AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: Alex Douglas

Inequality in the Sciences: Can we stop it?

Throughout this past year, racial tension has been high due to events around the country. While our country has been in a place that it has never been before, it helps reveal some of the biggest character traits of our country. Struggle does not build character, struggle reveals it. During the racial turmoil going on in our country, the different STEM fields began to really take notice of the racial disparity and inequality in their fields. Racial minorities in STEM fields, especially medicine can see and understand how the field is one of the most racist institutions in our country.


People of Color in STEM 

The lack of racial diversity in STEM fields is a huge issue for not only the people who are working in the field but also for the people they are researching for. It is difficult for the people working in the field due to discrimination, which makes it much more difficult to attract other people of color to the field. As a result, people of color are extremely underrepresented in these fields. To put it into perspective, 62% of blacks in STEM have experienced discrimination due to their race compared to 13% of whites in the field. 


How COVID-19 is affecting non-white Americans

During this COVID-19 pandemic, non-white Americans are between 2 and 2.6 times more likely to die from the virus than white Americans. That study was done and based on nothing but race. The virus does not look at your race before deciding to kill you or let you live. The virus has no preference. This study shows that the disparity in medical attention between non-white and white Americans is grave and it is killing people and no one seemed to be talking about it until recently.



What is the solution?

The two most simple answers to this question are education and equal opportunity. If we can educate young children who are going to grow up to be the next generation of people in health care and people in medicine about racial equality and racial injustice then the problem will cease to exist. In the meantime, if people of color and other minorities had the same opportunities to study medicine and help people that look like them would definitely slow this problem down tremendously as well.

KARSH STEM Scholars program

The KARSH STEM Scholars program is a great example of education and equal opportunity. This is a program at Howard University that gives aspiring African American STEM scholars an opportunity to pursue their passion no matter what economical background they have or what race they are? The program’s goal is to produce leaders in all of the STEM fields and has been very successful thus far. Programs like this make a tremendous push to close this gap that we are seeing throughout the different STEM fields.





It’s in the Air – The transmission of COVID-19

Since the start of this global pandemic in March, a major issue has been the lack of knowledge on the virus. It has been the job of scientists to research and informs the general public of the virus. As more research has been conducted, we have a better understanding of the virus and its effects. The most important part of stopping the virus though is understanding how the virus is transmitted.

What is Covid-19? 

Covid-19 is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2. This virus took America by storm, killing almost 350 thousand Americans. This disease cause mild to moderate respiratory illness in healthy patients with no medical problems. In older people with health issues, this becomes an extremely serious illness. Health problems that put people at a risk include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer. The virus is transmitted three main ways.

Contact Transmission

The first way the virus is spread is by contact transmission. Contact transmission is an infection spread through direct contact with an infectious person. For example, shaking someone’s hand, high-fiving someone, or touching a surface that someone infected has touched.

Droplet transmission

Another way the virus spreads is by droplet transmission. Droplet transmission is the spread through respiratory droplets that contain the virus. This type of transmission usually occurs when someone is within six feet of an infected person. For example, if you are sitting in the car with someone who is infected without your mask for too long, you will probably end up with the virus due to droplet transmission. This is the reason masks are so essential to stopping the spread of this virus.

Airborne Transmission

The last way this virus spreads is through airborne transmission. Airborne transmissions similar to droplet transmission, but airborne transmission contains smaller droplets and particles that travel distances longer than six feet. This is dangerous because the guideline that everyone follows is six feet apart but the virus can actually travel further than that and still be dangerous.

How to stop the spread?

Wearing your mask and social distancing is the most important thing to do when trying to stop the spread of Covid-19. SARS-CoV-2 enters the body preferably through the mouth and nose. After that, it enters your cells by binding to the receptor on the cell membrane and begins to reproduce. Masks are a physical barrier between our noses and mouths, preventing the droplets that cause the virus to be released or inhaled. Masks are essential in this fight against the virus so we all need to do our part so we can return to some sort of normalcy in 2021.

Blue Whales: The Giants of the Real World

For the past twenty years, Jeremy Goldbogen and collaborators have been trying to figure out why blue whales were the biggest animal to ever live. The journey helped them find multiple different explanations as to why the blue whale is so unique and why it’s size is almost entirely based on two factors: their choice of prey and the coincidence of their evolution with the global increase of “upwelling of nutrient-rich water from the depths of the ocean.”

How does a Blue Whale’s diet affect its size?

Baleen Whales were able to evolve from filter-feeding on plankton to successfully lung-feeding on entire schools of fish and krill. This was a huge part of the whale’s evolution because of the ocean upwelling, which provided ample amounts of new prey for these whales.

What is specialization and how did it affect the evolution of Whales, particularly Blue Whales? 

During the ocean upwelling, not all types of swarming prey were the same. As a result, predators began to become a specialist in hunting certain groups. For example, some rorquals specialized in schooling fish, while others focused on plankton. Of all the present-day rorquals, the blue whale is the most specialized. They only eat Krill with very few exceptions. Specializing in Krill is far from easy. There is only a high concentration of Krill in certain regions of the world, therefore Blue Whales need to be extremely mobile. Because of this, they have sleek bodies and hydrodynamic flippers. Krill are also not easy to catch so Blue Whales sacrifice some mobility for a more hunting range. This means a bigger mouth which comes with a bigger body. The whale’s diet depends on being big but the energy needed to maintain this big body also balances out.

The Blue Whale: Stuck between the Old and the New

The Blue Whale is in an interesting predicament when it comes to their evolution and growth. They are stuck in their circle of specialization but their food web is deteriorating across the ocean and that is where they are also stuck. As I said before, being that big takes a lot of energy. These whales needed to eat as much as possible and when we pollute the ocean that hinders their ability to do so. I believe that it is extremely important for us to do what we can as humans in order to help these creatures because right now we are living during a truly unique time: we are on the earth at the same time as giants. I believe that it is our responsibility to save them for as long as we can.




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