Tagged: Women in STEM Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • richardmitnick 4:31 pm on May 22, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Barbara Grosz, , Everett Mendelsohn Award, , Women in STEM   

    From Paulson: Women in STEM – “Barbara Grosz wins graduate mentoring award” 

    Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
    Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

    May 17, 2017

    Barbara Grosz

    Grosz honored during 19th annual Everett Mendelsohn Award Ceremony.

    Barbara Grosz, Higgins Professor of Natural Sciences at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), has received the Everett Mendelsohn Excellence in Mentoring Award from the Graduate Student Council.

    The award, presented to five individuals this year, honors faculty advisors who have gone above and beyond in guiding students along their path to the Ph.D. Students nominate their advisors for the award, which is named in honor of Everett I. Mendelsohn, Professor of the History of Science, Emeritus, and a former master of Dudley House.

    The award celebrates the essential nature of strong mentoring at the graduate level and highlights the crucial role Grosz and her fellow awardees play in fostering caring and intellectually exciting departmental communities.

    A pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence, Grosz seeks to address fundamental problems in modeling collaborative activity, developing systems (“agents”) able to collaborate with each other and their users, and constructing collaborative, multi-modal systems for human-computer communication.

    She has also played an important role as a mentor to women in science and engineering, serving on the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Women in Academic Science and Engineering and on the Association for Computing Machinery Women’s Council Executive Board.

    Grosz’ past doctoral students include Martha Pollack, President of Cornell University; Ehud Reiter, Chair in Computing Science at the School of Natural and Computing Sciences, University of Aberdeen; Luke Hunsberger, Professor of Computer Science at Vassar College; and Cécile Balkanski, Associate Professor at IUT d’Orsay, Université Paris-Sud.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Through research and scholarship, the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) will create collaborative bridges across Harvard and educate the next generation of global leaders. By harnessing the power of engineering and applied sciences we will address the greatest challenges facing our society.

    Specifically, that means that SEAS will provide to all Harvard College students an introduction to and familiarity with engineering and technology as this is essential knowledge in the 21st century.

    Moreover, our concentrators will be immersed in the liberal arts environment and be able to understand the societal context for their problem solving, capable of working seamlessly withothers, including those in the arts, the sciences, and the professional schools. They will focus on the fundamental engineering and applied science disciplines for the 21st century; as we will not teach legacy 20th century engineering disciplines.

    Instead, our curriculum will be rigorous but inviting to students, and be infused with active learning, interdisciplinary research, entrepreneurship and engineering design experiences. For our concentrators and graduate students, we will educate “T-shaped” individuals – with depth in one discipline but capable of working seamlessly with others, including arts, humanities, natural science and social science.

    To address current and future societal challenges, knowledge from fundamental science, art, and the humanities must all be linked through the application of engineering principles with the professions of law, medicine, public policy, design and business practice.

    In other words, solving important issues requires a multidisciplinary approach.

    With the combined strengths of SEAS, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and the professional schools, Harvard is ideally positioned to both broadly educate the next generation of leaders who understand the complexities of technology and society and to use its intellectual resources and innovative thinking to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

    Ultimately, we will provide to our graduates a rigorous quantitative liberal arts education that is an excellent launching point for any career and profession.

  • richardmitnick 3:31 pm on May 22, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Study finds female students less likely to drop engineering program if female mentored, UMASS, Women in STEM   

    From UMASS: via phys.org: Women in STEM “Study finds female students less likely to drop engineering program if female mentored” 


    University of Massachusetts


    May 22, 2017
    Bob Yirka

    Credit: CC0 Public Domain

    A pair of researchers with the University of Massachusetts has found evidence that suggests women are more likely to continue to pursue a degree in engineering if they have a female mentor. Nilanjana Dasgupta, an instructor, and her Ph.D. student Tara Dennehy paired first-year female engineering majors with older mentors for a year and then looked at the impact mentoring had the decision to continue pursuing their degree as they moved into their second year. They have published their findings in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    Far fewer women than men receive bachelor’s degrees in the STEM fields (just 13 to 33 percent), despite women comprising approximately 56 percent of all students attending college in the United States. Dasgupta and Dennehy note that the disparity is most notable in engineering. They suggest the reason that women choose to drop out or to change majors is because many such environments are unfriendly, or even hostile to female students. Quite often, female students are made to feel as if they do not belong. They note also that some efforts have been made to make such environments friendlier, but thus far, little progress has been made. They wondered if female students in such fields might benefit from having a female mentor. To find out, they enlisted the assistance of 150 people (male and female) working as engineers to serve as mentors for 150 female engineering students during their freshman year. The students met with their mentor once a month and were interviewed by the research pair three times during their first year and then again, a year later.

    The researchers found that the female students were much more likely to continue to pursue their engineering degree if they had a female mentor, but not if they had a male mentor (18 percent of them dropped out) or no mentor (11 percent dropped out). They report that all of the female students given a female mentor chose to continue with their major their second year. They also note that mentoring appeared to have a lasting impact, as most of those assigned female mentors reported plans to continue with their engineering degree into their third year.

    See the full article here .

    See also How Women Mentors Make a Difference in Engineering

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    U Mass Amherst campus

    UMass Amherst, the Commonwealth’s flagship campus, is a nationally ranked public research university offering a full range of undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees.

    As the flagship campus of America’s education state, the University of Massachusetts Amherst is the leader of the public higher education system of the Commonwealth, making a profound, transformative impact to the common good. Founded in 1863, we are the largest public research university in New England, distinguished by the excellence and breadth of our academic, research and community outreach programs. We rank 29th among the nation’s top public universities, moving up 11 spots in the past two years in the U.S. News & World Report’s annual college guide.

  • richardmitnick 3:13 pm on May 22, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: A lack of the protein citrin slows children's growth; blocking it in cancer slows tumor growth., , , Dr. Ayelet Erez, , , Women in STEM   

    From Weizmann: Women in STEM – “Rare Genetic Defect May Lead to Cancer Drug” Dr. Ayelet Erez 

    Weizmann Institute of Science logo

    Weizmann Institute of Science

    No writer credit found

    Dr. Ayelet Erez says rare genetic diseases provide a lens on cancer.

    A lack of the protein citrin slows children’s growth; blocking it in cancer slows tumor growth.

    The path to understanding what goes wrong in cancer could benefit from a detour through studies of rare childhood diseases. Dr. Ayelet Erez explains that cancer generally involves dozens – if not hundreds – of mutations, and sorting out the various functions and malfunctions of each may be nearly impossible. Rare childhood diseases, in contrast, generally involve mutations to a single gene. Erez, a geneticist and medical doctor who treats families with genetic cancer in addition to heading a research lab in the Weizmann Institute of Science’s Biological Regulation Department, says that children with rare genetic syndromes may serve as a “lens” when trying to understand the role of a specific gene in a complex disease such as cancer. She and her team have been focusing their sights on a protein they discovered in this way; promising lab tests indicate that blocking this protein might slow the progression of some cancers.

    Her findings place this research in the new field of “cancer metabolism,” which seeks to understand how the aberrant, or uncontrolled metabolic processes in cancers might turned against them to stop their growth.

    She and her team studied cells from children suffering from an extremely rare disease, citrullinemia type II, who are missing the gene for a protein called citrin. Clinically, children with this disease tend to be smaller than average, and to avoid candy. Her research revealed that this protein normally helps keep the body supplied with an amino acid called aspartate which is required to produce DNA and RNA in addition to the breakdown of glucose; so deficiency in this protein causes the cells to divide less.

    Research into another genetic childhood disease, citrullinemia type I, had already given the team the lens they needed to understand how cancer cells rely on aspartate to divide and migrate. Children born with this disease are missing a gene called ASS1; the lack of ASS1 connects the disease to particularly aggressive, hard-to-treat cancers in which this gene tends to be silenced or mutated. Since this gene also requires aspartate to function, Erez and her team surmised that the silencing had less to do with the gene’s function and more with competition for aspartate and the cancer cells’ craving for ever more of this amino acid to help them divide and spread. Interestingly, the dependence on citrin for aspartate supplementation is seen in cancers both with and without ASS1 expression.

