Zeena Nackerdien: From Rockefeller to Novelist

By Aileen Marshall

Not all Rockefeller University (RU) scientists have a traditional career path. Some go on to teach or continue research. But some expand their horizons while still keeping science in their life. One such Rockefeller alum is Zeena Nackerdien, a research associate in Joshua Lederberg’s lab from 2000 to 2008, who went on to a diverse career in medical writing and who has recently published a novel, The Heroine Next Door, with a science theme.


Nackerdien is originally from South Africa. She got her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the University of Cape Town. She then earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of Stellenbosch, in South Africa, studying chromatin structure.

In 1989 she was offered the position of guest researcher at The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and decided to take the opportunity. At NIST she helped to identify indicators in DNA associated with free radical damage, and learned to perform capillary electrophoresis of nucleic acids. She then worked as a post-doc at Memorial Sloan Kettering for a year. Nackerdien moved to RU in 2000, where she began her eight-year stint.   “Like many post-docs, I had a series of stop-and-go experimental projects that ended in frustration,” Nackerdien remembers. While in the lab she published a hypothesis with Professor David Thaler on the rearrangements of chromosomes in cancer and evolution. She also worked on bacterial growth. She described the experience as “tearing my hair out over an inability to explain the bursts of fast growth observed in rich media of a Gram-negative pathogen, Vibrio parahaemolyticus.” Vibrios are a genus of bacteria that often cause infection from eating undercooked seafood. Some strains give off light. “We showed that the growth rates of the light-emitting Vibrios could be impacted by bioluminescence-dependent- and independent-components. However, the buried headline is that some bacterial strains can double very quickly in a manner that cannot easily be attributed to artifacts,” Nackerdien said. She published a paper on this with Dr. Lederberg and Dr. Bonnie Bassler of Princeton University, an expert in quorum sensing. Nackerdien was working on cultivating other bacterial species of the microbiome not easily done by standard plating techniques. Sadly, Dr. Lederberg died in 2008. It was then that she decided to start a writing career, “I have always been a poet at heart. However, it has taken me many years, first as a medical writer, then a patient advocate, and now an author to come up with a blended style that articulates my unique spirit.”

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Tuning Attention and Focusing on the Moment

By Peng Kate Gao

A few years ago, my friend and I took a road trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was a typical mid-fall afternoon, when warm autumn colors began to paint the pastoral landscape of the Appalachian Highlands. The drive was not a difficult one; we had little fear of tumbling over the few cliffs we encountered. Nevertheless, the road was often winding and tortuous with plenty of unexpected curves. As the drive and the scenery captured our full attention, all our worries and work issues faded away. Suddenly, the vibrant foliage became much more lively, the afternoon sun shone more brightly than usual, and the air was sweet with the smell of fall. Years later, the colors, sounds and smells of this experience still play vividly in our minds.

Looking back, my memory of that distant afternoon seems so much clearer to me than many more recent Saturday afternoons I’ve spent aimlessly roaming the streets or watching TV. Recent psychology and neuroscience research helps to explain why this is so: our experience and memory is shaped by what we attend to. It is thus tempting to think that if we can consciously tune our attention and focus on the right things, life will feel less like a series of random acts but more like a work of art that we create.

Unfortunately, tuning attention is not always easy. Do you remember a time when you knew you were supposed to be working on a project or assignment, but somehow your mind started to wander and you felt the urge to check e-mail or Facebook? Focus slips, time melts away, and work is left undone. If this lack of focus becomes a habit, we face the real danger of drifting along in life—passively reacting to circumstances or whatever happens to us. This is certainly a life that most of us try to avoid.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in his widely influential book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience argued, “The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… the best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” He named this fully engaged state as flow, during which the person feels “strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities.” We usually associate flow with creative endeavors of scientists and artists, but Csikszentmihalyi argued that in fact it could be achieved in everyday life too, such as reading a book or tending a garden. Those moments lift our spirits and make us feel that life is worth living. The key to living an engaged life, then, is to find a way to maximize our time in flow and minimize drifting.

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Twenty-four visits to Stockholm: a concise history of the Rockefeller Nobel Prizes

Part VII: Edward Lawrie Tatum, 1958 Prize in Physiology or Medicine

By Joseph Luna

It started, on paper at least, with butter. The chemical microbiology of dairy products was “certainly getting hot” as one professor dryly wrote to George Beadle, who in 1937 was starting his lab at Stanford University. Beadle, a plant geneticist who had recently switched to the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model organism, was looking for a good biochemist to join him with genetics research. He offered the job to 28-year-old Edward Tatum, a University of Wisconsin-Madison Ph.D. who had just spent a year in Utrecht, Netherlands, to study the odd mix of genetics in flies and the chemistry of butter. Tatum had come from a science family (his father was a chemistry professor) and was interested in genetics, but both father and son were concerned with the hybrid role of Beadle’s offer: amongst microbiology, biochemistry and genetics, Tatum stood a good chance of ending up an academic orphan, disowned by each discipline. But with jobs scarce in 1937, there were few options, and Tatum, his wife June, and their toddler, Margaret, headed to California.

