BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

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Two Threats at Once: Climate Change and Racism.

What if you faced the burden of tackling two existential threats at once?

Global warming, or the increase in the earth’s atmospheric temperature caused by the release of greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide, poses a threat to our planet’s life. Our actions as humans have exacerbated the planet’s dangerously warming temperatures, and in recent decades this human-caused threat has become prevalent in both political and social conversations. 

Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, a black female climate expert, is one such activist. A marine biologist, policy expert, and writer, Dr. Johnson founded Ocean Collectiv and Urban Ocean Lab, a social justice consulting firm and think tank, respectively, both of which foster change for environmental protection. Dr. Johnson focuses on ocean conservation, sustainable fishing, ocean zoning, and social justice. Her educational journey parallels her present career in environmental justice, for  Johnson received a Bachelor of Arts degree in environmental science and public policy from Harvard University and later earned a Ph.D. in marine biology from Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Reefs, ecosystems that are both critical for biodiversity and sensitive to rising water temperatures and acidity, are experiencing degradation from unsustainable fishing practices and increasing carbon emissions. Most coral contains zooxanthellae, photosynthetic algae. In a mutualistic relationship, the algae are protected by the coral, and the algae’s release of oxygen from the oxidation of water during the light-dependent reactions of photosynthesis helps remove the coral’s waste. It is the algae that give the coral their beautiful colors, so when they face unideal temperatures and ph levels from climate change, the coral is left vulnerable and bleached. Dr. Johnson has focused intensely on sustainable management of coral reef resources, which involves pinpointing and solving the environmental causes that destroy coral reefs. During her impactful career, Dr. Johnson has conducted research on Caribbean coral reef trap fisheries and on the impacts of climate change on small islands, whose people experience the most consequences from coral degradation, such as having fewer food resources. Furthermore, she has led the Caribbean’s first successful ocean zoning project, which has aimed to protect vulnerable ocean areas. Her podcast How to Save a Planet and her book All We Can Save have shed light on these tough conversations about climate change. 

Despite Dr. Johnson’s impressive career and achievements regarding environmental protection, she has faced deterrence from racism in society. In her passionate and alarming article in the Washington Post titled “I’m a black climate expert. Racism derails our efforts to save the planet,” Dr. Johnson exposes the way racism has prevented black climate activists from achieving their goals. She shows the intersection between climate change and race. Laying out clear data that “black Americans are disproportionately more likely than whites to be concerned about — and affected by — the climate crisis,” Dr. Johnson explains how the effects of climate change are not just environmental, but also racially consequential. “Black neighborhoods” are more affected by “fossil-fueled power plants” and “poor air quality.” Despite Dr. Johnson’s passions to solve such pressings climate issues and focus “all” her “attention on climate,” she has been preoccupied with simply justifying “her existence.” In the midst of a civil rights awakening, issues of police brutality towards people of color and systemic racism have been exposed and examined through a critical race lens. While Dr. Johnson works “on one existential crisis,” she “can’t concentrate because of another.” She draws this connection between racism and climate change to show her readers their intersection the similar toll they take on the world. In her last paragraph, Dr. Johnson uses a direct address to urge her white audiences to become “anti-racist,” which is the only way to help fix the issue of climate change, as the two are “intertwined.”  

Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson’s passionate sentiments about racial and environmental justice are not isolated, for young people, including myself, are ready to change our planet and society for the better. Environmental justice requires racial justice, and my generation will be the change we want to see.

COVID-19 and Environmental Racism: A Fatal Pair

        In his article “Environmental Racism Has Left Black Communities Especially Vulnerable to COVID-19” published by The Century Foundation, Caesar Berkovitz speaks of research surrounding environmental racism, air pollution, and their impacts on vulnerable populations concerning COVID-19. After outlining the pre-existing inequalities that harm Black individuals during the pandemic (increased risk of exposure due to work hours, disparities in wealth-income, and racism within the healthcare system), he goes into the meaning of residential and environmental racism. Environmental Injustice regards inequality in poor or communities of color that increases exposure to pollution and health risks. Environmental injustice is often paired with minimal environmental protection and environmental quality through government regulations. One aspect of environmental injustice regards the disparity in the location of pollution and bad air quality. Due to the pre-existing residential segregation, often Black individuals are placed in communities that have lower property value, and therefore a lower price on the industrial market. With more industrial factories, highways, shopping malls, and businesses in Black communities, air pollution worsens, decreasing the physical health of those who live there, hence a form of environmental injustice is created. Wealth disparities have allowed white community members to buy property away from these areas such as rivers used for dumping trash, and areas with landfills. Many individuals in these environmentally challenged neighborhoods also do not have a large legislative presence- often financial power comes with political power. 

        Air pollution has also been found to have links to lung cancer. For example, China is a country with a high lung cancer rate. Despite the low smoking prevalence, the large exposure individuals have to air pollution has created around 260,000 lung cancer cases in Chinese women annually. When cells are damaged, altered, or there are changes in their DNA (which can be caused by air pollution), they can become a defective part of the body system. These damaged cells then divide through mitosis without receiving the proper signals at the mitosis checkpoints. Once they do so, they continue to divide and they can create clumps of cells called a tumor. Once cancer cells metastasize, they spread through the blood vessels and they can move through the body to spread cancer to other parts.

        So, you may ask, “how does this all apply to COVID-19?”. Well, when pollution from fossil fuel and industrial emissions are released into the atmosphere, PM 2.5 (or carcinogen) is released with it. The tiny particles of Carcinogen have been proven in a study by Harvard University to increase health risks when someone gets the COVID-19 virus. After looking at more than 3,000 countries all over the world, researchers in this study found that individuals who lived over a decade in a county or place with high levels of PM 2.5 (in comparison to the rest of the world) are 8% more likely to die from COVID-19. Therefore, adding another layer to environmental injustice, with increased pollution from environmental racism comes a higher fatality rate for individuals living in these areas from COVID-19. 

        “Wait, but I thought the environment was getting better because pollution and emissions were decreasing during the pandemic?”. This statement is true, but it doesn’t overpower the pre-existing exposure of pollution present within populations that experience environmental racism. A study done by CREA (Center for Research on Clean Energy and Clean Air), found that due to the lack of oil and coal production and demand, 11,000 air pollution-related deaths have been avoided in Europe, and there has been a 40% reduction in average level of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution. However, as CREA also found, the net presence of PM2.5 and NO2 in the atmosphere is increasing- Tangshan, south Hebei, and Shanxi, China for example exceeded their pollution levels from last year.

 

Photo with “no filter” taken by someone in Taipei, Taiwan where the PM 2.5 level was 152.

         Solving environmental racism includes untangling a web of pre-existing inequitable environmental, social justice, and healthcare legislation- there is no one clear solution. Caesar Berkovitz suggests that both pre-existing improvements and new changes can be made. He argues increasing funding of the Housing Choice Voucher Program at the federal level and increasing rental assistance programs would help reduce residential injustice. In addition to that, one of the main problems many towns face concerning building affordable housing is the “zoning town boards’ ‘ which approve or disapprove the development. Improving the structure of zoning town boards to ensure that at all times, both sides of the community are voiced in the discussion would be a step towards reducing residential inequalities. Redlining and inefficient zoning boards within towns should be the main focus, as it is the root of the unfortunate placement of the individuals harmed by environmental injustice. Increasing federal transportation funds to create the equitable street design and increasing funding for public transformation to reduce fossil fuel emissions from cars as Berkovitz mentions is also another option. Since environmental injustice covers a wide range of legislation and areas, there are various platforms and ways in which humans can help fight it. As we reach what seems like the end of the pandemic, what do you think would be the best solution to fighting environmental injustice? Comment down below! 