    Ayelet and her team realized that citrin – the protein that helps regulate childhood growth – could present a possible target for anticancer therapies. Blocking this protein would hopefully disrupt the cancer’s overactive metabolic cycle, diminish the cancer cells’ aspartate supply and slow their growth, thus making them less aggressive, less likely to spread and possibly more treatable with other, conventional means. To that end, Erez and her group have been developing a molecule to block citrin, and testing it in the lab. Yeda Research and Development Co., Ltd., the technology transfer arm of the Weizmann Institute of Science, is working with Erez to advance her research to the point that it can be developed for biomedical application.

    Dr. Ayelet Erez’s research is supported by the Moross Integrated Cancer Center; the Irving B. Harris Fund; the Adelis Foundation; the Rising Tide Foundation; the Comisaroff Family Trust; and the European Research Council. Dr. Erez is the incumbent of the Leah Omenn Career Development Chair.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Weizmann Institute Campus

    The Weizmann Institute of Science is one of the world’s leading multidisciplinary research institutions. Hundreds of scientists, laboratory technicians and research students working on its lushly landscaped campus embark daily on fascinating journeys into the unknown, seeking to improve our understanding of nature and our place within it.

    Guiding these scientists is the spirit of inquiry so characteristic of the human race. It is this spirit that propelled humans upward along the evolutionary ladder, helping them reach their utmost heights. It prompted humankind to pursue agriculture, learn to build lodgings, invent writing, harness electricity to power emerging technologies, observe distant galaxies, design drugs to combat various diseases, develop new materials and decipher the genetic code embedded in all the plants and animals on Earth.

    The quest to maintain this increasing momentum compels Weizmann Institute scientists to seek out places that have not yet been reached by the human mind. What awaits us in these places? No one has the answer to this question. But one thing is certain – the journey fired by curiosity will lead onward to a better future.

  • richardmitnick 2:45 pm on May 22, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Lily Zerihun, The News&Observer, Women in STEM   

    From Duke via The News&Observer: Women in STEM -“Duke grad, a daughter of immigrants, admitted to 11 medical schools” Lily Zerihun 

    Duke Bloc
    Duke Crest

    Duke University


    The News&Observer

    Lily Zerihun Courtesy of Lily Zerihun

    May 11, 2017
    Abbie Bennett

    Lily Zerihun knows that health care is a privilege not many can afford – and she wants to dedicate her life to changing that.

    Being admitted to 11 medical schools gets her off to a great start.

    Zerihun, 23, of Greensboro, graduated from Duke University in 2016. Her parents emigrated to the United States from Ethiopia, and Zerihun was born soon after. She was raised with a keen understanding of how different her life was from the life she might have led if she had been born in her parents’ home country.

    “Growing up I was always very aware of health-care issues in my own family, including people who had to come to the U.S. for treatment from Ethiopia,” she said. “Or people who, if they lived in the U.S., could have been treated, but had to go without.”

    In the back of her mind, Zerihun wanted to have a role in alleviating the imbalance in global health.

    And it’s not just the difference between health care in the United States and in countries such as Ethiopia. It’s also the disparities right here in the United States.

    “I want to work in some service capacity,” she said. “Being able to directly impact communities in the U.S. and around the world that don’t have access to health care – I want to be someone who makes a difference in that.”

    Zerihun is already on her way to accomplishing that with her 11 medical school offers.

    The application process is long and arduous, and each decision was heart-stopping. When Zerihun got her very first decision – from Wake Forest University – she even made a friend open the email for her.

    “I was too afraid,” she said, laughing. “It didn’t really sink in … I just thought, ‘I’m really going to be a doctor.’”

    As more and more decisions rolled in – from George Washington University, Yale, Duke, North Carolina, East Carolina, Northwestern, Mount Sinai, Emory, NYU and Columbia – Zerihun said it was a “surreal experience.”

    She decided on Columbia.

    Most medical school applicants are fortunate to be admitted to two schools – let alone 11. And many are rejected from every school they apply to. Most medical schools accept less than 10 percent of all applicants.

    But Zerihun says she was raised to work hard and be appreciative, especially given her parents’ background.

    Her father came to the United States to further his education and give his family greater opportunities. He’s a chemist and has been a professor at North Carolina A&T; he’s one of Zerihun’s biggest inspirations.


    “He’s given me the motivation to do well in school, and it’s been really valuable,” she said. “Understanding the struggles that he overcame for his education – finishing his undergrad degree during a time in Ethiopia when scholars were being killed by the government – that journey my father took and the emphasis he put on education has really made a difference for me.”

    Literacy rates in Ethiopia for women are markedly lower than in the United States, and while the number of female, minority and minority female doctors in the United States is low, Zerihun knows she had far greater opportunities here.

    “I knew I had to focus on my education to give back to the women in my community,” she said. “It’s a real motivating force for me.”

    Zerihun said she wants her success to show women and minority students that they can achieve their dreams and enter the field of medicine, regardless of the obstacles.

    “I feel like that’s what my calling is,” she said. “There’s a definite lack of representation in the field, but I’ve managed to find mentors already and that’s really inspiring for me. I hope one day I can be that for someone, too.”

    Zerihun said she hoped to share her story for the next generation of students, because she knows how tough it was for her.

    “Especially in the black community with such an under-representation of black doctors, I’m hoping my story can be an inspiration for people who want to go to medical school.”

    Not only will Zerihun undoubtedly serve as an inspiration for U.S. students who want to follow in her footsteps, she also hopes to give back in her parents’ home country.

    “That’s definitely a strong aspect of my commitment to global health,” she said. “My mother taught me the language and my cultural heritage, and I’m really thankful for that because it gives me a foundation that would allow me to go back to Ethiopia and hopefully contribute.

    “I feel really strongly about giving back. I think Ethiopia could be a strong hub for health care across the African continent and on an international scale, and I’m excited to see how I can be part of bringing that vision for Ethiopia and African health care for that undeserved population.”

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition
    Duke Campus

    Younger than most other prestigious U.S. research universities, Duke University consistently ranks among the very best. Duke’s graduate and professional schools — in business, divinity, engineering, the environment, law, medicine, nursing and public policy — are among the leaders in their fields. Duke’s home campus is situated on nearly 9,000 acres in Durham, N.C, a city of more than 200,000 people. Duke also is active internationally through the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore, Duke Kunshan University in China and numerous research and education programs across the globe. More than 75 percent of Duke students pursue service-learning opportunities in Durham and around the world through DukeEngage and other programs that advance the university’s mission of “knowledge in service to society.”

  • richardmitnick 2:20 pm on May 22, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Elizabeth Olson, Geography, , Women in STEM, Youth Caregivers   

    From UNC: Women in STEM – “Building Support for Youth Caregivers” Elizabeth Olson 

    U NC bloc

    University of North Carolina

    Haley McDougal

    After studying youth caregiving in the United Kingdom, Elizabeth Olson is exploring the topic here in the United States.

    For Elizabeth (Betsy) Olson, living an internationalized life was not unusual. Although she grew up in Denver, Colo., Olson has lived in many places around the world—from spending her college summers in the Philippines, where her father was country director of the Peace Corps, to living in Guatemala and small pueblos in Peru while conducting her doctoral research. Before she became an associate professor of geography and global studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Olson worked in the geography departments at universities in Lancaster, England, and Edinburgh, Scotland.

    But when she was offered a joint position at UNC, Olson said the move made sense for both her family and career.

    “UNC had the kind of reputation that I was happy to move for,” she said. “The geography department has really excellent, exciting scholars, some of whom I had worked with previously, and being able to work with global studies was a bonus.”

    Olson earned her bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Colorado. When she was in Guatemala conducting dissertation research, her work focused on community management of water, but it took a turn when she realized the people she interviewed really wanted to talk about religion.