What we would now call classical genetics was in full flower at the time. Pioneered at the turn of the century by Thomas Hunt Morgan, the fruit fly was (and still is) a powerful model organism to study inheritance, a concept just rediscovered through the long lost works of Gregor Mendel and his famous pea plants. Fly researchers at the time were interested in uncovering mutants, either natural or induced, that were different from normal flies, just as Mendel had done with peas. By crossing mutants with normal flies, or mutants with other mutants, early geneticists were able to track how a trait was transmitted from one generation to the next. In this manner, they figured out that inherited traits corresponded to physical entities on chromosomes, which they called “genes.” But what exactly a gene did was anyone’s guess. Things that could be readily observed or phenotypes such as changes in eye-color were clearly controlled by genes in the sense that they were inherited in predictable ways, they had genotypes. But for other, absolutely necessary things, like proper metabolism, there was really no path forward, since mutations were usually lethal. As a result, geneticists were thought of as having only uncovered how a subset of trivial phenotypes, like pea shape and fly eye color, were linked to a genotype. Whether critical traits like metabolism played by the same rules was an open and very contentious question.

Into this world, Tatum and Beadle (“Beets” to his friends) set up shop. They set their sights on Drosophila eye color, where they aimed to extract the pigment found in normal flies to characterize it biochemically. Using mutant flies that lacked the pigment, they wanted to perform what we would now call the rescue experiment, where the pigment could be restored in genetically deficient flies. It would have been a powerful demonstration of phenotype correction, were it not for problems encountered seemingly at the get-go. Tatum found that correcting the pigment defect could only work when cultures carried a bacterial contaminant, which presumably made a hormone or small molecule to get things going. They spent four years trying to isolate this hormone, only to be scooped by the competition. It was a major blow for such arduous work, but more importantly, it startled the young researchers as to how complex biochemical genetics would be with flies.

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Culture Corner

Theater Review: “LOVE” performed by Cirque du Soleil at the Mirage Hotel, Las Vegas, Nevada, February 16, 2015

By Bernie Langs


A Hofner bass guitar signed by all four Beatles displayed outside the “LOVE” theater at the Mirage Hotel (photo: B.L.)

When I told a musician friend of mine that I would be in Las Vegas for a few days in February, he insisted that while there I check out the Cirque du Soleil troupe’s interpretation of the Beatles’ music entitled “LOVE” that he had found to be an astounding theatrical tour de force. I knew some of the music from the show from the soundtrack released some years back produced by George Martin and his son, Giles. I’d even chanced upon a cable television airing of the film documentary chronicling the making of the show, but had quickly turned it off after witnessing the late John Lennon’s wife making strong suggestions to the show’s director during early rehearsals. Yoko Ono had already made far too many suggestions for Beatles’ affairs, in my opinion. Yet, I knew the music for “LOVE” to be a brilliantly conceived mash-up of Beatles’ tunes, taking a snippet from one song and tagging it to another or several others. In the case of the late George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” they added a lovely string arrangement to his melancholy demo of the song.

But Cirque du Soleil? Wasn’t it just high wire, trapeze tricks by pantomiming performers? I told my friend, whom I’ve known since the time when the Beatles were an active band, that I’d pass on going to the show. Knowing how highly I regarded the Beatles, he replied, “You will love it. If you do not go, I will find you and I will hurt you. You have to go.”

Thus so gently persuaded to attend, I am glad to say I have escaped that threat of bodily harm and even happier to report that “LOVE” as performed by Cirque du Soleil is a beautiful, exciting, musically profound, and dare I say, loving phenomenon. It is more than a show, it truly is an experience to behold in many ways. George and Giles Martin were instrumental in designing the sound system for the Beatles’ amalgamated music and I’ve read that there are over 100 speakers placed around the theater, including three in each of the individual, cushioned, high-back seats. I would sometimes shift in my seat to play the sound in my chair to the best effect. Beyond any studio album recorded by the group, beyond their television performances, or even the ballpark house speakers at their Shea Stadium show in 1965, this is the way Beatles’ music should be heard. The volume was loud, but not too loud. It surrounded one and became all encompassing, but not uncomfortably overwhelming, and for any Beatles’ fan, it could only lead to a state of bliss. It was like receiving wave after wave of pure joy.

