 // evolution by natural selection]. We deem our supporting evidence—our figures, graphs, microscopic movies—downright gorgeous when they succinctly support our claims, while simultaneously appealing to our visual sensibilities. We even have the overwhelming compulsion to turn our work into a neatly packaged narrative, weaving our data

Smell Check

By Maryam Zaringhalam, @thisisartlab Taken from The Daily Doodle. My name is Maryam and i'm a congenital anosmic. I was born this way—a rare mutant with a lifelong inability to smell Anosmia literally means 'without smell. While I most certainly do have a nose (my grandmother would even say it's impressively large), it is incapable of telling my brain that it is sensing anything. When a person smells, what the nose is actually detecting is a series of tiny odor molecules in the air, which make their way through the nasal passage. There, they bind to odorant receptors located on the surface of olfactory neurons. These receptors recognize a given odor molecule by its characteristic shape and size. Once a particular receptor binds and recognizes an odor, it initiates a series of changes in the neuron. This neuron then *fires* a chemical message, setting off a chain of events—a signaling cascade—that relays the presence of that particular smell up to the brain. The average person can bind and distinguish up to 10,000 different odor molecules, which is a whole heck of a lot considering humans have a relatively poor sense of smell! I, on the other hand, have a genetic mutation—a

Riddles in the Dark

By Maryam Zaringhalam, @thisisartlab Moray eel in Japan ”We know more about space than we do our oceans, even though the oceans sustain all life on our planet.” - Sylvia Earle To the obligate land-dweller, life underwater is just about as foreign as life on other planets. Hidden from our land-centric consciousness, the average human seldom considers our aquatic counterparts, even though they frequently end up on our dinner plates. Out of sight. Out of mind. And yet, all modern life—aquatic and land-dwelling—was born from water. We share a common unicellular ancestor that serendipitously emerged in the water 3.5 billion years ago. So in the grand scheme of things, these aquatic aliens are actually more like our long-lost cousins.  But somehow, in the last 50 years we have eaten our way through over 90% of the ocean’s big fish—the tuna, the sharks, the marlin. We have, through widespread bottom trawling practices, destroyed hundreds of seamounts and ancient coral systems. Our influence in recent history has placed an enormous strain on our underwater relations and their habitat. Unfortunately, our impact has gone largely unnoticed, because the underwater world remains concealed from our conscientious consciousness. In an effort to reveal this hidden

Fractaled Atlas

By Maryam Zaringhalam, @thisisartlab fractals in nature. snail shell // milky way // leaf veins // motor neuron No matter where we look in the natural world, we are sure to find recurring patterns. As a result, natural scientists devote their careers to [humbly] attempt to find and define these very patterns. The most abundant of these natural motifs is arguably the fractal—a geometric structure that can be subdivided into smaller parts that look roughly similar to the whole. Take the branching pattern of the veins on a leaf as an example: zoom into one of those branches, and you'll find that it's reminiscent of the overarching branching structure // zoom into one of those branches' branches and you'll find the same thing... over and over again! At their core, fractals are simply the geometric result of repeating the same pattern over and over at a smaller and smaller scale—increasingly tiny patterns within a greater overarching motif. But fractals are the ultimate paradox. Though they are built on simple repetitions, they are infinitely complex. You can subdivide // zoom in // subdivide // zoom in and you'll still see the same [or similar] patterns emerging and repeating with

Evolution by Aesthetic Design

By Maryam Zaringhalam, @thisisartlab Biological evolution is the change in gene frequencies in populations over successive generations through forces like mutation, natural selection, and genetic drift. But at its most basic conceptual level, evolution is simply change over time. Since life is not stagnant, but perpetually moving forward, we can make analogies between evolution and just about anything we experience. But how can we use these analogies to glean something meaningful about our experiences? In an experiment called DarwinTunes, bioinformatician Robert MacCallum at Imperial College London put the analogy into practice in an attempt to evolve music from noise.  By applying basic evolutionary principles, he hoped to gain some insight into what aural // aesthetic forces underlie audience experience of music. For musical evolution to proceed, MacCullum and his team first generated a population of noises—the origin for [Darwinian] musicality to come. Because the origin of life was devoid of any human intervention, they used an algorithm to generate a series of computer programs, or "digital genomes," thereby limiting their influence on the generative process. Just as our DNA genomes hold all the information needed to build us, each program specifies how to build a particular short sound loop by determining

Welcome to ArtLab

By Maryam Zaringhalam Photo taken from Iain McGilchrist’s TED talk “The Divided Brain” Oversimplification is the kryptonite of any scientific idea, oftentimes turning pop science into an elaborate game of telephone, carelessly paring away all the nuances and caveats that make the idea so impactful in the first place. The lateralization of the brain, first studied by Michael Gazzaniga and Roger Walcott Sperry in the 1960s, has been perhaps the biggest victim of bastardization by oversimplification. The left brain//right brain divide has been pigeonholing folks for decades now, neatly sorting us into the science-oriented versus the artistically-inclined. The rational male versus the emotional female. The *Spocks* versus the *Kirks*. The practical, ordered, and scientific world is the territory of the left brain, while the imaginative, aesthetic, artistic world is the right brain’s domain… … the problem with such a black-and-white picture is that it doesn’t account for all the grey in your grey matter. Sure, neuroscientists agree that the right hemisphere sees the bigger, interconnected picture, and that the left hemisphere picks out details and organizes information to create a sort of rule-bound world. However, regardless of whether math or science or business or literature or philosophy is