The Devastating Impact of Covid-19 on Indigenous People

For years, Indigenous people have struggled to receive access to resources and proper care. From education to jobs the Indigenous community has been neglected time and time again. Looked over in all categories.  Though there are many topics that need to be addressed regarding the Indigenous community,  I will be focusing on the large disparity in health care that Indigenous Americans and Alaska Natives receive compared to other races. I will also look at how Covid – 19 has hurt this system to the even greater extremes and what you can do to help. 

Health care in Indigenous American communities has never been at the forefront of many important decisions, and as a result has suffered tremendous neglect over the years. One of the main providers of health and medical care in Indigenous communities is Indian Health Services or the IHS. It is given to over 2 million individuals who are descendants of the 567 federally recognized tribes. It’s supposed to provide “healthy communities and quality health care systems” but it seems to be doing just the opposite. It has very little funds from the government  and with less money, less services they can provide. The large disparity in health care for Indigenous groups compared to other populations is growing by the day. Indian Americans and Alaska Natives die at much higher rates than other races and are significantly more likely to die from easily treatable diseases. There is a higher infant mortality rate about 1.5 times higher than white people. They also have a lower life expectancy, and are expected to die 4 -5 years earlier than other races in America. This inequity can be a result of the many underlying issues in the Indian American community. Some of these include poverty, lack of health insurance, less education, language barrier, no access to transportation, less healthy food options, discrimination and many more factors. They have a dwindling amount of medical doctors located on many reservations which gives even less access to proper care. Many hospitals and medical facilities are also very far away from where many people live so an emergency situation can be detrimental.  An example of this is when a man named Cody Pedersen was stabbed in the neck and the ambulance took almost two hours to arrive. He survived, but this is only one success story out of many tragic ones. 

With all the problems Indigenous communities faced before Covid – 19. The addition of the virus impacted the community immensely. According to the CDC American Indians and Alaska Natives are 5.3 times more likely to be hospitalized due to Covid. They are also 2.4 times more likely to die due to Covid-19. This is a big difference even when compared with other minorities groups. There is also a lot of data that has yet to be collected, inconsistent data, and misinterpreted data that could be an even better insight into the real struggles of the indigenous community. However, no one is making an effort to collect it. Health isn’t even the biggest problem the indigenous community faces due to Covid. The virus devastated them economically, when many were already facing poverty. Many tribal businesses were forced to close and still cant open. Many of the money earned on reservations goes back to support the community. With businesses shutting down and people having to look for work outside the reservations less profits can be contributed to the community, increasing reliance on outside organizations. This makes it really important for people who fund the native community to keep funding even after all this subsides for them to rebuild their communities. 

It has been far too long since indigenous people looked over and neglected in our country. Although they are a small percentage of our country they are still lives that need the same services as everyone else. It all starts with awareness. Once you become aware and start to care that this is happening to others it makes a big difference. The more people care, the more change that can be enacted. Native societies need to be just as visible as other races. We need to recognize Native people, help Native people, and protect Native people.

Here are some more ways to help:

Partnership with Native Americans

Indian Health and Human Services

How to Support Indigenous Communities

 

 

Health Inequality: 10 studies exposing the truth in racial disparities within the health care system

“We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal”- Thomas Jefferson (Declaration of Independence)

This statement written almost 300 years ago is what the United States of America bases most of its legitimacy on. Note the words “all” and “equal” within this statement. However, despite being one of America’s most precious documents, does it speak the truth? Are all men and women living in America created equal? We live in a time where institutional racism has become one of the most driving issues. Within the healthcare and education systems, among other things, racial disparities mostly among the Black communities has persisted. In this article, Michigan Medicine researchers explored ten different studies in which racial disparities between Black and White Americans were present. In studying these cases, one can view institutional racism in a different and very serious light that might bring more attention to the ongoing issues within 21st century America.

1. Covid-19 

Though Black Americans are at higher risk for Covid-19 due to increase risk of hypertension, diabetes and obesity, Melissa Creary of U-M School of Public Health believes that “it’s not the fact that they have these diseases that’s causing the higher death rate because people of all races, classes and creed have these diseases.” She later states that there is a great burden of disease present in the Black population. She also believes that this is because of “structural inequity” not for other reasons like increase in chances of developing other medical diseases.

2. Prostate Cancer Mortality Higher in Black Men

This study found that societal factors and the accessibility to quality care contributes to “a 2.5 times higher prostate cancer mortality rates for Black men compared to non-Hispanic White men.” It was found that Black men get fewer PSA screenings and are more likely to be diagnosed with later stage cancer. They will also be less likely to have health insurance, low accessibility to high-quality care and other issues linked to socioeconomics. After looking more into the study through this article, it was found that Black men did not have an increased risk of dying from prostate cancer compared to White men with a similar stage of disease. The greatest disparity to Black men with prostate cancer is low accessibility to healthcare and any type of care when it comes to health issues.

3. Minority Patients benefit from Minority Doctors (match is hard to make)

Ryan Huetro who works as a family medicine physician at Michigan Medicine found that Black and Indigenous people can improve their health care by seeing doctors of their race or ethnicity. A physician may not even realize the bias they might be treating a patient with but these biases still remain. Though matching people based on races may be beneficial to one’s healthcare, it is sometimes hard to match races in one’s own community. Therefore, this is not the best solution in fixing racial disparities within the healthcare system.

4. Maternal-Infant Health impacted by racial and ethnic disparities

In this study, it was found that nearly half of all “Black, Hispanic and Indigenous women had discontinuous insurance coverage between pre-conception and after delivering their babies compared to approximately a fourth of White women.” Lindsay Admon of Michigan Medicine found that racial and ethnic disparities were prevalent within the access to preconception, prenatal and postpartum care.

5. Young African Americans with Colon Cancer

In this study it was found that there were racial disparities in treatments for young colon cancer patients. Elena Stoffel of the Cancer Genetics Clinic at the U-M Cancer Center found that these tumors found in young people and African Americans need to be looked at and compared to see if they have “molecular differences compared to the typical colorectal cancer seen in older adults.” We can look more into this topic by looking at the way cancer occurs within our cells. Cancer is caused by the changes in the DNA in our cells. We can also look our genes. Oncogenes help cells grow, divide and stay alive. Tumor suppressor genes help cell division and cause cells to die at certain times. Colon cancer can be caused by DNA mutations that switch on and off oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes. This causes the cells to grow at rapid paces. By learning more about our genes and cell division, we can learn more about the molecular differences when diving into colorectal cancer.

6. Dying costs for People of Color

The U-M team found that the last six months of life is $7,100 more expensive to the Medicare system for Black people and $6,100 more expensive for Hispanics compared to White people. This is one of the many racial disparities that are present within our corrupt healthcare system.

7. Blood Pressure Associated with Racial Differences 

Michigan Medicine researchers have targeted blood pressure in order to reduce racial disparities in dementia development. They found that long term hypertension is a possible explanation for why Black people are more likely to develop dementia than White people.

8. Low coverage in Vision Devices

This study focused on the fact that Medicare does not cover low vision devices. So when looking at White adults age 65 and older, the odds of using a low vision device were 17% lower in Black adults. Joshua Ehrlich found that low vision services improve the quality of life and equitable access to these services is a major challenge.

9. ACA makes Health Insurance Access more equal, but gaps still remain

The Affordable Care Act is a reform law enacted in March 2010 and can also be known as “Obamacare.” It had three main goals which was to make health insurance more affordable and more available, expand Medicaid, and support innovative medical care delivery methods to lower costs of health care. However, though it has achieved aspects of those goals, Black and Hispanic Americans are still less likely than White Americans to have health coverage and will ultimately avoid care because of high costs.