How wrong I was about the mechanics of a live show by Cirque de Soleil. The performers are modern dancers, often undertaking straight out dance moves in various styles or doing their tasteful acrobatic feats in incredibly difficult fashions, including the use of high wires and trampolines. They are in complete tune not only to the beats and rhythms of the Beatles, but to their essence and soul, and very much on target with their original spirit. I was seven years old when the Beatles hit US radio and television, and thirteen when they split up. I was witness to their living spirit, which can never be completely captured again by anything produced since 1970. “LOVE” is as close to a witness of their time and unique manner as I have ever experienced.

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New York State Of Mind

This Month Natural Selections Interviews Carl Modes, Postdoctoral Associate from the Magnasco Lab.

By Melvin White


How long have you been living in the New York area? 
Three and a half years. I grew up in the Philadelphia area and have visited NYC many times over the years, so I wasn’t wholly unfamiliar with it before moving here.

Where do you currently live?
220 E. 70th Street. Three cheers for Rockefeller housing!

Which is your favorite neighborhood? Why?
The East Village, with its abundance of interesting restaurants, bars, and markets is probably my favorite neighborhood to hang out in, though I’m happy I live somewhere a bit more laid back.

What do you think is the most overrated thing in the city? And underrated? 

Overrated: The hustle and bustle, which is really only noticeable in Midtown or touristy Underrated: So many great small and medium-sized parks besides Central (and Prospect) Park.

What do you miss most when you are out of town? 

Probably the energy and sense of opportunity, like you could do or buy or learn or accomplish almost anything just around the corner.

If you could change one thing about NYC, what would that be? 

No so much a new change as wishing for the realization of a change already underway: the completion of the 2nd Avenue subway would do so much for Rockefeller’s neck of the woods, both in terms of accessibility and vibrancy. Its existence might even improve the 6 train!

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Free Spring Breaks in New York: An April Calendar

By Susan Russo


Macy’s Flower Show

When: April 1-4

Where: 34th Street and Seventh Avenue


Central Park Tour

When: April 4, 12-1:00pm

Where: 72nd Street and Fifth Avenue


Center Park Tour

When: April 4, 2:00-3:00pm

Where: 110th Street between Fifth and Lenox Avenue


Center Park Tour

When: April 5, 10:00-11:30am

Where: 110th Street between Fifth and Lenox Avenue


Center Park Tour

When: April 5, 2:00-2:45pm

Where: 61st Street and Fifth Avenue


Easter Parade and Bonnet Festival

When: April 5, 10:00am-4:00pm

Where: 49th to 57th Streets on Fifth Avenue


Fort Tryon Park Garden Walking Tour

When: April 5, 1:00-2:00pm

Where: Cabrini Boulevard and Fort Washington Avenue


El Museo del Barrio-Super Sabado! 2015 “A, B, Cuentos!”

When: April 18, 11:00am-6:00pm (event repeats on May 16)

Where: E104th Street and Fifth Avenue


Union Square Earth Day Celebration

When: April 18, 12pm-7:00pm

Where: 14th to 17th Streets between Broadway and Park Avenue South


Central Park: 59th Street Pond Discovery Walk When: April 19, 10:00-11:30am

Where: mid-park south of Sheep Meadow – enter at 66th Street (register at Chess and Checkers House 15 minutes before start of the walk – maximum three children per parent or guardian)

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Now He Belongs to the Ages

By George Barany and Marcia Brott

George Barany is a Rockefeller alum (1977). Marcia Brott is a human genome researcher by day, wordsmith by night. Both are currently at the University of Minnesota. For more about this specific puzzle, including a link to the answer, visit http://tinyurl.com/april1865puz. More Barany and Friends crosswords are at http://tinyurl.com/gbpuzzle.



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Three Weeks in Australia

By Natalia Ketaren

image1The Twelve Apostles, Port Campbell National Park, Victoria, Australia. Photo credit: Natalia Ketaren

After almost three years of being away, I was returning home for a summer Christmas. The last time I visited, my days were spent lazing in parks and beaches along Port Phillip Bay, dinners at trendy Melbourne joints with balconies where we could smoke and drink and of course, I did plenty of shopping. Coming home was all about catching up with friends and family, just… hanging out. However, this trip would be different. My American boyfriend was coming with me and he had never been to Oz. So this time around, it was fewer everyday indulgences and more sightseeing. Here’s a little of what we did and saw.