    “I was going around to different areas and talking to people about water, and they kept wanting to talk to me about religion, and so I ended up thinking, ‘Why in the world would I not study religion?’” Olson said. “It’s part of my duty as a participatory researcher to try and talk about things that are important and matter to people.”

    In the United Kingdom, her work shifted again to her current focus of young caregivers, a topic that would be the central focus of the next four-and-a-half years of the research program she is building.

    “My approach to geography is somewhat unique in the sense that I have actually taken on a lot of different themes through my career, and that reflects both sort of a clarification of my interests, but also new excitements in terms of what I want to look at and what’s compelling me at any given time,” Olson said.

    Supporting Youth Caregivers
    The shift to researching young caregivers began while she was working at the University of Edinburgh, where she was exposed to them as a recognized category of vulnerable youth in the United Kingdom. A youth caregiver is a person under age 18 who cares for a family member, close relative or friend who requires care because of a chronic illness, disability, addiction, mental illness or other characteristics. In the U.K., a caregivers’ bill of rights requires that every government organization abide by certain standards to ensure that the rights of caregivers are being protected, such as provisions that require schools to provide extra support. This could include sending kids to camp, giving them better transportation or providing counseling services.

    In the United States, the federal government only recognizes caregivers if they are over the age of 18. Yet Olson explained that while youth caregivers are often part of mutually beneficial relationships with those whom they care for, they still face challenges and responsibilities that their peers do not have to contend with.

    “A youth caregiver who gets up in the morning, perhaps helps grandma or grandpa get up out of their bed, gets themselves prepared for the day, helps them ensure that they’re getting breakfast, sits them down in a chair, checks their oxygen tanks and then leaves for school—even just working through that scenario, you can imagine the kind of stress that often goes with that job,” Olson said.

    Although people who serve as caregivers in their youth can go on to thrive as adults, Olson explained this added labor can also have negative impacts. Many suffer from high stress levels, depression, chronic tardiness and absenteeism, and may have difficult transitions into young adulthood. The added responsibility of caregiving may also cause this population to delay or decline to go to college.

    In the United States, the scope of youth caregiving and associated difficulties is unknown, largely due to the lack of information and data available. There has only been one national prevalence study that was conducted in 2005 on the topic. Olson is currently working with several collaborators around the world to adapt their models of research to conduct a prevalence study in North Carolina.

    “For youth caregivers, even just being acknowledged for the value of their caregiving is so important, but then taking that additional step and supporting them is what I think my collaborators and I are moving toward, hopefully,” she said.

    Advocating for Youth Caregiver Research
    Olson currently heads various research projects involving youth caregiving across the United States. She was recently named a recipient of the federally funded Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) Pipeline to Proposal Awards program, which will allow her to work directly with caregiving families who have youth caring for aging adults, known as “bookend caregivers.”

    The Caregiving Youth Research Collaborative (CYRC) is one of Olson’s projects that began with a small grant from the Odom Institute at UNC. In May 2015, Olson was able to gather U.S. researchers, advocates and practitioners for an interdisciplinary workshop that focused on improving research in the area of youth caregiving in the U.S.

    Olson said although the puzzle is always how to get research funded in an area that nobody knows about, she has felt fully supported by her colleagues at UNC.

    “What I do is I tend to walk into offices, and I say, ‘I’m researching this thing that isn’t even a category in the United States, and no one knows about it; can you help me?’ and the answer has consistently been yes,” she said.

    Olson will be a fellow of the Center for Urban and Regional Studies during the Spring 2017 semester and will be studying the transitions of young caregivers into adulthood.

    “That will be pretty exciting because I know that we have some young adult caregivers at UNC,” she said. “I don’t think we know how to support them in their studies, so I’m really hopeful that what this would do is think about barriers to higher education.”

    Olson plans to continue to study geographies of religion and young caregivers in the future.

    “In my perfect world, we would all be talking about caregiving a lot more and how we are going to do it,” she said. For Olson, this would include federal recognition of youth caregivers and access to services to support them. But it would also mean creating an environment in which youth caregivers feel respected and their families feel both secure and proud of their accomplishments.

    Given that recognition and support, Olson believes youth caregivers would not only be empowered to make decisions based on their skills and ambitions as they transition to adulthood, but would be in a position to teach us something about caregiving.

    “We could all learn about care from them, both the challenging and the really rewarding dimensions of it,” she explained. Olson will be listening and learning from them. “I’ve been working at this for four-and-a-half years—I’m not about to give up now.”

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition</a

    U NC campus

    Carolina’s vibrant people and programs attest to the University’s long-standing place among leaders in higher education since it was chartered in 1789 and opened its doors for students in 1795 as the nation’s first public university. Situated in the beautiful college town of Chapel Hill, N.C., UNC has earned a reputation as one of the best universities in the world. Carolina prides itself on a strong, diverse student body, academic opportunities not found anywhere else, and a value unmatched by any public university in the nation.

  • richardmitnick 11:26 am on May 17, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , Maura McLaughlin, , , , Women in STEM   

    From Physics: Women in STEM – “Q and A: Catching a Gravitational Wave with a Pulsar’s Beam” Maura McLaughlin 

    Physics LogoAbout Physics

    Physics Logo 2


    May 12, 2017
    Katherine Wright

    Maura McLaughlin explains how the electromagnetic signals from fast-spinning neutron stars could be used to detect gravitational waves.

    Maura McLaughlin. Greg Ellis/West Virginia University

    Pulsars captivate Maura McLaughlin, a professor at West Virginia University. These highly magnetized neutron stars flash beams of electromagnetic radiation as they spin. And with masses equivalent to that of the Sun, but diameters seventy thousand times smaller, they are—besides black holes—the densest objects in the Universe. Astrophysicists still have many questions about pulsars, ranging from how they emit electromagnetic radiation to why they are so incredibly dense. But it’s exploiting the highly stable, periodic electromagnetic signals of pulsars to study gravitational waves that currently has McLaughlin hooked. In an interview with Physics, she explained where her fascination with pulsars came from, what gravitational-wave sources she hopes to detect, and why she recently visited Washington, D.C., to talk with members of Congress.

    With the 2015 detection of gravitational waves, it’s obviously an exciting time to work in astrophysics. But what initially drew you to the field and to pulsars?

    The astrophysicist Alex Wolszczan. I met him in the early 90s while I was an undergrad at Penn State, and just after he had discovered the first extrasolar planets. These planets were orbiting a pulsar—lots of people don’t know that. I found this pulsar system fascinating and ended up working with Wolszczan one summer as a research assistant. I got to go to Puerto Rico to observe pulsars at the Arecibo Observatory, which is the biggest telescope in the world. The experience was really cool.
    How do researchers detect gravitational waves with pulsars?

    The collaboration that I’m part of—NANOGrav—is searching for changes in the travel time of the pulsar’s radio emission due to the passing of gravitational waves.


    NANOGrave Gravitational waves JPL-Caltech David Champion

    When a gravitational wave passes between us and the pulsar, it stretches and squeezes spacetime, causing the pulse to arrive a bit earlier or later than it would in the absence of the wave. We time the arrival of pulsar signals for years to try to detect these small changes.
    What gravitational-wave-producing events do you expect to detect with pulsars? Could you see the same events as LIGO did?

    LIGO is sensitive to very short time-scale gravitational waves, on the order of milliseconds to seconds, while our experiment is sensitive to very long time-scale gravitational waves, on the order of years. We could never detect gravitational waves from two stellar-mass black holes merging—the time scale of the event is just too short. But we will be able to detect waves from black hole binaries in their inspiralling stage, when they’re still orbiting each other with periods of years. Also, our approach can only detect black holes that are much more massive that those LIGO observed. Our primary targets are supermassive black holes, even more massive than the one at the core of the Milky Way.