10. Lack of Stable Food Supply that can Impact the Health Conditions

Prior to Covid-19, many adults still struggle with food insecurity and after Covid-19, things have gotten exponentially  worse. Access to nutritious foods while also maintaining good health has been a struggle more than ever. Especially during these daring times, it is crucial to ensure that certain individuals are getting food that align with their pre-existing health conditions so those conditions don’t further themselves.

 

Ultimately, we as Americans need to do better in working to achieve equality for all but specifically health equality for all. Everyone deserves to have the same treatment and the same fighting chance to survive the deadly diseases. Health equality is one of the most basic but challenging things that America needs to figure out fast so that more lives are not put at risk. We can do better. Any comments on this topic would be much appreciated. Thank you!

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson is an American astrophysicist who popularized science with his books and frequent appearances on radio and television. His greatest contribution to science has not been his research; but rather, his ability to foster an interest in science for all kinds of people.

Born in the Bronx in 1958, Tyson was a talented and passionate student. He became fascinated with astronomy, which notable astrophysicist Carl Sagan as his role model. He received his Ph.D. in Astrophysics from Columbia University in 1989. However, he says that his path towards astrophysics was plagued with societal pressures that almost prevented him from pursuing his career multiple times.

Tyson is the director of the Hayden Planetarium, a published author, radio show host, tv show host, and social media influencer. He has revolutionized how people learn about science. He has worked to create easy and digestible forms in which science can be taught to the average person. He has done this through the Startalks radio show. He has also utilized television with his show Cosmos, where he explains astronomical phenomena through advanced computer-generated imagery. Recently, he has been active on TikTok, where he can be found answering science-related questions that are given to him by fans.

Cosmos spacetime odyssey titlecard.jpgThe title card for Cosmos, starring Neil deGrasse Tyson

Tyson comes from an African American and Latino background, but refuses to speak on anything regarding his race. Regarding race, he said in a 2014 interview, “I don’t give talks on it. I don’t even give Black History Month talks. I decline every single one of them. In fact, since 1993, I’ve declined every interview that has my being Black as a premise of the interview.” This is because he does not want his success conflated with the fact he is a minority. He claims that race should have nothing to do with his career because he wants people to know him for his knowledge of astrophysics and not his skin color.

Bill Nye takes a selfie with Barack Obama and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

 

Neil DeGrasse Tyson: An Unlikely Astrophysicist

 

Neil DeGrasse Tyson (pictured to the left) is an American astrophysicist who is commonly referred to as a modern popularizer of science. His books, podcasts, and shows have introduced generations to the wonders of science and the cosmos.

 

 

Background:

Neil Degrasse Tyson was born on October 5th, 1958, in Manhattan, New York. Dr. Tyson discovered his affinity for space after looking at the moon through binoculars at a young age. When he was 9, he visited the Hayden Planetarium and had his first in-depth experience with the starry sky. However, as he was growing up, Dr. Tyson often said “being smart is not on the list of things that gets you respect.” It was very unusual for an African-American to be interested in anything STEM-related at the time. He recalled that “African-American boys were expected to be athletes, not scholars.”

Accomplishments:

Despite a lack of African American representation in his field, Dr. Tyson continued to chase his dreams. He graduated from the Bronx High School of Science and earned a BA in physics from Harvard. He continued on to earn a Master’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin, and he eventually earned his Ph.D. in Astrophysics from Columbia University. Dr. Tyson worked as an astrophysicist and research scientist at Princeton University and a columnist for StarDate magazine. In 1966, he became the first occupant of the Frederick P. Rose Directorship of the Hayden Planetarium and even founded the department of astrophysics at the museum. In 2001, Dr. Tyson became a member of the Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry. He served as part of President Bush’s Commission on Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy two years later. NASA awarded Dr. Tyson with their esteemed Public Service Medal, the highest honor NASA awards to civilians, and The International Astronomical Union even officially named the asteroid “13123 Tyson” after him. Arguably as impressive, (and my personal favorite of his accomplishments), Dr. Tyson was voted “Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive” by People Magazine in 2000.

Entertainment Career:

Dr. Tyson is praised for his ability to translate confusing topics (like astrophysics) into simpler terms and ideas that the average person can comprehend. Some of his most popular books are: One Universe: At Home in the Cosmos, Just Visiting This Planet, Death by Black Hole, and Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. From 2006 to 2011, he was the host of the TV series NOVA ScienceNOW and became the host of the weekly radio show StarTalk in 2009. In 2014, Dr. Tyson hosted the very popular series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, which was (in his own words) a “continuation” of astronomer Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series in 1980. Dr. Tyson’s Cosmos series is one of the most engaging and interesting shows I have personally watched. I strongly recommend it to anyone who is even slightly interested in space.

Challenges:

As Dr. Tyson has stated himself, “There are very, very few African-American astrophysics PhDs.” While following his personal dreams, he was “doing something people of [his] skin color were not supposed to do.” Neil DeGrasse Tyson, as an astrophysicist, is only one example of the many underrepresented groups of American-Americans in STEM; however, astrophysicists specifically are severely underrepresented. Astrophysicist J.C. Holbrook conducted a study in which she discovered that “since 1955, only forty African-Americans have earned doctorates in astronomy or physics doing an astronomy dissertation. This means they comprise at most 2.47% of PhDs in astronomy. Out of 594 faculty at top 40 astronomy programs, 6 are African-American (1%).” Despite these low numbers, Neil DeGrasse Tyson has taken a step in the STEM field that will hopefully inspire others of minority groups to follow.

Neil Degrasse Tyson has also weighed in on current civil rights issues. In Dr. Tyson’s “Reflections on the Color of My Skin,” he addresses the racial unrest in America in 2020. He tells stories of his colleagues and himself being pulled over, questioned, and followed seemingly for no reason, yet instead of simply stating what is wrong, he offers a list of solutions to the issues facing America today. The first three points argue to “extend police academies to include months of cultural awareness and sensitivity training that also includes how not to use lethal force, test [police officers] for any implicit bias they carry, with established thresholds of acceptance and rejection from the police academy, and during protests, protect property. Protect lives. If you attack nonviolent protesters you are being un-American. And we wouldn’t need draconian curfews if police arrested looters instead of protesters.” Use the hyperlink to see the rest of Dr. Tyson’s well-thought-out suggestions. Dr. Tyson continues to teach the world about science while inspiring others to follow in his footsteps.

Kizzmekia Corbett Continuing to Make COVID-19 Advancements

We are all restlessly thinking about how soon life will go back to the way it was before COVID.  Thankfully, there are people like Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett who are working tirelessly to make that happen soon.

Corbett is an immunologist and research fellow who has continuously proven herself to be an extremely dominant and essential figure in the advancements towards the development of the COVID-19 vaccine. Corbett, also known as Kizzy, is a woman of color in the science field who was and is a key leader on the team that worked with Moderna to release a vaccine to the public. With quite an extensive background, Corbett was more than qualified to do so. Since the age of sixteen, she has emerged herself in various scientific opportunities, due to the fact that her parents were always pushing her to further her education with everything she spent time doing. One of the opportunities Corbett had taken part in was a select program called Project SEEDS at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. There, she was able to study chemistry in professional labs and indulge herself in her interests. This is where she met her mentor, Albert Russell.