Week 1 Victoria

Melbourne is the most populous city in the State of Victoria and the second most populous city in Australia, behind Sydney. Melbourne is Australia’s business epicenter. It’s the fashion capital and the music capital of Australia. It is a sporting city, home to major tennis tournaments, the home of cricket Australia and the birthplace of Australian Rules football. Australia was declared a Federation under a tree in Melbourne’s botanical gardens. Five of the country’s most prestigious universities are located here, not to mention numerous others. Thus, it’s not surprising that the birthplace of Gough Whitlam carries a great worth in Australia and its citizens harbor abundant city pride. Whenever I visit my hometown, here are a few things I reacquaint myself with:

Food and Drink

Melbourne is known for its rich food culture, thanks to years of global immigration. My staples every time I visit are:

A good parma at Mrs. Parmas on Lt. Bourke Street or the Leveson Hotel in North Melbourne. Pho on Victoria Street, just after Hoddle Street in Richmond. It doesn’t really matter where you go, this street is lined with Vietnamese restaurants and you’re sure to get good pho and spring rolls when you’re here. Crispy pork at China bar near the corner of Exhibition Street. A souvlaki and chunky fries cooked in olive oil at Stalactites on Exhibition Street. Pizza at D.O.C pizza on the corner of Drummond and Faraday Street serves authentic Roman style pizza. Fish and chips down Acland Street in St. Kilda. Be sure to go to the shop closer to the Barkly Street end. Chips with gravy, dim sum, chunky spring rolls and potato cakes, available at Charcoal chicken chain stores all over Melbourne and coffee.

Coffee is a Melbourne institution, which serves some of the best coffee in Australia. The city is packed with little lane ways strewn with cafes and coffee houses, serving alongside coffee and tea, amazing desserts and delicious sausage rolls and meat pies.

Melbourne nightlife is forever changing. Drinks in Australia are expensive, where, on average, it’s $10/pint of beer and $20/cocktail. No tips required in the service industry, but the going is still quite dear. Rooftop bars in Melbourne can be quite fun. Our go to on the trip is Rooftop Bar on Swanston Street in the city center. They do very nice Pimm’s cups and champagne cocktails in the summertime.

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Twenty-four visits to Stockholm: a concise history of the Rockefeller Nobel Prizes

Part VI: Fritz Albert Lipmann, 1953 Prize in Physiology or Medicine

By Joseph Luna

From Ra to Apollo to Huitzilopochtli, the ancients were onto something by worshipping the sun. Alongside water, no other entity was as important for the agricultural harvest or for predicting the seasonal movements of wind and life-giving rain. But the precise means by which the sun can be said to nourish took over two millennia to figure out, most of it concentrated in the past 200 or so years, when chemists began to ply their trade to biological problems. Why do plants need light? What happens when a caterpillar, a cow or a human eats them? In other words, how does “food,” for any organism, really work? The answers to these questions lie in the study of metabolism, and biochemists in the late 19th and the first half of the 20th century were wild about these problems.

Fritz Lipmann was among them. Born in the east Prussian capital of Königsberg in 1899, Lipmann came of scientific age during some biochemically exciting times. After receiving an MD in 1924, Lipmann changed course and joined the laboratory of Otto Meyerhof, the discoverer of glycolysis and 1922 Nobelist, at the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute in Berlin. In the Meyerhof lab, Lipmann worked alongside Karl Lohmann (the discoverer of adenosine tri-phosphate (ATP)) and Dean Burk (the co-discoverer of biotin). Working upstairs was Otto Warburg, who in 1931 would win a Nobel Prize for his work on cellular respiration. And in Warburg’s lab was Hans Krebs, for whom the citric acid cycle is named, and who would later share the 1953 Nobel Prize in chemistry with Lipmann.

The driving question for these biochemists at the time can be summed up succinctly: what was the chemical basis for energy production and consumption in living organisms? By the late 1920s, it was increasingly clear that ATP was a major energy currency in the cell, but the precise means by which it functioned, as both a fuel and as a building block besides how it was made in the cell, were unknown. After a year exploring this problem in P.A. Levene’s laboratory here at Rockefeller, Lipmann moved to Copenhagen to work with Albert Fischer where he studied the end product of Meyerhof’s glycolysis: pyruvic acid.