    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo Hanford, WA, USA installation

    Caltech/MIT Advanced aLigo detector installation Livingston, LA, USA

    Cornell SXS, the Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) project

    Gravitational waves. Credit: MPI for Gravitational Physics/W.Benger-Zib

    ESA/eLISA the future of gravitational wave research

    LIGO is basically probing the evolution and end products of stars, whereas our experiment is probing the evolution of galaxies and the cosmos. We’ll be able to look way back in time at the processes by which galaxies formed through mergers.
    The first detection of gravitational waves was front-page news. What impact has it had on your research?

    I, and others in NANOGrav, got lots of condolences after LIGO’s detection, like “oh we’re sorry you weren’t first.” But it’s been good for us. It has really spurred us on to make a detection. And it has made us more optimistic—if it worked for LIGO it should work for us, as our methods are rooted in the same principles. None of us doubted gravitational waves existed, but as far as funding agencies and the public go, LIGO’s detection makes a big difference. Now people can’t say, “Who knows if these things exist?” or “Who knows if these methods work?” LIGO’s detection has shown they do exist and the methods do work.

    Apart from doubters, what other challenges do you face with your pulsar experiment?

    Right now, our most significant challenge is that our radio telescopes are in danger of being shut down. Both Arecibo and the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in West Virginia are suffering significant funding cuts.

    NAIC/Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico, USA

    GBO radio telescope, Green Bank, West Virginia, USA

    Many of our NANOGrav discussions lately are about what we can do to retain access to these telescopes. Losing one of these telescopes would reduce our experiment’s sensitivity by roughly half and increase the time to detection by at least several years. If we lose both, our project is dead in the water. Arecibo and GBT are currently the two most sensitive radio telescopes in the world . I think its crazy that they are possibly being shut down.

    [Do not forget FAST-China]

    FAST radio telescope, now operating, located in the Dawodang depression in Pingtang county Guizhou Province, South China

    What are you doing to address the problem?

    I recently spent two days on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., talking to senators and House representatives trying to make the case to keep GBT open. Most of the politicians actually agreed it should stay open; it’s just a matter of funding. Science in general just doesn’t have enough funding.

    How do you frame the issues when talking to politicians about science?

    I try really hard to stress the opportunities for training students, the infrastructure, and the number of people who work at these telescopes. The technologies developed at the facilities are cutting edge and can be used for more than studying space. The science is incredibly interesting, but that in itself doesn’t always appeal to everybody.

    With the current administration, arguments of US prominence are also really valuable. China [has built ans is operating] a bigger telescope than Arecibo, and soon we won’t have the largest radio telescope in the world. Right now we are world leaders, but if the US wants to keeps its dominance then these telescopes have to remain open.

    With the challenges you face, what would you say to someone thinking of joining this field?

    Despite uncertainties with the telescopes, the future is bright. Now is a really good time to join the field: we’re going to make a detection any day now.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Physicists are drowning in a flood of research papers in their own fields and coping with an even larger deluge in other areas of physics. How can an active researcher stay informed about the most important developments in physics? Physics highlights a selection of papers from the Physical Review journals. In consultation with expert scientists, the editors choose these papers for their importance and/or intrinsic interest. To highlight these papers, Physics features three kinds of articles: Viewpoints are commentaries written by active researchers, who are asked to explain the results to physicists in other subfields. Focus stories are written by professional science writers in a journalistic style and are intended to be accessible to students and non-experts. Synopses are brief editor-written summaries. Physics provides a much-needed guide to the best in physics, and we welcome your comments (physics@aps.org).

  • richardmitnick 8:55 am on May 17, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Pamela Silver, Women in STEM   

    From Harvard: Women in STEM – “‘There was just no way I was going to do what everyone else did’ ” Pamela Silver 

    Harvard University
    Harvard University

    May 16, 2017
    Alvin Powell

    Pamela Silver
    Photos by Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

    In 1960s Silicon Valley Pamela Silver came of age part math nerd, part rebel, absorbing the spirit of both time and place. Think space race. Think Grateful Dead.

    She set out on her scientific career without a plan, propelled by an aptitude for math, an interest in science, and a love of the sometimes frenzied life of the laboratory. That love fueled groundbreaking work on how proteins make their way from the cytoplasm of a cell into the nucleus, a process called nuclear localization. Decades and many discoveries later, the same passion helped establish her as a leader in the fledgling field of synthetic biology.

    Silver was recently named a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is the Elliot T. and Onie H. Adams Professor of Biochemistry and Systems Biology.

    Q: Let’s start at the beginning. You grew up in Atherton, Calif., in Silicon Valley?

    A: [My parents] were both psychotherapists, and it made for an interesting childhood. I think they must have met here [in Boston] and then they moved to the Bay Area probably right after the war, late ’40s, early ’50s. And my father became one of the founders of the Palo Alto Medical Clinic; it was one of the first group practices, sort of soup-to-nuts. [He] was also on the Stanford faculty. They moved to California right at the beginning of the rapid growth of Silicon Valley. We lived in Atherton before it was the richest town in the world. It was kind of cool, these old estates, built by James Flood and his children — big mansions and big land. They were just starting to subdivide it. Our house was one of the first ranch-style homes. It was already kind of upper class, but I didn’t realize that at the time; it was just where we lived.

    Q: You never do when you’re a kid. You just grow up in your surroundings.

    A: The roads were still dirt. The Flood granddaughters still lived there and had horses, so we could walk around and feed the horses. It all seemed very idyllic to me, I guess if I think back on it, which I do more and more. My parents were very high-level thinkers and very intelligent. That obviously set the tone in our household, maybe a little overdoing it. My sister was actually 10 years older, so it was more like I was an only child.

    Q: Is your sister your only sibling?

    A: Yes. My parents did get divorced. We were not a tightknit family but more highly dysfunctional. And in retrospect that was OK in terms of my own independence and things like that.

    At that time in Silicon Valley, everything was very science-oriented. How do we promote science in schools — it was all about the space race and stuff like that. I apparently had precocious math ability. Some on my father’s side of the family had an inclination to mathematics. He nurtured this. He taught me how to play Go when I was 6. Chess, maybe, but Go? Really?

    I won an IBM math contest when I was in junior high, but nobody was pushing me. My parents were so preoccupied with themselves, they just wanted to make sure that I didn’t do anything bad.

    Q: I read that you got a slide rule as a prize?

    A: Yeah, that was the prize. What a hoot. It wasn’t just any slide rule. My slide rule had a beveled edge, so the slider thing was here and you could still use it as a straight edge. What an amazing slide rule. I’ve never been able to find one like it. I also loved homework. I would beg the teachers in elementary school to give me homework, partly because I think it was a way to get lost from the family dysfunction and also it was just interesting.

    Q: What about your early schools?

    A: I went to the public high school, which was nearby, for a year. Then my parents sort of decided that I wasn’t getting the right education. They sent me to a local all-girls high school called Castilleja. It’s one of the few all-girls high schools left. It didn’t seem to emphasize science very much. The times were very disruptive. There was a lot of protest and the Vietnam War, and there you are in the all-girls school. It was a bit odd.

    Q: You said it wasn’t heavy on science. Was your interest in —

    A: My interest was independence. I have to say I was kind of a wild kid in high school. Let’s be honest, there was a fair amount of recreational drug-taking and going to the Fillmore Auditorium — I was heavily into the music of the times. The Grateful Dead were still kind of a local band and we were big fans — it was a big part of the local culture. Bob Weir grew up nearby, and they used to practice locally. Even when we were kids, we would go listen to them. They would play at local parks and pizza parlors.

    The great thing about my school is that the teachers took a personal interest in me. I had one teacher that thought I was a good writer. No idea why. The Palo Alto Times — the school was in Palo Alto — would have a student from each school write columns, and so she assigned me to be the reporter for Castilleja. … So I really got into that. Then there was this whole culture around personal computers and electronic hacking. There were so many wacky things going on, and even as teenagers we were very much part of that. Not clear how the parents felt about it.

    Q: What about college?

    Castilleja was very much a college prep school. I applied to Stanford and Yale, but my real top choice was UC Santa Cruz, which is where I ended up going.