Albert Russell was a huge inspiration to Corbett. She describes that Russell “planted a seed that summer (at Chapel Hill) by taking time away from his experiments to mentor [her].” Since then, Corbett leads her work with an African-American proverb as her mentoring philosophy, “each one teach one.” She believes that it is her “duty to particularly mentor people of diverse underrepresented backgrounds.” Her goal is to expose young minds to the science field and give hope to people of color interested in pursuing a career in science. Corbett states that her responsibility as a woman of color in her field is “to mentor, to be visible, and to represent” the underrepresented. 

Corbett “is right at the forefront of the development of the vaccine” according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, a person working with Corbett and the NIH. Corbett played major roles in the development of the vaccine, and continues to do so. Her and her team worked quickly to “identify the SARS-CoV-2 genetic sequence it would need to make a vaccine for COVID-19.” Corbett worked with the group to perform tests on animals for clinical trials, and set a plan to achieve their goal. From there, she helped design the vaccine. 

Aside from actually designing the vaccine, Corbett is playing another extremely important role during this global pandemic. She takes the time to deliver speeches to communities of people of color. Corbett educates people who may not know much about vaccines or understand science that well. This is crucial due to the fact that studies show that “COVID-19 has affected Black, Native American and Latino American people at higher rates than white people, for reasons rooted in racism and historical segregation,” yet many do not trust the vaccine. People are skeptical due to how fast the vaccine was created, and thus many have said that they would not be receiving it. Corbett is using her position, knowledge, and power to educate these people and reassure them that the vaccine is 100% safe, as she stated, I could never sleep at night if I developed anything — if any product of my science came out — and it did not equally benefit the people that look like me. Period.”

Corbett is also using social media platforms to inform the public and update them on the vaccine’s progress. She encourages and informs her followers on her twitter, @KizzyPhD

Black Science Researchers Making a Difference in the Community

As seen throughout society this year, especially, Black Lives Matter Movements have gained a lot of support and attention. Not only is this movement present in everyday life, but also more specifically the science and education world. As shared in this article from Science News, many Black scientists are using their experience and knowledge to fight for diversity and equity in science, especially Deja Perkins, Raven Baxter, Brian Nord, Angeline Dukes, and Gary Hoover. 

Urban Ecologist, Deja Perkins of the University of North Carolina is the president of BlackAFinStem and a co-organizer of #BlackBirdersWeek. She was inspired to act when another member of BlackAFinStem, Christian Cooper, was verbally harassed in Central Park for the color of his skin while taking part in bird watching and research. Following this incident, BlackAFinStem was created to bring awareness to Black people’s experience in the outdoors and those who have had unpleasant experiences while working in the field. Although, since the beginning of BlackAFinStem, more and more organizations have been looking to hire many members of its workshops, presentations, and development, Perkins believes that gatekeeping could become a barrier for long term change. 

Another notable Black scientist is Raven Baxter. She is a science education graduate from the University of Buffalo who founded @BlackinScienceComm. She founded this in order to create a safe space for other Black scientists to share their voices and to encourage them to use their voices to advocate for justice. She mentions that one larger importance is for generations to come and in hope of alleviating that feeling of imposter syndrome, “the product of not feeling like you belong because you don’t see anybody like you in your field. So you’re doing well and you’re succeeding, but you feel like you’re an imposter because the narrative that’s been pushed for so long is that we’re not in these fields or that we don’t do well in these fields. But that’s not true.” Especially in this past year, Baxter, has successfully created a place where scientists alike can uplift others in hope of making the science field a better place.

Angelina Dukes is a Neuroscience graduate student from the University of Irvine, California who founded and resides as president of @BlackInNeuro. In her department, she was only one of two Black women, which she felt at times very segregated. With that, there were no Black Faculty members which she describes as, “emotionally and mentally draining”, so the need for a community that would understand and uplift others drove the creation of BlackInNeuro. The success of this platform allowed for many scientists to connect with each other and Dukes believes that because, “ There aren’t a lot of Black people in faculty positions. [They] have the energy and the drive to build a community and hopefully retain more of us in these fields so we can get those faculty positions.”

Overall, many scientists are working toward making not only make the science field a more inclusive place, but all society as well. These few people have created very influential platforms that have already begun to make others feel more safe and comfortable in their field and will continue to do so in the future. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Warren Washington changed the trajectory of Climate Change Research

Dr. Warren M. Washington is one of the world’s most influential climate scientists.

Born in 1936, in Portland, Oregon, Washington grew up interested in science from a very young age. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in physics and a master’s degree in meteorology from Oregon State University, and then his doctorate in meteorology from Pennsylvania State University. In 1963, he joined NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research) as a research scientist.

During his first few years at NCAR, Washington helped create one of the first computer models to examine the earth’s climate. In the past, scientists merely theorized about and observed the weather to make predictions. However, Washington has said that this new model “shows the basic change of seasons, the change of day/night, temperature and winds.” It also helps make long-term projections about future weather patterns by collecting and graphing weather data. This climate model also contributed to the massive rise in awareness of climate change.

Dr. Washington told Business Insider in a 2019 interview, “Keep in mind that we’re the first generation that sees climate change in human history.” “Most climate change has been us going in and out of ice ages over thousands of years. Now we’re seeing things happen over tens of years.” The rapid climate change allowed for a lot of weather data to be had, which Washington and his team used in the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. This data ultimately determined that the increase in industrialization and technology has directly impacted our environment. Though this discovery may appear obvious in hindsight, this was a groundbreaking revelation at the time that led Dr. Washington and his team to the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. 

This image depicts some of the aspects of climate change that have occurred due to humans. Our “human fingerprints” have resulted in global warming, more fossil fuels in the ocean and air, and much more. I often get caught up in the misconception that climate change is not just global warming but so much more.

One very significant development that came from this model was the ability to study hurricanes and how they have changed over time. Washington’s computer model helped him discover a positive feedback loop between the warming ocean and atmospheric temperatures, creating a greater hurricane strength. A positive feedback loop is one that brings something further away from its target setpoint. In this case, as industrialization and the advancement of technology continue to allow greenhouse gases to warm up the atmosphere and the ocean, the rising heat of the ocean causes stronger hurricanes. Because the sea continues to get hotter, the storms continue to grow stronger, bringing the hurricane strength further and further from its target set point. The other type of feedback loop is a negative feedback loop, where a feedback loop brings something closer to its target set point. An example of this would be how humans regulate their body temperature by shivering or sweating to heat up or cool down, respectively. 

Throughout his career, Warren Washington has even gone on to earn the National Medal of Science by Barack Obama, served on commissions for climate change, became the president of the American Meteorological Society. In 2020, at 83 years old, he won the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement. 

Not only does Washington’s model continue to be one of the most innovative and influential models in climate change studies, but he continues to be a role model for generations of students regardless of their background. Washington has mentored many students to pursue a science career through the NCAR SOARS program (Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science). In 1999, Washington even won the Dr. Charles Anderson Award from the American Meteorological Society for mentoring and fostering a diverse and passionate community of young scientists toward success. 

Washington is just one of many Black scientists who has curated innovative inventions that will benefit us for centuries to come. I find it fascinating that without his innovative research of climate change, the way we view our own effects on the world could be entirely different, possibly leading the climate to be even more extreme than it already is.

The First Latina in Space- Dr. Ellen Ochoa

Dr. Ellen Ochoa is one of most important women in NASA’s history, winning many awards including the Distinguished Service Medal, NASA’s highest award. As a child, the Mexican-American never thought to become an astronaut, as it wasn’t presented as a job women could have. In college, Ochoa considered majoring in music as she is a talented classically trained flutist work but after taking taking various STEM based  courses she decided on Physics. After college, Ochoa was unsure of what to do next ultimately deciding to attend Stanford University due to her mother’s constant emphasis on the importance of education. At Stanford, she earned a master’s degree and doctorate in electrical engineering and began her research on the subject of optics, which involves studying the characteristics and interactions of light.