This “fiery grape” metabolite was interesting as a molecular fork in the road of sorts for an organism: in the absence of oxygen, pyruvic acid undergoes fermentation to make a limited but finite amount of energy before winding up as lactic acid. This is essentially what happens when yogurt or sauerkraut is made. But in the presence of constant oxygen, pyruvic acid does something different: it becomes oxidized and fed into the citric acid cycle to allow continuous production of ATP. In other words, energy production requires continuous breathing, or “respiration.” As a biochemical fulcrum between reactions associated with death (fermentation) or life (respiration), it’s easy to see how this molecule might’ve fascinated Lipmann in the 1930’s. Most of the above was known by then but questions remained. Lipmann noticed that in order for pyruvic acid oxidation to make ATP, some inorganic phosphate was always needed and biochemically used up. Where did this phosphate go? Using radioactive phosphate and adenylic acid, a precursor of ATP, Lipmann observed that pyruvic acid oxidation resulted in radioactive ATP. He had traced the movement of an inert phosphate to the main energy molecule in the cell. This process, now generally summarized as oxidative phosphorylation, is the means by which any organism on this planet that breathes makes energy.

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Culture Corner

Book Review: My Struggle Book 1, by Karl Ove Knausgaard

By Bernie Langs

For several months I had heard chatter about an extraordinary set of books written by an eccentric Norwegian chronicling his life in the minutest detail. There was even one nighttime commute home on New Jersey Transit where I sat and watched a man reading the book in the seat across from mine and I pondered questioning him if it was worth the effort and time to take it on.

My Struggle Book 1 by Karl Ove Knausgaard ended up being a fantastic book and the much-discussed overly detailed remembrances came across to me as the natural power of observation of an extraordinary, unique and creative mind at work. The dynamics of any family are complex, emotional for its members, and more often than not, extremely difficult, and the manner in which Knausgaard presents his family’s relationships teaches harsh and true lessons while keeping the reader absolutely glued to the page. By focusing on nuances and detailed moments occurring decades in the past, one begins to sense the writer’s blurring of fact and fiction, in this case, the loss of distinction between memoir and embellished storytelling. Knausgaard still remained true to the message he wishes to impart.

The landscape of obscure locations in Norway forms much of the backdrop to Knausgaard’s recollections. Fjords, the sea, and even watering holes are present as are the constant reminders of the cold and the snow of the Nordic region. Yet all of that is natural to its natives, while remaining fairly exotic to the readers of the book, who can marvel at names of people and places they can’t even begin to try to pronounce.

Although this first book of many in the series of My Struggle focuses on periods of the author’s time as a boy and teenager, he does jump to other times of his life and we see how the characteristics he displayed early on take on permanence as an adult, and not always in a flattering way. Certain insensitivities as a youth grow into a manner of emotional coldness and removal as an adult that Knausgaard is all too aware of and in some way, ashamed to have allowed to have blossomed.

The underlying key to much of this is clearly revealed to stem from the personality of his father and their odd and complicated relationship. The book moves along and builds to become a flood of emotions based around this man, whom we first meet in the early pages as stern and confident, physically alive but in many ways “not there” emotionally. We then learn of the author’s father’s devolution into a broken individual who becomes an obese, out-of-work alcoholic who has lost contact with his sons and who dies a miserable death.

Here is Knausgaard early in the book discussing his father and “how great the difference was between our days. While my days were jam-packed with meaning, when each step opened a new opportunity, and when every opportunity filled me to the brim, in a way which now is actually incomprehensible, the meaning of his days was not concentrated in individual events but spread over such large areas that it was not possible to comprehend them in anything other than abstract terms.”

When reading My Struggle, I began to think to myself, “This is why I read.” Trying to explain why one chooses to read a difficult book for pleasure can be likened to trying to explain why one walks. You just do it. But it’s more akin to why one takes on a difficult walk or a hike through tough terrain for no real reason except to “get there” and “there” not being a physical destination, but an exhilarated or even spiritual state of mind. While reading books by writers like Knausgaard, Kraznahorkai or Vladimir Nabokov is a struggle, it is somewhat comforting in that they ponder the big questions that dog us all with impassioned urgency and dazzling creativity. The urgency is often driven by the belief that life is fleeting so we better get to pondering and figuring it out as soon as we can. The creativite portion remains, oddly and ironically, the fun and the adventure of it.◉

What is Traditional Irish Soda Bread for $100, Alex?

By Aileen Marshall

Saint Patrick’s Day is coming up and that means there will be sales for corned beef and cabbage and traditional Irish soda bread. I myself, of Irish decent, only became aware of Irish soda bread as a young adult. I went through several recipes given to me by friends and family, before I settled on one that got many good reviews from the recipients. Most of the recipes I’ve come across over the years call for raisins, caraway seeds, nuts, eggs, butter and sugar. I knew that the real Irish soda bread was very plain, that the sugar was to cater to American tastes. But as I did the research on the history of traditional bread for this article, I was surprised at how far off what we eat on Saint Patrick’s Day is from the original Irish soda bread.