    I knew from the start that I wanted to do science, so the other good thing was that there weren’t very many course requirements or grades. I took as many advanced placement tests as possible, so I wouldn’t have to take anything but science classes, which probably made my whole undergraduate experience very warped. I started as a math major, maybe, then went to physics, and then ended up in chemistry. One thing I wanted to do, which Santa Cruz was very big on, was independent research, and so as fast as possible I just wanted to get into that, and I did.

    Q: Where did your initial interest in science come from?

    A: I would say it’s a combination of this uber-intellectual family life and also the school system, for sure. There were science contests and endless science projects, and my father fed that a little bit. I remember, in first grade, he brought a dissected cat to the class, because he was an M.D. He’d take me to the hospital all the time. A lot of our family friends were somehow connected to either the medical or engineering [fields]. My father used to play poker with [Nobel Prize-winning chemist] Linus Pauling, and one of my first job interviews in high school was at his institute. Other fathers gave me early programmable personal calculators for homework.

    Q: So, you’re in college, and you’re wending your way from math to physics to chemistry. How did that go?

    A: The math part I don’t remember much about. Physics was transient also. What I realized about myself was that I wanted to do experiments. So I think I ended up in chemistry because of the opportunity to do experiments. I’m sure it was a product of people I met and knew and things like that — teachers — but also I always was kind of a rebel. Everyone was majoring in psychology, that was the thing. There was just no way I was going to do what everyone else did.

    Q: No temptation, given your parents’ background?

    A: Absolutely none. Zero. Med school — off the table. Forget it. College was meeting up with just crazily interesting people. And Santa Cruz was just idyllic. You’d go off in the woods and the trees and surfing — oh, and sailing. Big deal, sailing. Probably the one thing that I got out of that was being on the sailing team and having something organized in my life. So that was different and fun.

    Q: Are you still a sailor?

    A: Yeah, it’s [in the picture] (not shown) right behind you. That’s my boat.

    Mostly I worked in the lab a lot. I liked the lab culture. I liked the all-night thing and feeling like you belonged and you were working on something. I really liked that part of it. I just characterize my life as not having a plan. And people say to me: “But you’re at Harvard, how’d that happen?” It just kind of happened. I’m not saying that was a good thing or a bad thing, but I do compare it to these kids now who start out so early with a plan. I am glad I had time to explore and be kind of a dreamer.

    So college is ending. I heard about this graduate school thing, and maybe I should apply. I’d heard of two chemistry programs that I thought would be, for some reason, good. One was Berkeley and one was Harvard. Those were my only two grad school applications. I remember somehow deciding that I didn’t want to go to grad school, though. I forget why. My father had died. I just didn’t feel right. I had no money, and so I decided, maybe I’ll just get a job. It was all complicated with boyfriends and husbands and lots of stuff. I did get a job at a startup chemical company, literally in Silicon Valley. It was across the street from Hewlett-Packard, really in the thick of it.

    Q: So how did you end up going back to graduate school?

    A: With my then-spouse, I moved to Los Angeles. The short story is that’s how I ended up going to UCLA for grad school.

    I’d actually spent an extra year at Santa Cruz doing this protein structure work, so I bargained with UCLA. If I could pass the equivalent of their qualifying exam, could I not take any classes and therefore finish my Ph.D. as fast as possible? I passed it, and so I got my Ph.D. in three years. I had a very supportive adviser who said you should just get your Ph.D. really fast. It was a good experience.

    Q: How was choosing Harvard for a postdoc different from not choosing it for grad school?

    A: Maybe there was finally an element of careerism starting to emerge. All these guys at UCLA were super young hotshots, and they had all come from Stanford and Harvard. So there was probably an element of hey, I can do that.

    At the same time, my adviser kept trying to push me, which just was perfect for me. He kept saying, try to do something where you set up your own research program. I did formulate a question in my mind of what I thought I wanted to solve. That was the question of how do things — proteins and RNAs — move between the nucleus and the cytoplasm? I had some hypotheses about this, so I approached a couple of faculty here.

    One was well known for letting people come to do whatever they wanted, so I went there. But I spent the summer before at Cold Spring Harbor. I went there to take the yeast course, which was a big deal then. That was just a total eye-opener.

    Q: Learning how to manage and use yeast as an experimental organism, essentially?

    A: Yes, but it was also about learning how to think as a geneticist, and it was just transformative for me. In many ways being at Cold Spring Harbor was amazing. Being in this community of scientists where it had that kind of 24-hour science-is-the-big-thing, interesting people to talk to left and right. I’d never seen anything like it. You’re just kind of away from all your responsibilities. It was just very magical and crazy, and I thought, jeez, this is how it should be.

    So when I got back to Boston, I started working in the lab I’d chosen. And I met people in Mark Ptashne’s lab, which was kind of a happening place. There was a lot of energy.

    I realized that I was initially not in the right lab — nothing wrong with it, it just wasn’t right for me. So I went to Mark, and I said, “I have this idea, and I’ve thought more about it. I think I could test it better using yeast.” And he was starting up this yeast group. So I joined Mark’s lab, and it was an amazing experience. The people there were just insanely smart. I mean, there were ups and downs, for sure, and some of those people could fight like dogs. It was either politics or science. It was just a crazily intense environment — and I solved my problem. I discovered how proteins have a sequence that targets them into the nucleus, and that was one of the first examples of that. And I really did it on my own.

    [At the end of the postdoc] everyone else seemed to have a plan. I said, hey, if this whole nuclear localization thing doesn’t work out, I’ll do something else. I did not have the I’m-going-to-be-a-professor-for-sure mentality at all. I remember picking a couple schools that I thought I might actually go to if they offered me jobs, places that had openings. It was a very short list. One was Harvard. And one was Yale. One was Princeton. And one was Cornell.

    I had interviews everywhere. … I did not think about gender bias back then. I really did not. There were times I realized in college I was the only woman in the class. I just never felt anything [sexist] until I went on those job interviews and there were almost no women faculty — mostly dinners with all guys. Then I had an offer at Princeton. And then at Yale. Princeton was sort of: “We’re growing, we’re new.” And I thought, well, that sounds interesting. And I went to Princeton but did not stay for long.

    Q: You went to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and were there for a while, right?


    A: Yeah. I was hired in BCMP [Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology], and Chris Walsh was the chair. And he essentially saved my scientific life. I always say they took a risk on me. Many people said something like, “Oh my God, you’re going to go to Harvard? They’re so mean. It’s going to be horrible.” It was the antithesis of all those things — super-supportive and they wanted me.

    Q: So you were here as an associate professor?

    A: Based at Dana-Farber. My full appointment was in BCMP. It was back in the old days, when getting tenure took forever. The agreement was that when I was hired, they would “start the process.” And back then, the process sometimes took two to three years. So I had to sweat it a bit, but I had good friends there and good support. I’ve been blessed with regard to funding for my research, so far. I was worried being at Dana-Farber would be odd for me as a basic scientist, but it turned out it was fabulous. I was worried I wouldn’t get grad students. That turned out not to be true — got great students, great postdocs. And I continued to work on cell biology combined with molecular biology, and then it expanded into what you loosely might call systems biology.

    And my work had some cancer overtones to it in that we did discover — we did a small molecule screen where we discovered small molecules where, in principle, we could decipher the mechanism by which they would revert cancer cells away from cancer.

    Q: How did you transition from Dana-Farber to what was then the new Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School?


    A: My own research was transitioning. I was taking a more systems-wide view of the cell biological problems I was working on. And also I was starting to feel like it was a time in my life where I was looking to change.

    It was a really good time for Dana-Farber. They were starting to get a handle on making targeted drugs for cancer, the kinase inhibitors. And I felt good about Dana-Farber, that they were going in a good direction, that they were closer to real cancer cures. But I wasn’t sure that my work was still a good fit. It had been — so I mean that in a positive way.

    The other thing that happened that was probably more consequential was that my now-husband, Jeff Way, who works here at the Wyss Institute, was helping a friend of ours start a new institute in Berkeley.