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Ochoa playing her beloved flute while on a mission 

Whilst at Stanford, Ochoa got to see Sally Ride (a fellow physics major and Stanford graduate) become the first female astronaut at NASA and that inspired her to apply to be an astronaut after graduating. Ochoa flew her first mission in 1993, making her the first Latina in space as well as NASA’s first hispanic female astronaut. She went on to fly 3 other missions, logging almost 1,000 hours in space.  Whilst in space, Ochoa conducted studies on the Sun’s effect on the Earth’s atmosphere and climate, deploying multiple satellites. After directing the Johnson Space Center for years she has retired now serving on the boards of several influential scientific organizations.

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Dr. Ochoa’s official NASA astronaut portrait

Ochoa’s research took place largely at Stanford as well as at NASA’s Sandia National Laboratory. There she began to develop complex optical analysis systems, which helped to give a more accurate quality of light interactions and can make conclusions about what they are “seeing”. She also developed “optical, computerized recordings and models of events and phenomena in space.” This helped NASA better understand the depths of space as well as led the way for optical systems to be used for automated space exploration. Ochoa was granted patents for optical devices including a system that “inspects objects, a system that identifies and can “recognize” objects, and a system that minimizes distortion (noise) in the images taken of an object.” After conducting this research she moved on to NASA’s Ames Research Center where she surprised 35 fellow scientists working on designing computer systems to be used in space missions. It was this research that got her accepted into the astronaut program where she served as a mission specialist and flight engineer. Ochoa also participated in some research that measured the size of the ozone layer in space helping to reveal the extent of damage from chlorofluorocarbons. This research has helped lead to the phasing out of these dangerous chemicals and these efforts are finally showing positive results.

Today Dr. Ochoa works to inspire others with her story advocating for further involvement of women and people of color in STEM as well as the importance of a quality education. Dr. Ochoa one of my personal idols, showing that not only women, but Latinos deserve a place in scientific history and that with brains and hard work, there are endless possibilities.

The Incredible Work of Veterinary Microbiologist Jessie Price aka “Duck Doctor”

Dr. Jessie Price is the veterinary microbiologist responsible for developing a vaccine against Pasteurella anatipestifer, a respiratory disease which killed roughly 10% to 30% of ducks annually around the 1940s. A Black woman from a poor family, she overcame many obstacles before achieving success as an acclaimed scientist. Born in the year 1930, Dr. Price was raised by a single mother in Pennsylvania. Growing up, she was one of the three Black children in the entire school. Nonetheless, she achieved excellent grades and dedicated herself to academic excellence with the encouragement of her mother and teachers. After a gap year studying in New York, Dr. Price attended Cornell University. Despite initially wanting to become a physician, financial constraints did not enable her to follow that path, so instead she decided to study veterinary microbiology. She decided to continue her education at graduate school, and in order to pay off her tuition, Dr. Price worked as a lab technician at the Poultry Disease Research Farm of the New York State Veterinary College at Cornell University. She earned her Masters in bacteriology, pathology,and parasitology, and she earned her PhD based on her research and thesis titled, “Studies on the Pasteurella anatipestifer Infection in White Pekin Ducklings.”

Along with her two assistants, Dr. Jessie Price created the vaccine for Pasteurella anatipestifer, saving the meat industry millions of dollars as well as saving the lives of innocent ducklings! In addition, through numerous autopsies and trials using vaccinations, Dr. Price identified Pasteurella multocida, Escherichia coli, and Duck hepatitis as the main culprits responsible for killing the several flocks of ducklings she was studying.

The vaccine for Pasteurella anatipestifer connects to topics learned in AP Biology because a vaccine contains the weakened or inactive fragments of an antigen which, when injected into an organism, activates the immune system, prompting it to create antibodies which aid with immunity.

Dr. Jessie Price had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. She loved bettering herself and continued studying and researching most of her life. Very sadly, Dr. Price passed away on November 12, 2015, due to Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Jessie Price’s story inspires us to work hard for our dreams and overstep limitations. She dedicated herself to uncovering solutions, reminding us the value of enjoying the process just as much as arriving at the destination.

The Incredible Work of Percy Lavon Julian

This post will focus on the incredible life of Dr. Percy Lavon Julian (1899-1975), an African-American chemist whose groundbreaking work with steroids allowed them to be mass-produced cheaper and developed hundreds of treatments and new technologies. Julian was born the son of a railway clerk and the grandson of enslaved people in Montgomery, Alabama, As such, he faced extreme discrimination and challenges in all aspects of his life, especially in his education. Against all odds, he was accepted and graduated as the valedictorian of DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. From there, he was awarded an Austin Fellowship to Harvard University where he furthered his education in chemistry. However, due to his race, he was not allowed to pursue a doctorate at Harvard, so he traveled to the University of Vienna in Austria in order to complete his doctorate and continue his research.

It was at the University of Vienna where Julian really dove into the chemistry of plants as well as synthesis, a passion that would lead to many groundbreaking discoveries. After being granted his Ph.D. from the University of Vienna, Julian returned to DePauw University as a research fellow where he made his first of many significant breakthroughs using synthesis. He and a fellow Viennese colleague synthesized physostigmine, a compound from Calabar beans that is vital in treating glaucoma. Since chemical synthesis (the process of turning one substance into another through a series of planned chemical reactions) was the most popular topic in chemistry, Julian was hurtled to the top of the science world. In fact, in 1999, the American Chemical Society denoted their work as a “National Historic Chemical Landmark.” Despite this revolutionary breakthrough that helped many people, DePauw University refused to make Julian a permanent faculty member due to his race. Julian quickly became frustrated with the world of academics and instead became the director of research at the Glidden Company.

It was at the Glidden Company where Julian made his most significant discoveries through soybeans. While researching how to synthesize Progesterone, a female sex hormone that is important in preventing miscarriages in pregnancies, Julian discovered that water had leaked into a vat of purified soybean oil and had produced a white mass. Julian quickly identified this white mass as stigmasterol, a compound that is extremely important for synthesizing progesterone, and realized he had discovered a way to cheaply mass-produce progesterone. This dramatically reduced the price of this important hormone and made it much more accessible to people all over the world. This was not the only amazing work that Julian did with soybeans, among his other achievements, he discovered a way to cheaply produce synthetic cortisone, a “miracle” drug that had significant effects on rheumatoid arthritis. Before Julian’s research, this drug was extremely expensive and therefore inaccessible to some people. Julian’s synthetic cortisone alleviated the pain and suffering of people all over the world. Julian did not only discover ways to synthesize steroids while at Glidden. For example, a protein he extracted from soybeans was used to produce a fire-retardant foam that saved thousands of lives in World War II.

In 1954, Julian left Glidden in order to start his own company called Julian Laboratories which cheaply produced steroids to sell to pharmaceutical companies. Julian was found to be as capable an entrepreneur as a scientist, making millions from selling his company. Despite Julian being named “Chicagoan of the year” and his incredible achievements, he faced significant discrimination both in his professional and personal life, having his home firebombed and being repeatedly held back from the best resources. Despite all of this, Julian left a tremendous legacy of groundbreaking work that allowed for the cheap production of medicine and a legacy as the man who broke the color barrier into American industrial science. At the time of his death, Julian had more than 100 patents to his name, 18 honorary degrees, and more than a dozen science and civic awards.

Diving Into the Life of Rene Francolini

Rene Francolini identifies as a proud bisexual, cisgendered female (she/her), who specializes in computational biology. Computational Biology combines her two greatest passions: marine biology and computer science.