Why is it called soda bread? This bread, and others known as quick breads, use baking soda instead of yeast to make them rise. Most recipes today use buttermilk, but the traditional recipe calls for sour milk. The sodium bicarbonate, which is the chemical name for baking soda, and the lactic acid in the buttermilk or sour milk combine to form a gas, carbon dioxide. The released gas bubbles are what cause the bread to rise.

The early American colonists during the 1700s noticed the Native Americans using what was known as potash to make bread. Potash is actually potassium carbonate, which works the same as sodium bicarbonate. This is the first recorded use of a carbon-ate in cooking. The first known soda bread recipe was published in the United States in 1796. The book, American Cookery, noted it as a way to make fast and inexpensive bread. In 1817, an editor of a London magazine was challenged to come up with a recipe that used poor wheat flour. Poor wheat flour is also known as soft wheat flour or cake flour. The flour mostly used in this country is hard wheat flour, which has higher gluten content than its counterpart. The London editor’s recipe called for soft or poor wheat flour, mealy potatoes, salt, water, baking soda and muriatic acid (hydrochloric acid). Without the potatoes, this is a basic traditional Irish soda bread recipe. Yet it was an Englishman who first published it.

The earliest reference to a soda bread in Ireland was printed in 1836 in the Farmer’s Magazine of London. It said a writer from the Newry Telegraph of Northern Ireland had sent in the recipe using, “wheaten meal, salt, super carbonate of soda, cold water and sour buttermilk.” The instructions were to make it in a covered Dutch oven or frying pan, over a moderate fire, putting some coals on top. This is the way most Irish remember traditional soda bread being made. So it seems it may not have started in Ireland, but it had developed as a means to make an inexpensive bread. It is very plain compared with the version most of us know today. Around 1840, baking soda became cheap and easily accessible in Ireland. In 1850, the Dublin Quarterly Journal of Medicine stated “Due to the failure of the potato crop, a large quantity of bicarbonate of soda was employed by the poorer classes in the preparation of bread.” The version we know today would more likely have been made for company and was called a tea cake. The addition of raisins make it what the Irish would call “spotted dog.”

If you are so inspired as I have been, here is a recipe for traditional Irish Soda bread, courtesy of the Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread. A bastible pot was equivalent to what is known today as a Dutch oven, a large heavy pot. It was meant to be placed directly into the coals, since in those days very few Irish had an oven.

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New York State of Mind

This Month Natural Selections Interviews Denny Espinoza, Environmental Assistant, Laboratory Safety and Environmental Health.

Interview by Melvin White

How long have you been living in the New York area?
I moved a lot before the age of 5, all within New Jersey. However our last move was to New York when I started kindergarten.
Where do you currently live?image2
Only the best borough of course! Queens baby! Jamaica to be exact.
Which is your favorite neighborhood? Why?
I enjoy walking aimlessly in Forest Hills especially in the spring months.
What do you think is the most overrated thing in the city? And underrated?
Carriage rides. Those things are cruel to the horses at the expense of looking “romantic”. I don’t get it.
What do you miss most when you are out of town?
Noise! I try to visit my family out in Pennsylvania a few times a year. It’s obviously slow motion out there and very enjoyable when I need a break from the bright city lights but I couldn’t entirely quit the daily, fast paced morning commute.
If you could change one thing about NYC, what would that be?
That would have to be minimum wage. Every day, NY gets more expensive to live in.
What is your favorite weekend activity in NYC?
Now that depends on the season and whom I am with. Believe it or not, I enjoy shopping.
How do you feel about Metrocard fare hikes?
The metro card price hike still hasn’t affected me the way majority people would think. The way I use public transportation, I break even. Sometimes I go out of my way by lending it out to others.
So, bike, car, or subway?
If I could, I’d bike to work but it’s just not possible. The whole idea of bike rentals is pretty awesome though. Any way to save money.
What is the most memorable experience you have had in NYC?
It was during the winter when I was in college out in Harlem years ago. An apartment building was on fire and I freaked out because I’ve experienced a house fire when I was 13. I ran to the scene and was informed that a movie was being filmed on that corner and that I might be in the movie. Maybe that was said for me to calm down but I spaced out for the moment.
If you could live anywhere else, where might that be?
I really don’t think I’d want to move out of NY. The sports scene, the Broadway shows, the pizza! It’s incomparable!
Do you think of yourself as a New Yorker?
Absolutely! 1,000%. I mean, I have the accent.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

By George Barany and Marcia Brott

George Barany is a Rockefeller alum (1977). Marcia Brott is a human genome researcher by day, wordsmith by night. Both are currently at the University of Minnesota. For more about this specific puzzle, including a link to the answer, visit http://tinyurl.com/wonderlandpuz. More Barany and Friends crosswords are at http://tinyurl.com/gbpuzzle.