    He met a young postdoc there named Drew Endy and they became good friends. Drew had come from civil engineering, I think, and [he was] thinking about where biology should go. And then he came here — this was in the early 2000s, late 1990s — and started this group at MIT. It was bioengineers, computer scientists, and included me as the token real biologist. And that became the Synthetic Biology Working Group.

    It was nearby, so I could go over there a lot. I became pretty engaged in that. Then, simultaneously, Marc Kirschner [of Harvard] was starting this new department [of systems biology]. Marc asked me if I wanted to be part of this department.

    Q: And this was in around 2004, right?

    A: Right. It was fun to be around new people, new ideas, and also I was given the charge of starting the new grad program.

    Q: Let’s talk about the grad program and your thoughts on graduate education.

    A: I’ve had a ton of grad students, and I watched them matriculate and turn into scientists. I’d been thinking a lot about it and what that meant, and also this engagement with MIT was giving me a different perspective.

    One idea was it shouldn’t be that you come to grad school and just take a bunch of classes. You come to grad school to do research. They should engage in research soon and they would get custom mentoring. Also, we tried to attract students from a diversity of areas. They could come from computer science or math. So they didn’t necessarily have to have a biology background.

    The other thing I encouraged was collaborative projects, so you could have, for example, two advisers. A lot of students took us up on that. That would increase collaboration amongst the faculty through the students.

    It goes to the idea that the students are empowered and they’re helping define their education. It was about getting a mix of faculty across the University from different disciplines, not just the Medical School. Have a big umbrella. I liked that component of it. We got a significant number of applicants, and they were just amazing; they were some of the top students in the country. And then it stayed that way, and we got these interesting, quirky students. I’m not running it anymore. It’s still a great program.

    Q: During this period, you were starting to focus more on synthetic biology, right?

    A: Right.

    Q: So tell me a little bit about that. You were at the meetings at MIT. Were you coming to understand the potential of looking at biology as modular, that it could be engineered in a rational way once you figured it all out?

    A: The modularity of biology was something that resonated for me, because it was the essence of much of my work in molecular biology. I had done things like take parts of proteins and fuse them to other proteins and show they could move to the nucleus in the cell. So that’s one essence of modularity. I was primed to think about it that way. I don’t know if I called it synthetic biology or anything, but it was very much in my wheelhouse.

    Q: Let’s talk about your lab. What do you consider milestones?

    A: Well, the first one was programming yeast to sense radiation. You can build sensors, but we wanted to build cells that not only sensed, but remembered. That was one of our first successes: building predictable circuits in yeast.

    Q: How do you get a cell to remember?

    A: There are a lot of different ways. Our way was to use transcriptional control, which is regulating how genes are made. One theme of our research is to draw from what we know about nature and try to apply that to practical problems. What nature tends to do with transcription is to use different kinds of feedback control that can either be positive or negative. So we took advantage of that. If you have a signal, instead of just having one burst, [we engineered it to] keep itself going, so it has this continuous feedback control. That’s a process used by nature that we deployed in our work.

    Q: So exposure to radiation would trigger a process that —

    A: Yes. Imagine it triggers a pulse and something happens, and then that promotes a more sustained response over time.

    Q: And that sustained response is the memory?

    A: We call that the memory, yes. Memory of course means a lot of things to a lot of people, especially in neurobiology. So we’re using the term memory in a loose way here.

    Q: And without this, the cell would respond and then stop?

    A: And stop, yes.

    Q: So you’d be able to look at it and say, since this process is ongoing, something happened in —

    A: That it happened sometime in the past. My overall dream, which I think we’re close to achieving, is not only would something happen in the past, but a cell then could count and tell you when it happened, so it would be a true computer. And it would tell you when it happened and then ultimately do something. That doing of something, hopefully, could be something practical, like emit a signal that tells you there are poisonous chemicals somewhere or that there’s a pathogen, or produce a therapeutic on-demand at the right time. We haven’t gotten there, but, at the time of me getting involved in synthetic biology, that was the overarching dream. Now we’ve taken a lot of different side paths.

    We have this paper coming out in a few weeks about sensing inflammation in the gut. That, of course, is a huge problem in general. There’s no good treatment and it’s a chronic disease. Many people suffer from it. So we can create intestinal bacteria that will report on inflammation. Now the question is, can we get them to make a therapeutic for it? That’s one of the examples of the dream getting close to reality.

    Q: Another project you’ve worked on is the bionic leaf.


    A: It’s super exciting. There are just so many opportunities here at Harvard, sometimes you look back and you say, oh my God, this thing happened. I was working on cyanobacteria, which are one of the simplest organisms that do photosynthesis, and we had engineered them to make hydrogen.


    We were believers in the hydrogen economy, which kind of didn’t turn out so well. It might come back someday.

    I got invited to be part of the Harvard University Center for the Environment, and Dan Schrag, the director, introduced me to Dan Nocera at the holiday party. Dan Nocera — he had just moved [to Harvard], and he said something like, “I’ve been trying to meet you. I’ve got this artificial leaf. It makes hydrogen.” And I responded with, “I’ve got these bacteria, and they’ll eat hydrogen and fix CO2.” It was like two synergistic personalities; it just clicked.

    Q: Looking ahead in synthetic biology — 10 years from now — what do you think will be most important?

    A: In the perfect world, I would say on-demand drugs would be a big deal, whether that be protein-based drugs, cell-based drugs, or chemicals. For example, a friend of mine who is a professor at Stanford has made yeast that will make opiates. Think about the consequences of that. One is economic and the other is to make “designer opiates” that get rid of some of the bad things about them. I think that’s just an example of the power of biology to make things we’ve never seen before.

    We are at a tipping point around DNA synthesis. It’s not yet cheap enough where a grad student could say, “I’m going to build a whole new organism.” We need another kind of technological leap.

    Our whole goal was to make the engineering of biology faster, cheaper, and more predictable. Let’s say we succeed. So then what? Do we have the perfect planet? Is everything wonderful? Is there misuse? I’m thinking about things I don’t know the answer to. How do you find the genetically engineered organisms [released into the environment]? How do you respond quickly to a pandemic? These are things I think we are poised to do well. Can we make a vaccine in a day? Can we figure out what a pandemic is in a few hours? That really fits the bill of faster, cheaper.

    How do we marry the coming firestorm of AI with synthetic biology? There was a time when young people wanted to work on molecular biology. That was the cool thing. AI is the cool thing now. Hundreds of undergrads at MIT want to take Intro AI. So we have to capture that imagination and meld it with synthetic biology.

    Q: Do you look at young women in science today and think about how things are either different or the same as when you were coming up?

    A: There are still a lot of males in charge and, as you get higher up the food chain, you start to notice different things. There are still times I’m the only woman in the room. I have my one activism thing, where if I see meetings with no women speakers, I write a letter. I have some things that I call out, like science advisory boards with no women. So I make a pest of myself every now and then, but so do a lot of other people.

    But about the trainees — that is something I think we’re all worried about. It’s a complicated problem. It feels like it’s harder to get women applicants and have them stick with it. I try to encourage the women in my own group. But at the same time, they have to make choices that make them happy. There just still aren’t a lot of women at the top. How much impact does it have if you’re a younger woman and you don’t see women in [leadership]?

    If Harvard holds a symposium, it should never be all male. Any topic — there’s no reason. These, to me, are cheap, simple fixes. You should never have posters for conferences that have all males. That costs you almost no money. So I think there are lots of things you can do that don’t require major investments that send signals that are positive.

    Q: They say that science is at least partly about failure and learning from failure. Do you have advice on how you deal with failure?

    A: It’s very hard to say to someone, “Look, it’s just not working.” So I try to do it early and then say, “Let’s move on. Why don’t you work on this thing that is working for a while so you can feel what it’s like to have something work, and then maybe that’ll get you a paper or chapter in your thesis. Then you can go back to something riskier.”