Francolini discovered her love for computer science and marine biology in highschool, but was then introduced to the combination of those two topics by one of her highschool teachers. The rest is history. Francolini furthered her education in science and got her undergraduate and accelerated master’s degree at Carnegie Mellon University for Computational Biology. When she came right out of college, she worked as an oyster farmer for a few years before working at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI). During the last two years spent there. Francolini spent her time in the environmental toxicology lab, collecting Environmental DNA (eDNA) from deep parts of the ocean, and the molecular ecology lab taking part in a larger project known as the Ocean Twilight Zone Project.

The Ocean Twilight Zone Project focuses on gathering research from a part of the ocean called the mesopelagic zone. It’s often referred to as the twilight zone, and is home to the greatest amount of fish in the sea. Often the fish we will find on our dinner plates like tuna and swordfish are coming from there. The twilight zone also takes part in removing some of the carbon in the atmosphere, which regulates our climate. In today’s world, we need to be careful in protecting it because it benefits not only the fish, but us too. This research will help advance ocean science; it will also give government officials insight on this zone, so hopefully they will try their best to protect it.

Francolini is currently getting her Marine Science PhD, while also taking part in the Maine-eDNA project as a Graduate Research Assistant. She’s specifically working on the Gulf of Maine’s kelp forests, and “how we anticipate climate change to alter the landscape and biodiversity of these vital ecosystems” (500 queer scientists). This project combines fieldwork, collecting samples, as well as computational and molecular work. This project showcases how versatile Francolini is as a biologist.

Franciolini loves that being a scientist means that you can share your passion with others, which even leads some to discover a love and interest in STEM and the environment around us. She is proud to be a part of the openly LGBTQ+ minority in STEM, as representation in this field encourages more young scientists that will be coming from our generation to outwardly be who they are without fear of not being accepted and/or respected.

Spotlight: Sharon Strauss and Evolution of Organisms in Barren Habitats

Sharon Strauss is an evolutionary ecologist at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) where she has been conducting research on the evolution of plants and the ways in which they interact with other species. As a woman in a STEM environment, Strauss has faced opposition due to her gender. It took her 5 years longer than the regular time trajectory to obtain a job in her field, subtle obstacles such as invitations to work with groups, and also simply not being taken seriously or personally asked to contribute to group conversations. Although she has faced challenges, Strauss has done phenomenal research on the ecology and evolution of plants and her efforts, both her research and her job as a professor, have been rewarded.

One of her largest and most well known projects was called Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. During this project, she and her team were studying how wildlife adapted to a barren environment. During this expedition, Strauss and her team explored the possible connection between attack rates and visibility. They followed 160 seedlings of a few different species from the genus Streptanthus and observed how they grew and what their current condition was depending on the amount of bare ground and leaf coloration. Additionally, they formed small clay models of caterpillars to act as an undefended population of prey in order to measure attack rates on visible animal species. They measured this by checking the area around the caterpillars to see if there were beak or tooth marks of a predator attempting to eat it. Strauss was able to conclude that attacks on both animals and plants were connected to how apparent or visible they were in their environment. For this reason, certain plants and animals had adapted by changing their color in order to blend into their barren environment.

Since this project mainly involved studying adaption and evolution, it is not very similar to anything we have learned in class yet. However, there is a connection between evolution and genes, which we are currently learning about. Every organism that sexually reproduces passes genes down to their offspring via the sperm and the egg. The physical features of the offspring are determined by the genes they are composed of. Typically, these genes are passed down by the parents to the offspring; however, it is also possible for an error in DNA replication to occur or exposure to chemical or radiation damage that can cause a mutation. This connects to evolution since there will always be variety within a population. A certain trait could prove to be more successful in survival than another so gradually, over many generations, that trait will be passed down since the members of the population that have that gene have a higher chance at surviving and reproducing as proposed in Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.

I admire the hard work and the effort that Sharon Strauss has put into her career and passion to get where she is now and to have achieved what she has. Despite the barriers that were placed in front of her, she continued on since biology was her passion. I also have a passion for biology, specifically zoology, and as a girl, I may face similar obstacles. Even if I change my mind or find a new passion, I hope to carry the same spirit that Sharon Strauss did to push through any barriers that I may face.

The Truth Behind Health Disparities: COVID-19 Edition

As the coronavirus continues, there have been some notable statistics that highlight pre-existing health disparities for many. In an article written by CDC, the terms “health disparities” and “racial and ethnic groups” are connected to one another. In this blog post, I’m going to dig deeper into the “social determinants of health” and discuss correlations between certain factors of these determinants.

It’s been noticed even before COVID-19 that certain racial and ethnic groups have an increased risk of getting sick and dying. Now with the global pandemic, the factors that cause this increased risk need to be addressed before more thousands of hundreds of people contract the virus.

We first need to understand what discrimination means, as it plays a huge role in the spread of COVID-19 in these groups. Discrimination comes in many shapes and forms including but not limited to these factors: health care, housing, education, and occupation/ finance. When particular racial and ethnic groups are discriminated against for all of the above, they are placed in social and economic situations that are more prone to falling at the hands of COVID-19. Inequities in access to quality education for some racial and ethnic groups can lead to lower high school completion and issues with college entrance. This may limit future job options and lead to lower-paying or less stable jobs. People may not be able to afford the proper healthcare (this can be due to income or even direct discrimination from healthcare companies). This leads to segregated spread due to geography and demographics. When these ethnic and racial groups are discriminated against when it comes to housing, this creates a lot more issues than realized. In this article, there are comparative data studies that highlight certain parts of many states that are known to be predominantly a certain ethnic or racial group. Having compared neighboring towns of majority race and ethnicity, these areas have been proven to have higher deaths from COVID-19. This is because these ethnic or racial groups may have not had access to the proper health care or live in crowded conditions that make it more challenging to follow prevention strategies. It may also be the case where some ethnic families live with their elders as part of their culture. These dangerous conditions of living together as a grouped town will increase the infection rate and spread of COVID. As seen, all of these factors are connected not only to racial and ethnic groups but also to each other. These factors all add up to the thousands of deaths that fall to COVID-19.

To conclude, this leaves us with the question of what can we do? Of course, as we learned from some of our peers’ COVID-19 portfolio, there are traditional and effective COVID-19 precautions that include social distancing, sanitizing, protection (masks), etc. As science grows, we need to learn to be less prejudiced against those around us. This issue of health disparity of racial and ethnic minorities has been occurring for years. COVID-19 did not create this health disparity, it only emphasized how much needs to be actually changed. This article, which I stumbled upon, really went into depth more on the pre-existing health disparities that we have chosen to ignore. COVID-19 has now opened the eyes of many to see that these health disparities range from the differences in racial and ethnic Breast Cancer treatment, maternal care, and even dental care, which most have incorrectly deemed insignificant in the world of health.

We must change. We can find ways to support everyone, even when physically apart. We need to stop the discrimination that has occurred and start empowering and encouraging the community and the people within to protect themselves and their loved ones. We can care for those who become sick, keep kids healthy, and learn how to better cope with stress. Of course, community- and faith-based organizations, employers, healthcare systems and providers, public health agencies, policymakers have their work cut out for them as well. The key is the promotion of fair access to healthcare now. Much can be done to ensure that people have the resources to maintain and manage their physical and mental health. Suggestions include making information on COVID-19 more accessible, more affordable testing, and medical health care. We need to start paying more attention to fix our society and our health disparities to prevent the spread of COVID before more lives are lost.

 

The Unsung Heroes of our Scientific World

As I scrolled through my Instagram feed, I stumbled upon a moment in time that left me awe-struck: the unsung heroes of our scientific world. In this post, I learned about the contributions of African American women who have undoubtedly shaped our world yet have not received the proper acknowledgement they deserve. Why have their influential fingerprints been overlooked? In spite of the gender and racial oppression these brave women have painstakingly endured, their stellar contributions continue to stand the test of time. 

For starters, I would like to address a crucial challenge that our world continues to grapple with- the fight against gender discrimination. The transformative world of science predominantly teaches us about the achievements of white men and their everlasting impact and revolutionary discoveries, while we rarely hear about the similar accolades of women, specifically women of color. Their triumphant stories and novel discoveries are left out of science textbooks and medical journals; they are left only with an occasional appearance in an obscure footnote. As a result, their historical accolades are essentially being written by white men idolizing white men. Devoid of fame and public recognition, women rarely dominate the storyline, rendering an outdated tale where white men set out to make scientific history as they strut their self proclaimed efforts for all to witness. Sadly, behind every leap and discovery lies a multitude of budding female scientists who do their part to break the code. 

In spite of gender and racial oppression that African American female scientists have painstakingly endured, their stellar contributions continue to stand the test of time. However, over the ensuing years, the work of only a select few unsung heroes has finally been highlighted. This recurring theme of gender inequality needs to change as we reveal the hidden truth to the innovative discoveries that we have all come to know and appreciate. For starters, Professor Wangari Maathai was the first African woman to win the Nobel Prize as a result of her sustainable development campaign that planted over 30 million trees. In the world of applied mathematics, Dr. Gladys West analyzed satellite data and created a detailed model of the Earth’s Surface that was a key contribution to GPS technology. Katherine Johnson was a mathematician at NASA who calculated and guided the flight path of the first American spacecraft reaching the moon. Moreover, African American women have continuously impacted the medical field as Alice Augusta Ball invented the “Ball Method”: the first effective treatment for Leprosy. Dr. Marie Maynard Daly was the first black woman in the US to earn a PhD in Chemistry, who used her progressive scientific knowledge to uncover the missing link between cholesterol levels and cardiovascular disease. With these impressive achievements in hand, it is high time that we recognize how these powerful women collectively personify the oppressed and serve as a painful reminder that we need to speak up for this silenced group. 

Today, we must actively recognize the herculean efforts set forth by this marginalized community, who have fearlessly paved the way for a new generation of scientific warriors to bravely follow suit. Today, empowered women dominate high powered industries across all walks of life. Not only will our newfound remembrance offer these fierce and brilliant women the notable recognition they deserve, but it will allow us to use their personal accounts as treasured lessons that inspire young women to join in. As an aspiring woman in STEM myself, these women have truly paved a path for my future endeavors. With these impressive scientific leaders at the forefront, we must call our meaningful conversation to action and finally shed light on the groundbreaking work of these noble women.

I have linked additional resources that dive more in-depth about each one of these remarkable individuals’ achievements so that you too can learn about their everlasting mark on the scientific world.

Melanin: Breaking Down Barriers

In a post written by Susan Eckert (teacher) and Shannon Huhn (student), the complex and complicated construct of race is broken down to reveal the true essence of society: genetics and the genetics of the skin. 

Skin is one of the most important parts of our body. Firstly, as we studied in our immune system unit, we know that the skin protects us from sickness and from possible foreign invaders through the non-specific/innate bodily response. Specifically, however, our skin protects us from damage caused by UV light all because of melanin. 

Although we may be familiar with this term as it is oftentimes involved in the conversation of race, research shows that the concept of race is not actually backed by science and the genetics of melanin. Before we can get into this conversation, we must learn about the science behind melanin. Importantly, our bodies contain cells called Melanocytes that produce the pigment called melanin. Through the process of melanogenesis, tyrosine is oxidized, which as we know from class means that it is losing electrons, and enzymes are utilized to produce two kinds of melanin: eumelanin which causes the skin to be dark, and phaeomelanin which causes the skin to be light. Although all of our bodies have the same amount of melanocytes, our skin color is determined by how much eumelanin and/or phaeomelanin is produced. 

 

With this knowledge, it is easier to engage in conversation on race. Throughout history, skin color has been used to fuel general racial inequalities. Darker skin, whose genetic purpose is to be able to absorb more light, has been wrongfully associated with inferiority while lighter skin, whose genetic purpose doesn’t involve absorbing a lot of light, has been associated with superiority, both based on the grounds of their appearances. Making these assumptions based solely on the physical color of the skin without acknowledging or thinking about the explanatory science should automatically negate these wrongful and incorrect accusations. According to Tiskoff and Kidd, “Humans are ∼98.8% similar to chimpanzees at the nucleotide level and are considerably more similar to each other”. Of course, we must take into consideration the confidence level and margin of error in this statistic, but nevertheless, the percentage is high, showing that race doesn’t make one inferior/superior as we are all essentially the same except for minor genes which produce specific skin colors. In general, it comes down to the production of pigments all based on necessary function.

We must combine what we know about melanin, genetics, skin, and race to move forward in our society. Although all are socially and genetically unique, we are all human on a genetic and molecular level. Conducting research and getting down to the science of various topics carries the necessary substantial weight to create change. What would you like to research next?

Alan Turing – The Father of Computer Science

Background Information (source & source)

Alan Mathison Turing (1912-1964) was an English mathematician and logician. His works helped develop the fields of computer science and artificial intelligence. Growing up, Turing received top-notch education from private schools because his father was a civil servant for British India. They weren’t necessarily rich, but they were considered to be upper-middle class. Additionally, the headmaster of Sherborne School told claimed that “If he is to be solely a Scientific Specialist, he is wasting his time at a Public School” in response to Turing’s fascination with science at a young age.

This interest in science came from the early stages of his childhood. As Turing’s father worked in India, Turing and his older brother lived in foster homes that did not encourage creativity and research. Due to this bland lifestyle, Turing considered science to be a special experience that he eventually turned into his passion.

Turing’s academic accomplishments allowed him to study at the University of Cambridge, King’s College, and Princeton University.

 

 

 

 

Church-Turing Thesis and Entscheidungsproblem

Entscheidungsproblem is a German term meaning “Decision Problem”. The Decision Problem is described by the following scenario: Logical premises are used to reach a conclusion. From that conclusion, is it possible to create an algorithm that will determine whether or not that conclusion is true or false for all possible cases?

Turing solved this problem by creating something he called a computation machine, which is now known today as the Turing machine. A Turing machine can be represented by circles, arrows, and symbols. Each circle is a state of the machine. The symbols and arrows indicate how to transition between states. Additionally, there is something called a tape, which is an array of symbols that extends infinitely in both directions. The formal definition of a Turing machine is an ordered septuple that is made of (Q, Sigma, Gamma, q_0, h_a, h_r, and delta). Q is the set of all states, Sigma is the alphabet, Gamma is the alphabet of the tape, q_0 is the start state, h_a is the accept state(s), h_r is the reject state, and delta is the transition function. In order to understand the explanation easier, think of a TM as a theoretical computer.

Turing solved Entscheidungsproblem by creating a general TM that contains every single TM in existence. This is possible because TMs can be used to simulate other TMs and every algorithmic procedure could be carried out by a TM. In order to prove or disprove Entscheidungsproblem, Turing had to prove or disprove that there exist some specific inputs that are not recognized by the general TM. He proved that the answer to the problem was no, solving the Entscheidungsproblem. To this day, TMs are used to teach computer science, as they illustrate the basic functions of a computer.

 

World War II (source)

During WWII, the Germans were sending encoded messages to each other. The Allied forces struggled greatly due to U-boats and their orchestrated attacks. In an attempt to aid the Allies in the war, Turing and a team created a machine that could decipher their secret messages. They created a way to crack codes at a rate of two per minute, saving millions of lives and speeding up the war by two to four years in the process. There would’ve been an estimated 14 to 21 million lives lost, had the war not been sped up by the code breakers.

 

Artificial Intelligence (source)

Turing created the first computer chess program, which he called Turbochamp, while he was trying to develop artificial intelligence. Turing had his colleague Alick Glennie play against Turbochamp. Although it wasn’t able to beat Glennie, it was able to play chess at a human level, showing that computers are capable of emulating a human brain to some extent.

 

Struggle with Homophobia (source)

Turing was openly gay during his life. In 1952, he was arrested for a relationship with a 19-year-old man named Arnold Murray. In court, Turing admitted to performing “acts of gross indecency” and was convicted for it. His punishment was either prison or chemical castration. He chose the latter and lost his job due to his conviction. About 49k are estimated to have been convicted and punished similarly to Turing until the Sexual Offences act of 1967, which decriminalized homosexuality. However, Turing was found dead at the age of 41 as a result of cyanide poisoning in 1954, 13 years before the outdated laws were replaced. It is thought that he committed suicide, but there are some indications that it was a result of accidental poisoning.

In response to his persecution, Turing received a posthumous royal pardon in 2013 and will be featured on the new British £50 banknote by the end of 2021.

 

Conclusion

It is unfortunate that Turing did not get the treatment he deserved for his accomplishments. He is an extraordinary scientist who is comparable to Charles Darwin, but he is not nearly as well known. However, Turing started to become a symbol and a martyr over time, inspiring people to reflect on their discrimination in the past. I hope that Turing’s story will become more well known so that people all around the world will be able to experience it too.

 

The Biology of Skin Color

It’s a hot summer day and you are relaxing by the pool. Ever wonder why your skin gets darker or tanner when doing so? It’s because of melanin! 

Melanin is a skin pigment that can be found in humans, animals, and most organisms. It is responsible for making hair, skin, and eyes appear darker. Melanin exists in two forms: eumelanin and pheomelanin. Eumelanin is black or brown pigment and pheomelanin is red or yellow pigment in one’s skin tone. 

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Different Skin Colors

When you are exposed to the sun, more melanin is produced. “In human skin, melanin pigments are synthesized in organelles called melanosomes that are found in specialized cells called melanocytes in the skin epidermis.” In order for melanocytes to produce melanin, a receptor protein called MC1R, found in the melanocyte cell membrane must be activated by melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH) which is secreted by the pituitary gland in response to exposure from UV light. Once MC1R is activated, it triggers the production of release of cAMP and as we learned in class, this triggers a cell signaling pathway ending with the release of eumelanin, making our skin appear darker. 

A short additional fact is that melanin protects us from skin cancer. Melanin can absorb the UV rays and block them from reaching and damaging the DNA within one’s melanocytes. In this case, melanin acts as “a protective agent in the skin” joining your first line of defense to protect you against pathogens or in this case to protect you against the damaging UV rays. There are three types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. 

A person’s skin color depends on the amount and type of melanin (eumelanin or pheomelanin) present in one’s skin. Genetically speaking, “people with naturally darkly pigmented skin have melanosomes that are large and filled with eumelanin” (biointeractive.org). As discussed above, there is a huge biological importance of melanin; without it, humans wouldn’t have a protective skin barrier against the UV rays emitted by the earth, but throughout history the importance of melanin has been placed to the side due to the idea of race or more specially racial superiority based on ones skin tone being introduced into the conversation. 

In short, while there is a biological basis of skin color, there is no biological basis or scientific explanation of race. Although it has been attempted, by Samuel Morton in the 1800s when he compared the brain sizes of the five racial groups or by Dr. Menegele during WWII when he measured facial features of the Jewish people, it is challenging to use science to support the concept of race. In fact, there are more differences within the “determined” races (African, European, Asian, Oceania, Native American) than between them! No specific amount of melanin, or any trademark alleles for that matter, specify a race. It is important to look at and understand science and evolution- looking at where people come from and why they have that skin color that they do based on melanin and weather conditions around them. It is important to take into account how we have evolved into unique humans, even though 99.6 – 99.8% of our genetic material is identical. It is important to educate ourselves about why we are the way we are and how evolution has impacted that, not how groups of people throughout history have tried to give an racist explanation for it.  

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Skin Colors Found Around the World

 

Dr. Apryl Pooley: The Incredible Neuroscientist, Activist, and Survivor Illuminating Sex Differences in PTSD Symptoms

“Trauma#neuroscientist,#author, artist, social justice activist, mental health advocate, unionizer, survivor/recover-er/contender of rape/addiction/#PTSD” This is the Twitter bio of Dr. Apryl Pooley, a neuroscientist who is studying sex differences in traumatic stress response using sperm producing and egg producing Sprauge-Dawley rats. Through her work, she came to the discovery that “trauma has divergent sex-specific effects at the behavioral, physiological, and cellular levels,” an idea that hasn’t been explored in modern neurobiology. 

A visual of the release of ACTH in response to a stressor

Dr. Pooley and her research team utilized two known identifiers of PTSD-like response in rats to monitor these differences between the males and females. One was the acoustic startle response (ASR), an involuntary contraction in the facial and skeletal muscles “to a sudden and intense startling stimulus,” and the other was the dexamethasone suppression test (DST), a test used to examine adrenal gland function after the administration of dexamethasone, a steroid that “provides negative feedback to the pituitary gland to suppress the secretion of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH),” which is released in copious amounts in the presence of a biological stressor. In PTSD patients, enhanced ACTH suppression is consistently found after this test is performed, since the patient responds to the negative feedback loop which quells the excessive release of ACTH. While the male rats demonstrated a high startle response and this expected negative feedback control in the pituitary and adrenal glands, the female rats showed symptoms more common to depression in response to the stressor. This contrast lead to Pooley’s conclusion that the “trauma response of male and female rats is fundamentally different,” and that it is important to understand these differences to pave “the way for improved diagnostics and therapeutics that effectively treat both men and women.”

Her interest in trauma and PTSD, especially her “goal of determining how a traumatic event affects people differently,” stems from her personal experiences and struggles. While she was researching Parkinson’s disease in her doctoral training at MSU, she came across studies of PTSD symptoms and realized that is what she had been coping with her entire life after being raped as a teenager. She “didn’t know that rape could cause PTSD,” and became dedicated to helping others learn about the devestating effects and causes of traumatic stress response. She also struggled with an alcohol addiction to cope with her trauma and eventually sought help from counselors and psychiatrists. During her journey of recovery from alcoholism, she wrote a book about her experiences titled Shadow Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Journey through PTSD and Womanhood and changed her Ph.D. research to looking at PTSD, with a concentration on how symptoms present in women. 

Dr. Pooley is an inspiring scientist, activist, and survivor that is making history with ground breaking research in behavioral science. She is “excited” to continue finding “biological evidence for why men with PTSD tend to show signs of aggression and anger and women with PTSD tend to show signs of anxiety and depression” and shedding light on how behavioral health disorders and trauma affect women, a topic underrepresented in current scientific research. She especially hopes that her work leads to the development of increasingly effective treatment resources for sexual assault survivors, women, and LGTBQ+ people who have experienced trauma or struggle with PTSD. How do you think we can amplify the voices of female scientists studying behavioral health and trauma like Dr. Pooley? How do you think her work is changing the portrayal of behavioral and mental health in the scientific community? 

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