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Life on a Roll

By Qiong Wang

A year ago, I took a road-trip in Spain, a beautiful country with rich culture and cheerful people. Nerja, a pearl setting on the Mediterranean shoreline, is the one I chose to document first.

Nerja is known by another charming name, “Balcony of Europe.” A piece of cliff taps into the Mediterranean. The view from the cliff top is absolutely stunning and peaceful.



Nerja is a typical Mediterranean town, decorated by crowded white houses sitting irregularly at the waist and foot of mountains. It has beautiful shorelines, evergreen palm trees, abundant fruits, and pleasant temperature. Nerja is so lucky to have it all, thanks to the fabulous Mediterranean climate. In Nerja, I couldn’t see traffic or feel any stress. Life just seems so simple and content. Although I have never been to the fictional Shangri-La, I imagine living in Nerja must be like living in that earthly paradise.



2015: Chinese New Year of the Sheep

By Peng Kate Gao

If I have to name one day of an entire year that I wish dearly to be with my family-on-the-other-side-of-the-planet, it’s the Chinese New Year. Also called Spring Festival, it is the most cherished and celebrated holiday in China, as families reunite to ring out the old year and celebrate the coming new year. According to the Chinese Animal Zodiac, every year is associated with one of twelve animals: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. On February 19, 2015 we say farewell to a previous year of the Horse, and welcome the beginning of a year of the Sheep.

The myth of Chinese New Year

The Chinese New Year celebration has a long history, dating back over 4,000 years. According to ancient legends, it began with a mythical beast called Nian. Nian was a ferocious monster with a gigantic horn and sharp teeth. It lived in the deep sea all year long, but once every year it would crawl out of the water to wreak havoc on villages. Every year on this day, villagers, young and old, would flee deep into the mountains to hide from Nian’s attack.

One year, while the villagers had started their rush to the mountains, an old beggar came through the neighborhood. An elderly grandmother gave him food, and warned him to hide so as not to be harmed by Nian. The beggar laughed and said that he could chase Nian away. Surprised and hesitant, the old woman left on her own.

At midnight, Nian arrived in the village. It was pitch black everywhere, except for the old woman’s house, which shone brightly with candle and lantern light. The monster bounded towards the house, but stopped short, trembling at the sight of a piece of bright red paper on the door. Suddenly, firecrackers began to explode. Terrified, Nian ran away from the village.

When the villagers returned the following day, they were surprised to find that everything was safe and sound. The old woman told the story of the beggar. Noticing the red paper on the door and the remnants of candles, lanterns, and firecrackers, the villagers suddenly realized that Nian feared the color red, bright light, and loud noises. Rejoicing in relief and excitement, they celebrated. Wearing new hats and clothes, they visited family and friends, and congratulated each other on the prospect of a peaceful year ahead.

Since then, every year on the day that Nian would appear, families adorn their doors with red paper, set off firecrackers, and light candles and lanterns in their homes. The next morning, which marks the start of a new year, people visit their relatives and friends, with festivities lasting for 15 days. This tradition of gratitude and hope has continued till today.

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For Your Consideration – And They’re Off! Edition

By Jim Keller

I maintain that the Oscar race can be likened to a horserace where each studio bets on its thoroughbreds and hopes that they can at least place at the end. The studio is the owner, the public relations department is the jockey, and the horse is the actor or film in the analogy. Here we thrust those roles I’ve discussed in the three-part Ones to Watch edition under a microscope to separate the nominees from the contenders and to identify the power players for each studio. I’ve also included my rankings as they stood on Oscar nominations eve—the number in parentheses indicates my placement following nominations. I chose the maximum ten nominees for Best Picture and all categories reflect five nominees. The top five in the table were my nominee picks, those that fall outside of that were outside chances that I had listed.

In the September issue, I examined the Best Actor race. Here are the roles I discussed and where the candidates ended up five months later…

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Selma – The Movie

By Susan Russo

Ava DuVernay has made a movie, based on the true events depicting the 1965 marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, that still resonates today. With a cast led by David Oyelowo, a young British actor, playing the role of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., this movie is a testament not only to King’s determination, but his brilliance as a leader, his
sacrifices, his family, his disparate but loyal followers, and his belief that non-violence was the only way to accomplish the major goal of voting rights for African-Americans throughout America. King met with leaders of many factions, such as Malcolm X, a radical leader, whom he convinced (in the movie) not to appear at the march, and members of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), persevering in his belief that only non-violence would prove to be the most effective way to make his and his followers’ dreams a reality. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had recently passed, outlawing segregation, a great victory for human rights, but King believed that true equality for all Americans would never be achieved without the right to vote. Selma was chosen as a rallying place to begin the marches to Montgomery, the capital of Alabama. (Selma was a town in which more than 50% of the population was African-American, but fewer than 1% of that population had been allowed to register to vote, due to the all-white registrars’ arbitrary requirements). In one memorable scene in the movie, Annie Cooper, a non-violent activist (played by Oprah Winfrey), when demanded to by the registrar, recited the entire Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, gave the correct number of circuit court justices in the county (67), but was rejected because she could not give all their names (!) This movie highlights many of the people who planned the marches with King Ralph Abernathy, leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), leaders of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), and Andrew Young, Jr., who, still living at 82, helped to draft the Voting Rights Act, was a leading activist, and later became an American ambassador. Another march planner was John Lewis, who today is a Congressman (prominently seen in attendance at President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday, January 20, this year.) Other notables depicted in the movie were President Lyndon Johnson (played by British actor Tom Wilkinson), whom Dr. King met, spoke, and negotiated with a number of times about the marches and voting rights. Other major characters in the movie were Coretta Scott King, his wife and mother of his four children (played by a British actress, Carmen Ejogo) and Alabama Governor George Wallace (played by another Brit, Tim Roth.) Some notable American actors in smaller parts were Cuba Gooding, Jr., playing a lawyer, Martin Sheen, playing a judge, and Giovanni Ribisi, playing a presidential advisor.

It is a movie filled with moving scenes of real people in moments of confusion, fear, tension, wrangling, human frailty, humor, hope, and triumph. The determination of all the marchers is ennobling. The long marches, with men, women, students, and children dressed for church (as in the 1950’s), but carrying suitcases, bedrolls, and food packages, is a testament to courage, resilience and determination. The images of armed police and state troopers with gas masks and night sticks, horses and whips are frightening, and the assaults on the unarmed people are almost unwatchable, as are the depictions of people on the sidelines cheering the fray. The director also utilized actual newsreel footage of the attacks, which is devastating. The violence of the first march was shown on black-and-white TV, and the outrage felt by many Americans led to white people joining the second and third marches. The U.S. Congress passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

The original script of the movie was written by English writer Paul Webb in 2007, with additional revisions of the final script by the director, Ava DuVernay. Among the producers of the film were Pathe U.K., Brad Pitt, and Harpo Films (founded by Oprah Winfrey). The production cost $20 million, which, in Hollywood, is considered a modest amount for a major movie.

Twenty-four visits to Stockholm: a concise history of the Rockefeller Nobel Prizes

Part V: Wendell M. Stanley, 1946 Prize in Chemistry

By Joseph Luna

IMG_4686In 1898, a Dutch botanist named Martinus Beijerinck faced a naming conundrum. He reproduced an experiment first performed six years earlier by Russian botanist Dmitri Ivanovsky, who found that a disease of tobacco plants causing a mosaic discoloration of their precious nicotine laced leaves could be transmitted to a healthy plant in an infectious manner. Moreover, like his predecessor, Beijerinck found that after passing through a filter too small for any known bacteria to pass, the juice of infected plants could still be used to infect healthy tobacco leaves. This was a puzzling observation, since any attempt to see the infectious agent under a microscope turned up nothing. Ivanovsky concluded that there must be a tiny living bacterium, smaller than any known, which was responsible for the disease. Beijerinck on the other hand wasn’t convinced and wanted to call this infectious agent something else to reflect its non-bacterial nature. After what must have been some hand wringing, he settled on an old Latin word for “slimy liquid” and named the new agent a virus.

For the next three decades, exactly what a virus was presented a tantalizing mystery. Viruses behaved as if they were alive, they grew and could adapt, and yet some were so small that they approached the sizes of proteins, or other macromolecules that clearly weren’t alive. So which was it? Alive or dead? Beijerinck, for his part, didn’t have a definitive answer, but set a vital tone by referring to viruses as contagious living fluids (“contagium vivum fluidum”). Until the 1930s, as the roster of plant and animal diseases caused by viruses expanded, attempts to categorize them on the basis of size were used to justify the living (i.e. large) from the non-living (i.e. small). Still, others thought this essentialist idea might be missing something entirely.

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