    But at the same time, I like to encourage people to be risk takers, because if you don’t take risks, you’re not going to get anywhere. So there has to be some balance. I will say it’s the thing I most lose sleep over. Forget not getting grants and all that. It’s the people you worry about — you want everyone to succeed. At my stage, this is not about me anymore. It’s about them.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Harvard University campus
    Harvard is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, established in 1636 by vote of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It was named after the College’s first benefactor, the young minister John Harvard of Charlestown, who upon his death in 1638 left his library and half his estate to the institution. A statue of John Harvard stands today in front of University Hall in Harvard Yard, and is perhaps the University’s best known landmark.

    Harvard University has 12 degree-granting Schools in addition to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The University has grown from nine students with a single master to an enrollment of more than 20,000 degree candidates including undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. There are more than 360,000 living alumni in the U.S. and over 190 other countries.

  • richardmitnick 7:46 am on May 17, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Andrea Bertozzi, , , Women in STEM   

    From UCLA: Women in STEM-“UCLA innovator gets creative with applied mathematics” Andrea Bertozzi 

    UCLA bloc


    Andrea Bertozzi puts math to work solving real-world problems

    May 15, 2017
    Nico Correia

    UCLA mathematician Andrea Bertozzi works on a wide range of problems, ranging from the prediction of crime to the deployment of robotic bees. UCLA

    While her grade school classmates were learning the alphabet and how to count to five, Andrea Bertozzi remembers studying negative numbers and modular arithmetic.

    Math often gets a bad rap as an uncreative left brain-oriented activity, but Bertozzi recalls that, as a child, she was fascinated with it because of its creative potential.

    “Teachers have trouble teaching it that way,” said Bertozzi, a professor of mathematics and director of applied mathematics at UCLA, and the inaugural holder of UCLA’s Betsy Wood Knapp Chair for Innovation and Creativity. “They’re not looking at it the right way.”

    As the director of applied mathematics at UCLA and a member of the UCLA Institute for Digital Research and Education’s Executive Committee, Bertozzi and her colleagues conceive of math as a creative medium that can be practically used to solve real-world problems. “Our department is not one that does routine applications,” she said. “We develop new math on the boundary with other fields.”

    One of Bertozzi’s most publicized projects is an ideal illustration of math in action. In a partnership with the Los Angeles Police Department, Bertozzi and UCLA anthropology professor Jeffrey Brantingham head a research team that developed a mathematical model to predicts where and when crime will most likely happen, based on historical crime data in targeted areas so that police officers can preemptively patrol these districts.

    The model they and their team developed based on an algorithm that “learns,” evolves and adapts to new crime data is based on earthquake science. It takes a triggering event such as a property crime or a burglary and treats it similarly to aftershocks following an earthquake that can be tracked by scientists to figure out where and when the next one will occur.

    Another of Bertozzi’s projects, the deployment of robotic bees, is being done in collaboration with Spring Berman, a robotics expert and an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Arizona State University.

    This ground-based robotic bee was developed by undergraduates under Andrea Bertozzi’s direction to test algorithms needed to guide pollinating “bees” to designated plants.

    Since the late 1990s, the population of bees has plunged because of a combination of factors. Earlier this year, the rusty-patched bumblebee landed on the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s list of endangered species. Without bees to pollinate, humanity runs the risk of losing a wide swath of the world’s flora. One solution that scientists are looking into is the development of robotic bees.

    That’s where Bertozzi’s creative mathematical abilities come in.

    Bertozzi and Berman are studying algorithms that would send out a cloud of these robotic pollinators to certain plants. In the applied math lab at UCLA, undergraduates have created earthbound robotic bees to test path-planning algorithms for simple robots without GPS trackers. The group is planning to present the results of testbed simulation “flights” at a conference.

    Bertozzi isn’t exaggerating when she says she is working on a broad research agenda. Her interest in non-linear partial differential equations and applied mathematics has led to projects in everything from image-processing to cooperative robotics and high-dimensional data analysis.

    “It turns out that a lot of my recent projects have social components,” she said. “I have a lot of ideas; we work on those that I can pitch to the funding agencies.” She and her students have used a powerful computer resource at UCLA, the Hoffman2 Cluster, provided by the Institute of Digital Research and Education, to do their complex calculations.

    Although her research goals are all complex, Bertozzi has a concise philosophy on math.

    “You can think of math as a language that describes the real world,” said Bertozzi. “It’s about always reinventing and adding different structures to things.”

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    UC LA Campus

    For nearly 100 years, UCLA has been a pioneer, persevering through impossibility, turning the futile into the attainable.

    We doubt the critics, reject the status quo and see opportunity in dissatisfaction. Our campus, faculty and students are driven by optimism. It is not naïve; it is essential. And it has fueled every accomplishment, allowing us to redefine what’s possible, time after time.

    This can-do perspective has brought us 12 Nobel Prizes, 12 Rhodes Scholarships, more NCAA titles than any university and more Olympic medals than most nations. Our faculty and alumni helped create the Internet and pioneered reverse osmosis. And more than 100 companies have been created based on technology developed at UCLA.

  • richardmitnick 1:25 pm on May 16, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Mykaela Reilly, , , , Women in STEM   

    From BNL: Women in STEM – “Patchogue-Medford High School Student Builds a Remote Sensing System for ATLAS Detector Components” Mykaela Reilly 

    Brookhaven Lab

    Patchogue-Medford High School student Mykaela Reilly (seated) with members of the ATLAS silicon tracker upgrade group in the Physics Department: (from left) Russell Burns, Alessandro Tricoli, Phil Kuczewski, Stefania Stucci, David Lynn, and Gerrit Van Nieuwenhuizen. No image credit.

    May 12, 2017
    Jane Koropsak

    When Patchogue-Medford High School student Mykaela Reilly came to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory as part of the High School Research Program last summer, she thought she was coming to work for one summer. She never expected that her achievements would result in her being offered to continue at the lab another year. From soldering to building prototypes to computer programming, Reilly says that during the course of the year she learned a lot about how research projects come together and form the foundations of scientific discovery.

    Reilly was tasked with learning LabView, a software system and design program that helps scientists with data acquisition and instrument control. She also programmed micro-controllers used to monitor nitrogen levels to keep humidity low, limit condensation, and maintain steady temperatures inside an experimental area. It took weeks to build the experimental components and test the software that would remotely control that equipment. But, with guidance from her mentor, Lab physicist Alessandro Tricoli of the ATLAS silicon tracker upgrade group in the Physics Department, and research team members Phil Kuczewski and Stefania Stucci, Reilly worked out the “bugs” until she built a sensing system and computer program that her mentors say works seamlessly.


    Reilly’s success may help advance one of the most ambitious scientific projects in the world—the ATLAS detector at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva, Switzerland. Brookhaven scientists have played multiple roles in constructing, operating, and upgrading this particle detector, which is the size of a seven-story building and has opened up new frontiers in the human pursuit of knowledge about elementary particles and their interactions. Reilly conducted experiments using her remote monitoring program to see how electronic components, such as readout chips that could be incorporated in an upgrade at ATLAS, respond to tough environmental conditions—particularly the high level of radiation at the LHC. Radiation-resilient silicon readout chips would reduce power consumption and simplify the design of the entire tracker system at ATLAS.

    “Mykaela’s work will shed light on how we can make the readout chips more resistant to the radiation at the LHC, and how we can keep the radiation effects under control,” said Tricoli. “I applaud her success. With her talent, I hope she decides to pursue a career in science or engineering.”

    What’s next?

    Just before the posting of this story, Reilly announced her plans to attend Stony Brook University to pursue a degree in electrical engineering. “That is wonderful news,” said Tricoli. “I hope to see her back at the Lab soon.”

    When she isn’t busy soldering, programming, or building sensing systems, you can find Reilly on the ice competing on a synchronized figure skating team with her sisters. “I found that synchronized figure skating is a lot like research,” she said. “It’s about hard work, precision, and collaboration.”

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition
    BNL Campus

    One of ten national laboratories overseen and primarily funded by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Brookhaven National Laboratory conducts research in the physical, biomedical, and environmental sciences, as well as in energy technologies and national security. Brookhaven Lab also builds and operates major scientific facilities available to university, industry and government researchers. The Laboratory’s almost 3,000 scientists, engineers, and support staff are joined each year by more than 5,000 visiting researchers from around the world. Brookhaven is operated and managed for DOE’s Office of Science by Brookhaven Science Associates, a limited-liability company founded by Stony Brook University, the largest academic user of Laboratory facilities, and Battelle, a nonprofit, applied science and technology organization.

  • richardmitnick 6:34 am on May 16, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Brenda Milner, Eminent Brain Scientist, Is ‘Still Nosy’ at 98, , Women in STEM   

    From NYT: Women in STEM- “Brenda Milner, Eminent Brain Scientist, Is ‘Still Nosy’ at 98” 

    New York Times

    The New York Times

    MAY 15, 2017

    Dr. Brenda Milner in her office at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital last month. Credit Aaron Vincent Elkaim for The New York Times

    The driving instructor wiped his brow with a handkerchief, and not just because of the heat. His student — a grown woman, squinting over the dashboard — was ramming the curb in an effort to parallel park.

    “We reached an agreement, right then and there: He let me pass the test, and I promised never to drive,” Brenda Milner said, smiling to herself at the decades-old memory. “You see, my spatial skills aren’t so good. That’s primarily a right-brain function.”

    Dr. Milner, a professor of psychology in the department of neurology and neurosurgery at McGill University in Montreal, is best known for discovering the seat of memory in the brain, the foundational finding of cognitive neuroscience. But she also has a knack for picking up on subtle quirks of human behavior and linking them to brain function — in the same way she had her own, during the driving test.

    At 98, Dr. Milner is not letting up in a nearly 70-year career to clarify the function of many brain regions — frontal lobes, and temporal; vision centers and tactile; the left hemisphere and the right — usually by painstakingly testing people with brain lesions, often from surgery. Her prominence long ago transcended gender, and she is impatient with those who expect her to be a social activist. It’s science first with Dr. Milner, say close colleagues, in her lab and her life.

    Perched recently on a chair in her small office, resplendent in a black satin dress and gold floral pin and banked by moldering towers of old files, she volleyed questions rather than answering them. “People think because I’m 98 years old I must be emerita,” she said. “Well, not at all. I’m still nosy, you know, curious.”

    Dr. Milner continues working, because she sees no reason not to. Neither McGill nor the affiliated Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital has asked her to step aside. She has funding: In 2014 she won three prominent achievement awards, which came with money for research. She has a project: a continuing study to investigate how the healthy brain’s intellectual left hemisphere coordinates with its more aesthetic right one in thinking and memory.

    And she has adapted to the life as an undeniably senior senior researcher. “I come into the office about three days a week or so, that is plenty,” Dr. Milner said.

    “And I have some rules,” she added. “I will take on postdoctoral students, but not graduate students. Graduate students need to know you’ll be around for five years or so, and well” — she chuckled, looking up at the ceiling — “well, it’s very difficult if they have to switch to someone else, you know.”

    Dr. Milner’s current project is, appropriately enough, an attempt to weave together two of brain science’s richest strands of research, both of which she helped originate a lifetime ago.

    One is the biology of memory.

    Dr. Milner changed the course of brain science for good as a newly minted Ph.D. in the 1950s by identifying the specific brain organ that is crucial to memory formation.

    She did so by observing the behavior of a 29-year-old Connecticut man who had recently undergone an operation to relieve severe epileptic seizures. The operation was an experiment: On a hunch, the surgeon suctioned out two trenches of tissue from the man’s brain, one from each of his medial temporal lobes, located deep below the skull about level with the ears. The seizures subsided.

    But the patient, an assembly line worker named Henry Molaison, was forever altered. He could no longer form new memories.

    Concerned and intrigued, the surgeon contacted Dr. Wilder Penfield and Dr. Milner at the Montreal Neurological Institute, who had previously reported on two cases of amnesia in patients treated there. Thus began a now-famous collaboration.

    She started taking the night train from Montreal to give a battery of tests to Mr. Molaison, who was known in research reports as H. M. to protect his privacy.

    In a landmark 1957 paper Dr. Milner wrote with Mr. Molaison’s surgeon, she concluded that the medial temporal areas — including, importantly, an organ called the hippocampus — must be critical to memory formation. That finding, though slow to sink in, would upend the accepted teaching at the time, which held that no single area was critical to supporting memory.

    Dr. Milner continued to work with Mr. Molaison and later showed that his motor memory was intact: He remembered how to perform certain physical drawing tests, even if he had no memory of learning them.

    The finding, reported in 1962, demonstrated that there are at least two systems in the brain for processing memory: one that is explicit and handles names, faces and experiences; and another that is implicit and incorporates skills, like riding a bike or playing a guitar.

    “I clearly remember to this day my excitement, sitting there with H. M. and watching this beautiful learning curve develop right there in front of me,” Dr. Milner said. “I knew very well I was witnessing something important.”

    The other strand her new research project incorporates is so-called hemispheric specialization: how the brain’s two halves, the right and the left, divide up its mental labor.

    In the early 1960s, scientists including Dr. Milner had shown that the brain’s left hemisphere specializes in language and reasoning, and that the right makes holistic, more aesthetic judgments — it is more sensual than intellectual.

    Still, in people with brain injuries, particularly to the frontal lobes behind the forehead, the two hemispheres could compensate by working together in subtle ways.

    In an era before precise imaging technology, standard pencil-and-paper testing could not easily detect the deficits caused by specific injuries.

    In a series of studies, and using the same knack for exhaustive observation, Dr. Milner demonstrated that several kinds of tests could help characterize frontal lobe injuries. One of these, for example, is called the verbal fluency test, which assesses a person’s ability to generate words in certain categories or beginning with certain letters — a test of left hemisphere integrity.

    “She didn’t just give the person a test and mark down the score,” Dr. Marilyn Jones-Gotman, a longtime friend and colleague, said. “No, she sat down with people, paid attention to everything they did and said, and wrote it all down. That all went into the record, and gave you clues to what was actually going on in their minds that the scores by themselves couldn’t.”

    The new project is aimed at understanding how hemispheric coordination aids memory retrieval under normal circumstances, in people without brain injuries. Dr. Milner leads a research team that has been taking exhaustive M.R.I. brain images from participants while they solve problems and take memory tests.

    Does the artistic right hemisphere provide clues to help its more logic-oriented other half retrieve words? If so, which kinds of clues seem most powerful?

    In one experiment, participants in the brain scanner tried to recall a list of words they had just studied. Some of those words were concrete, like dog or house, conjuring specific imagery; others, like concept or strategy, were not. The scans carefully track activation across hemispheres moment to moment, as retrieval happens.

    “We’re just going through the data from our current study now,” Dr. Milner said, gesturing through the open doorway to Ami Tsuchida, who was working on a computer

    For this particular experiment, Dr. Tsuchida said, “We’re looking at the pattern of interactions between left and right hippocampus for words rated as highly imageable relative to those rated as not very imageable” to see if there’s any difference.

    The findings hold tremendous potential to help people with early dementia, some brain injuries and even learning disabilities.

    “People with early signs of dementia can have trouble with imagery, and by the time the disease is advanced they’ve lost that ability,” said Joelle Crane, a clinical psychologist at the Montreal Neurological Institute. “One area this new work might help us with is in training people to learn in a more visual way.”

    For Dr. Milner, after a lifetime exploring the brain, the motive for the work is personal as well as professional. “I live very close; it’s a 10-minute walk up the hill,” she said. “So it gives me a good reason to come in regularly.”

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

Compose new post
Next post/Next comment
Previous post/Previous comment
Show/Hide comments
Go to top
Go to login
Show/Hide help
shift + esc
%d bloggers like this: